By Alex Temblador
I recently watched a commercial by the Indian detergent company, Ariel, which highlighted family and gender roles; watching it inadvertently made me reflect on my childhood.
A quick summary of the video: It features a father who writes a letter to his daughter which is narrated over scenes of the father watching his daughter in her home environment with her family. The father apologizes to his daughter for raising her to accept stereotypical gender roles within her family. He apologizes to his daughter for never helping her mother with chores or household duties, which in turn, taught her that it was okay for her husband not to help either. He also apologizes for other fathers who didn’t teach their sons to help their wives. The father ends the letter promising to make a change now, to help his own wife with doing the laundry (hence where the brand comes in).
The commercial encourages men to #sharetheload, thereby breaking gender norms and regulating household chores to both adults in the family. It was a very moving commercial and so beautifully done that I teared up at a few moments.
Of course, the commercial made me reflect on my upbringing. Had I been brought up by heterosexual parents who had succumbed to gender norms? The answer, I was glad to realize, was not really.
For as long as I can remember my mother and father shared the chores of the home equally. Both my father and mother are clean freaks in their own nature. My dad can’t stand drawers open, blankets left out, and beds not made, while my mother has to do a full household clean on Thursday or she’ll freak out. Clutter was not allowed in our home.
My dad vacuums, my mother sweeps. Both my parents shared responsibilities of unloading and loading the dishwasher and doing laundry, though my dad usually folds and hangs the clothes. My parents shared the cooking duties. My dad mostly did the outdoor grilling unless we were having Mexican food and then he cooked. My mother cooked most of the food which sometimes included grilling, while my dad usually did the dishes. It was not often that my dad sat down to watch TV as my mother prepared dinner, but if he did, he always cleaned the dishes immediately after we were done eating. (I should note that my brother and I had chores when we were old enough to do them)
Granted my dad took care of lawn care and my mother cleaned the bathrooms and mopped the floors which are inherently stereotypical gender roles, but in this case, it was because of their preferences, not gender norms. I’ve seen my mom take care of the lawn and my dad clean the house, however, my dad takes pride in the lawn care, while my mom doesn’t care either way, as long as both are done well and often.
Granted most families with heterosexual parents suffer from divvying up tasks unequally in association with gender norms. According to an article in The Washington Post, women do 2 hours and 12 minutes of housework per day, while men usually only do one hour and 21 minutes.
I’m not sure why my parents didn’t seem to follow the statistic. Perhaps, it was because they both work labor jobs and were BOTH tired after an eight to ten-hour days that they realized it wasn’t fair for one or the other to sit on their butt while the other kept working. Perhaps, it was because my dad was raised in a military family and was brought up to be neat and clean in all things. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful that my dad doesn’t need to write me a letter of apology as the father in the commercial did for his daughter.
When I was in college and dating my ex-boyfriend, we decided that we were going to make dinner in his kitchen one weekend. When I began the preparations, I turned to look for him, only to find that he was plopped on the couch in front of TV. I waited, and waited, and waited. By the time he turned around to say “what?” my hands were on my hips and I did not have a happy look on my face. I definitely made him get up to help me cook.
I may have been lucky to be raised with a father who actually helped my mother maintain the household and didn’t hold his career over hers (actually my mother chose to work the overtime list while my dad whisked us children to practices or school events), but not many daughters are raised that way unfortunately.
Whether parents are heterosexual, same-sex, or single parents, it’s important to impart on both young boys and girls the equal and shared duties within families regardless of gender.
So today (especially in honor of Women’s History Month), I implore you that you raise strong women who expect and require that their partners share in the duties of raising a family and maintaining a household. I implore you to raise men who understand that a relationship is about equality and helping one another, not about placing one’s career over the shared duties and responsibilities of a family unit and home.
To my mother and father, thank you for raising me to have expectations of my future partner and showing me that my gender does not limit me to a certain role, home life, or family dynamic.