Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives or the unfabulous lives of housewives in India

Whether you hate-watch or love-watch the Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, you simply cannot ignore it. But what does it say to the unfabulous lives of housewives in India?

Meghna Pant September 13, 2022 09:49:31 IST
Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives or the unfabulous lives of housewives in India

In an era where we fetishize opinions we don’t own, the weekly ‘Moderate Mahila Mandate’ presents unadulterated and non-partisan views on what’s happening to women in India today.

No, paying housewives will not slay patriarchy. Lately, after a hard day of writing and mothering, I take out an unapologetic hour of self-care, which sometimes means watching fluff on TV. Much better than eating it, I say. So, I sat on a Monday morning (thanks freelance life), devouring the Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives. My house help watched it with me for some time and then asked: “Are these housewives? How, when they do no work around the house? Do their husbands pay them to do housework? Otherwise how do they look so glamorous?”

Getting paid for housework? Gasp! It’s unimaginable, right? Especially when it’s much easier to guilt women into doing it for free, isn’t it? But here is the reflexive. Women do not perform household work out of love, no. And they should be paid for it, yes. But not in the way that you expect.

Let’s first look at some facts. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), less than a quarter of women in India are in the labour force—among the poorest standings in the world—and they earn 35 percent less on average than men, compared to the global average of a 16 percent gap. Women represent 49 percent of India’s population yet contribute only 18 percent to its economic output, about half the global average.

Women also pay the highest price during any major economic shock. Oxfam India estimates the economic loss from women losing their jobs during the pandemic at about $216 billion, knocking 8% off from the country’s gross domestic product. In the aftermath of demonetisation, 2.4 million women fell off the employment map, while 0.9 million men came into jobs. This clouds women’s already poor economic outlook.

A large-scale decline in labour force participation by women, like this, is unprecedented anywhere in the world. Despite 51 percent of women graduates, a McKinsey report has stated that although women account for 29 percent of the workforce at the entry level, they usually leave work—due to domestic responsibilities, such as marriage and children, I imagine—taking down their level of participation at the mid-to-senior management to 9%. No surprise then that at the chief executive officer level, women’s participation is less than 1%. No wonder then The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 ranks India 112th of 153 countries in offering equal opportunities to women and men.

Alarming numbers, right? How do we change this? Will it helped if we paid homemakers? In an increasingly gig economy, every job should be assigned a value, of course. It is a recognition of efforts, an appreciation. People argue that being a mother and housewife has perks beyond a price. What is a perk that is neither duly recognised nor does anything to empower women? There’s nothing queen-like about being a homemaker. It’s drudgery and slavery. They argue that if she’s paid she can also be fired. But, she will not be fired because then who will do the workload? They argue that it makes the relationship transactional. But, isn’t it already, when a woman is presumed to enjoy handling the entire home alone and left with no other option?

The question then is that who pays? There are many stakeholders. In 2012, the Women and Child Development Ministry was considering a proposal to make it mandatory for men to share a certain percentage of their income with wives if they stay at home and do the household chores. But this will not add to the national economy as there’s no income creation. You’re also making it an individual problem instead of a collective responsibility. Make the pie bigger.

In many countries, like the Philippines, the government is set to pay monthly wages to homemakers as it’s considered a full-time job. There is even a career’s allowance in the UK that is given in the form of tax credit. Despite the danger of political and populist abuse, tax-payer’s money can be used. Why? Because women contribute to the GDP without it even being measured! They too deserve dignity of labour.

Our male and female roles are in continuum. These will keep evolving and with them the participation of caregivers and breadwinners will keep changing. Would men like it if they were reduced to a stereotype and left with no dignity or recourse? No.

Women getting their dues, acknowledgement and recognition is an emotive issue. Every job should be assigned a value so there’s no dehumanisation. But will women getting paid for housework have the effect we expect? Will getting a monthly salary by a husband or the state, change anything? While homemakers deserve dignity of labour, do they really need a salary to feel validated, or will they feel the same if they are simply recognised?

While paying homemakers is difficult, if not impossible, to execute­­––yes, I know––what can we do in the interim? It’s surprisingly quite simple. First, everyone should pitch in with the housework. While we can acknowledge that nowhere in the world is housework equally divided between men and women, in India, the gender gap for this unpaid labour is particularly large, a 2018 ILO study noted. An OECD study states that men spend 4-5 hours more on a daily basis than women sleeping, watching TV and relaxing. They contribute only 13 minutes per day to household work! 60% women are housewives. 90 percent of housework in India is done by women. The Indian husband is a rare species in the world, as we have created, quite frankly, mostly tauliya-lao type of men.

Let’s not forget that tireless, thankless and unpaid work is also a form of atrocity. Women carry double-triple-multiple loads on the presumption that housework is a labour of love. That doing jhadu-katka and wiping a haldi-laden thali is a matter of choice and not necessity. Is that fair? Change your way of thinking. Men need to contribute to housework. And, no, you cannot appease your guilt by buying appliances for women so that their work becomes easier! Or being like those men in ads, who hold the household products but are never actually using them! Instead, do the chores. It’s not a favour. It’s not ‘helping’. It’s a given. It’s your house. It’s your family. You’re doing it for them. For you! And, it’s woke, even normalised with young ones. Do it to be cool. And, India’s gross domestic product and corporate productivity would be higher if more women worked. Do it for your nation! Get up from that couch and step into the kitchen. A few smalls steps for man, a giant leap for mankind.

Second, many women would feel paid if their hard work and efforts were recognised and acknowledged, not demeaned and taken for granted. Women run our families, our societies, and hence our nations. They never get a day off. Give your mother, sister, wife, or primary homemaker, small gifts like flowers, a note, a spa day, a day off, a small card. Say a simple ‘thank you’. Reward the person who is the backbone of your home, our society and our nation. We’ve not yet reached gender equality, but we never will without gender equity.

Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning and bestselling author, screenwriter, columnist and speaker, whose latest novel BOYS DON’T CRY (Penguin Random House) will soon be seen on screen. 



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