In Indian households the change has been particularly exemplary given the country’s patriarchal history.
When Indian film director R. Balki, known for his emphatic portrayal of sensitive subjects (such as in Cheeni Kum, Paa) released his latest Ki and Ka, in April this year, the film was bound to arouse interest. While critics panned the Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor starrer for its patchy treatment, they also took note of the progressive attempt to present the changing gender based equations in millennial relationships.
So while in the movie, the protagonists decide swap the gender rules (wife being the breadwinner and husband minding the household), according to pop psychologists, a lot of interesting gender bending is happening in modern households too.
Challenging the notions of gender dynamics is a whole new generation of millennials who are no longer just talking about equality or shared responsibilities, but are introducing a new social structure, where no definite rules belong to anyone. A generation fueled by the success of start-ups and shaped by the reality of recession, is ready to accept the idea of a work-from-home husband or a breadwinner mom. According to experts, there is no conscious un-following of a regular familial pattern, but after years of husband and wife working cohesively to raise a family today, they are just fine if it’s the woman who’s in a regular job while the husband is still charting out a career plan.
Counselor and life coach lieutenant Rita Gangwani said in a telephonic interview from Italy, “While it is still early to say that a stay-at-home dad is not an exception, but in a developing new trend couples are moving beyond just the arbitrary division of labor.”
She adds, “Till a few years ago most of the couples I counseled were looking at ways to strike a balance while performing their respective roles today a many of them have moved beyond that and are talking about individual investments or setting up enterprises, while the other takes care of finances in the interim.”
This progression has been possible, because today more women than ever are in the workforce, often at highly influential positions. A 2013 study by Pew Social Trends found that in the United States a record 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 included mothers who were either the sole or primary breadwinner for the family. According to US Census data that share was just 11 per cent in 1960.
Another Pew Research Center survey on women and leadership, conducted on 1,835 randomly selected adults online in 2014, revealed that most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and innovation. 73 per cent of surveyed Americans even expected to see a female president in their lifetime.
In Indian households the change has been particularly exemplary given the country’s patriarchal history. But quite a few of those initiating this change are finding it liberating.
Cupertino, Calif., based Indian American Ishdeep Sawhney, who works from home on his matrimonial venture Banihal.com while his wife Binu Kohli holds a regular job with the software company Oracle, says, “Contrary to popular opinions that a work from home dad is more acceptable in America than in India, I would say that stigmas exist everywhere.” He adds, “If a dad says he works from home for many it still translates into — maybe does no work at all.”
The real metrosexual daddys are proud to admit their constantly evolving roles. Sawhney says, “As a work from home dad I have bonded with my toddler son so much that today we love to spend all our extra time together.”
Sociologists say that the new role reversal works in relationships that have an initial level of comfort. Also the changing financial dynamics in the world have led people to become more accepting of unconventional choices. When the recession hit the United States during the late 2000s, men were especially hard hit, because of their major concentration of jobs in finance and banking. Perhaps for the first time since World War II, women were in the forefront as the sole breadwinners in many households. This may have paved the way to ease out notions on women holding the fort.
The new start-up craze and its numerous success stories have also led to couples balancing newer arrangements. Sawhney says: “In the Bay Area, where we live, it’s becoming increasingly common that the husband is working on a start up from his home. Binu has been totally supportive of my decision and she took upon herself the responsibility of continuing her job while I work towards my dreams.”
New Jersey resident Kishore Gangji, who heads the start up Zip.in, an online supermarket based in India, relates to the idea. He says, “I was running a successful company in the US, but I wanted to be part of the start-up movement. What was phenomenal was that my wife Srilalitha let me put everything on hold and took charge of the household while I travelled to India to figure out what I wanted to do.”
He adds, “The initial few months until I managed to find some foothold were tough for her as she donned dual responsibilities, but we sailed through.”
How did they strike a balance? He says, “We have seen many ups and downs together. During the 2008-2009 economic meltdown we weren’t growing, so in 2010 we put all our savings to buy another company. These risks in life prepared us to accept unconventional roles for each other too.” He adds, “Also I had missed the dotcom boom in India as I was not in a place to take risks then and she knew my passion to be the part of this start-up generation.”
Personality coach Rita Gangwani thinks that redefining gender roles may be easier for Indian couples in the West. She says, “Nuclear families, peer pressure from a society that exerts greater emphasis on equality, better day care facilities for the kids are some of the additional areas that make it easier for couples to don a different hat.”
However, many couples in India too are belying the traditions. Gurgaon based Manisha Goyal Chopra, director of Sea Soul Cosmetics, says, “An equal relationship where both partners are fair to each other is what it takes to work out a modern day unconventional relationship.”
Goyal admits that she left a promising career earlier on in their relationship to follow her husband Sankalp to Australia where he got a job. But after 10 years in Australia when Manisha decided to head back to India to launch her cosmetic line, it was the husband’s turn to give up his job in Australia to accompany his wife back home.
She adds, “Even today, I travel at least 15 days a month and Sankalp takes charge during that time. The question as to who is supposed to do what has never really mattered between us.”