A Year gone by:

by Sania Muzamil

It has been a year and a half since India abruptly shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The subsequent lockdown has been a testing experience for everyone. The world came to a standstill, yet not everything stopped. 

The centuries’ old compartmentalization of our world, caused due to power politics and a burning ambition to control everything around us, stayed on and in fact grew more and more fierce. The word Social Distancing fell differently on the palettes of different nations causing colossal ripples of communal intolerance, strengthened class and caste hierarchies in many nations like ours and redefined many ways and exchanges of life. 

Another very concerning issue was the disproportionate amount of care work that fell on the shoulders of “women” in most of the households. In the absence of any help, women were forced to take up most of the unpaid household work leaving them with no time for their own needs. This unpaid work that is seen as a social obligation has caused unjust dips in the productivity and economic avenues for most women, reflecting how unfavorable and unfair societies governed by patriarchal and heteronormative notions are. This also calls for us to collectively reflect upon the unprecedented increase in domestic violence against women causing unimaginable levels of undocumented physical and mental abuse.

Mental load is just a theorization of the invisible constructed burden that women face. Men are either absent when it comes to performing common tasks or if they decide “to help”, they almost all the time wait for their partners to “instruct” them, while being focused on their career, because it’s “productive” work- something that generates a surplus (in Marx’s theory of work). 

Men are conditioned from their childhood to focus on their individual selves, to close their eyes to everything that doesn’t result in profit because they are explicitly told that all unproductive/ household work shall be taken care of by the women around. Men very early on, become habitual of throwing dirty laundry on the floor, not wiping the bathroom floor, and not doing their dishes. They become used to not organizing their personal spaces and pay no heed to the work that keeps their lives running smoothly. It seems that they close their minds off to these common chores, relegating these tasks to their mothers, helpers, partners, etc. 

The ironic and the most tragic part of this is not men’s refusal to work but their “apparent inability” to figure out their own share of work; they try to portray that they cannot understand what to do and when to do it, so they wait for instructions. There is nothing genetic about this structure which is farcical and gendered  in nature.

The first implication of this unequal, unfair distribution is that women don’t even for a moment feel relaxed or rooted. Physically in one place, their minds are constantly divided between tasks- maybe the food is burning on the stove, or the cleaned laundry is still to be hanged to dry…, and in this their solitude just floats away. They are so overwhelmed with work that they think about their own identities in fragments and wait for years; oscillating in a conundrum between investing time for themselves and keeping others happy. The ‘daily rituals’ of men appear as luxuries to their partners because they are not allowed to use their time for themselves.

This not only leads unaddressed mental health issues in women but also impediments their careers and productivity. Women are not as visible in the formal workforce and are unable to contribute to the “economy” as much as men merely because their minds are never at liberty to solely focus on their work while men have the privilege to forget everything and pursue “higher vocations”.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this ongoing trend. However with women in the contemporary world being more educated and financially independent than those from previous generations, a general awareness about the ‘mental load’ caused due to unequal distribution of household and care-work can be observed. Many women have empowered themselves to mark these patterns in their households and articulate their anger. The pandemic has highlighted this issue and it’s high time to make every effort to empower those women whose voices are being stifled. They need to be educated about how their resources are being exploited and given the pace to speak up and rebel.

Sania advocates for equal gender and human rights, and calls for a free world for all. She has a postgraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi and is currently studying and researching Gender perceptions and manifestations. She is currently interning at kractivist.org