“The Tone-Up” amplifies the voices of Muslim women who have something exclusive about Muslim women to talk or rant about. In this instalment, Wardah Abbas talks about the domestic gender-gap in Muslim families.
Al-Aswad reported: I asked Aisha, “What did the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, do when he was with his family?” Aisha said, “The Prophet would do chores for his family and he would go out when it was time for prayer.”
— Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 644
In the middle of a conversation with a friend a few months ago, I listened to her complain about how she was beginning to feel like a slave in her marriage and how her husband rarely offers to “help” with childcare and household chores. She confessed to me that cleaning up after her husband every day was not something she had wished to do with her life. I drew in a deep breath and took a sip from my teacup before getting back to what appeared to be a very delicate topic.
As much as we’ve made significant progress on gender equality, we haven’t given the domestic gender gap the attention it deserves and women are increasingly at the receiving end.
In my final year at the university, I overheard a conversation between two young men in my hostel. One of them, Jami, was my neighbour, who had been doing his laundry at the backyard when his friend walked in. His friend laughed mockingly, patted him on the back and said “Don’t worry. That’s why you’re in the university; to get a job and get married so you would never have to do these things again”
Jami rinsed his hands, free of soap lather and rested his back against the seat directly facing his friend. He then asked “What about the ladies who just like me are also studying in the university and would start working after? Who will do their own chores?”
His friend responded that getting a job is secondary for women and those domestic chores are their primary responsibility.
Jami’s response to his friend was the very first time I heard another perspective from a “young man”. He said “Marriage is a partnership, not a master-servant relationship. It is not beyond anyone to do the basic things in life. These things are life skills and they’re not exclusive to a particular gender”
His friend expressed the widespread sentiment that domestic chores are not only emasculating for men but that women don’t appreciate men who help around the house. Jami was quick to point out that being dutiful in one’s own home is not “help”. He acknowledged the fact that society has allotted separate roles to each gender, but notwithstanding, you do not “help” to do household chores in your own home.
I relayed this conversation to my friend and as much as it appeared very reasonable to her, she expressed despair at the impracticability of it. Seeing that this was a topic that lots of women are concerned about, I concluded that we would all need to be vocal about it.
The truth is, “men do not HELP their wives.” Decent men are dutiful in their homes. They do not help their wives to clean the house because they live there too and also need to clean it.
They do not help their wives to cook because they also get to eat and thus need to participate in the cooking.
They do not help their wives to wash the dishes after eating because they also used those dishes.
They do not help their wives with childcare because the children belong to them too and part of their jobs is to be fathers.
They do not help their wives to wash, spread or fold clothes, because the clothes are theirs and their children’s.
They do not help at home because they are part of their homes.
It was narrated from Aishah (RA) that, The Prophet (PBUH) used to clean his clothes, milk the sheep and himself do his odd jobs. She also says that he would mend his clothes, repair his shoes and do similar other works.
When asked how the Prophet (PBUH) occupied himself at home, she replied, “He used to keep himself busy in household chores and went out when the time for prayer came.”
The narrative that women are better at chores or that they are better child nurturers is faulty. A person is always good at what he does. If you don’t do something regularly, you can’t expect to be good at it. And although men understand that broad statements about gender roles are no longer acceptable, there exists an unspoken expectation that women will do all the domestic chores. As much as we want to deny it, we can no longer ignore the fact that the domestic gender gap is an underlying reason behind most divorces initiated by women.
According to research, men benefit extraordinarily from marriage in terms of happiness, wellbeing and career success while it makes women unhappy and most times leads to depression as they do not only have to deal with cooking, cleaning and childcare but the mental load of doing these things too. From being the person who has to remember to fill up the refrigerator and attend a child’s drama performance at school to knowing when a child needs to see the dentist and doing the laundry, women’s clogged headspaces leave little to no room for free thinking or creative pursuits.
And this is why women need to start having intentional conversations around domestic responsibilities over and over again before making the big decision. This will determine whether you’ll end up in a loving and fulfilling marriage or end up resenting your partner for turning you into a slave.
Conversations around this topic should not be limited to how you want the domestic responsibilities to be split in your home. Who will be responsible for grocery shopping and taking out the garbage? Whether or not you will both cook? What standards of cleanliness you both expect from each other? Whether or not the chores should be split based on who brings home more money and how parental duties will be shared.
In the end, it is the responsibility of every member of the family to cook and clean. It is not a gender thing.
Wardah Abbas is the Founding Editor of The Muslim Women Times. She is a Lawyer, Writer and Social Justice activist.