Please Trade My Motherhood Crown For Marriage Equality
This mothers’ day, spare us the roses and free subscriptions, give everyone—including us—the right to be equal parents.
I can’t help feeling irked by Aishwarya Bhati, the additional solicitor general of India, who appeared for the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in the ongoing marriage equality case in the Supreme Court. “Gender fluidity cannot be permitted in areas where cis gender is core,” Bhati said, citing examples of other places that, according to her, are propelled by cis-gender identity. She also said that, “Gender can be fluid, the idea of mother cannot be”.
As if it was not bad enough that her examples of biological-women-only bastions were women’s washrooms and correctional homes, her belief that nobody should be allowed to dethrone the hallowed position of biological mother made my motherhood crown weigh heavier than normal.
Forgive me sister but this is exactly what women have been fighting for, for decades. We want to relinquish our pointless crowns and our tattered, vomit-smattered robes for a life where responsibility is shared just a little more evenly. It’s too tedious to keep repeating how little Indian men do, but you can read details of one recent, often cited survey here.
Let me tell Bhati we are done with playing Mother India, toiling away as unpaid labourers, while juggling a sleazy landlord and two bratty children. That film came out in 1957, but more than half a century later, Indian women still spend 84% of our day on unpaid activities. Spare us the discounted gifts, roses and Amazon Prime subscriptions this mothers’ day. Give everyone—including us—the right to be equal parents.
We want alone time, freedom, financial independence. We want the right to make financial decisions for our families and backup when we need it. In fact, at least 50% of the time, we want to be the backup. We want spouses to fix their ‘I earn the money, you do the rest’ attitude.
You will be surprised how many of us are ready to trade the motherhood throne for back wages for all the household chores we’ve done since we were children—or since we had them.
We don’t want to be tragedy queens, ready to sacrifice everything at the altar of mommyhood in exchange for an occasional smile or acknowledgement of our greatness from our children. You can keep the pedestal, give us the right to breathe easy.
It’s time to move on from that perennial Hindi movie failsafe—Mere paas maa hai—and ask instead what mothers have/want.
We want to go away for a weekend break with our girlfriends or on a weeklong work trip and come back home to find that nothing has changed. Everyone/everything is still functioning as you left them. No major breakages have occurred. Nobody has been poisoned or lost. The food in the freezer is still frozen. We want to experience this at least three times so we can relax our 24/7 calamity-alert.
We want to be co-parents, not primary parents, afloat in the wilderness of solitary motherhood. We want healthy work lives with time to think. Studies across the world continue to show that the majority of married women do more, and as a result, sacrifice much more than their male spouses.
In other parts of the world there are some microscopic signs of change. Over a quarter of American children under 18 live with one parent, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 America’s Families and Living Arrangements found. By 2017, 83.9 percent of these children lived with their mothers, down from 87.5 percent a decade ago. It’s unlikely to reach 50% any time before climate change destroys the world.
No thanks to Bhati for giving men yet another classic excuse to take a backseat. I can just see them do the Indian head nod: “Mother is mother, you see.”
I’m one of those “lucky” married women. At least that’s what everyone who meets my spouse tells me. He is truly un-Indian in that sense—he cooks; he co-parents (in our house, the fights are often because both of us want to take charge of household or parenting tasks); he can be cooler than me under pressure and certainly as loving towards our daughter, ever ready to fulfil her every dream and whim.
Yet a New York Times story I read a while back has stayed with me where novelist Jessica Grose argued that though men are increasingly stepping up at home, women continue to take on the lion’s share of the “mental load”. This can include planning and monitoring a slew of household- and parenting-related tasks. “Women’s antenna seemed to be constantly up and looking for these things. Whereas men are often happy to help once their partner had alerted them to the issue,” Allison Daminger, then a PhD candidate at Harvard University told Grose about research she had conducted with married couples.
If I had to make a car sticker about Indian motherhood it would simply say, ‘Send Help’. Lots has been written about how same sex couples are better at dividing household chores. Research by McKinsey & Company in 2022 found same-gender couples take a more equitable approach to work-life responsibilities. “Only 28 percent of women in same-gender dual career couples (DCC) say they do most or all of the housework, compared with more than half of women in opposite-gender DCCs."
The study found that unlike in opposite gender couples where women were more than twice as likely to prioritise their partner’s career, same-gender couples prioritised each other’s careers more equally. Same-gender couples were also much less likely than their opposite-gender peers to consider “downshifting” their career after children made an appearance. Marriage equality, where biology takes a backseat in parenting, might just be the help all mothers need.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.