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Pay role

Financial freedom is one thing, but when it comes to being the breadwinner, women prefer to have their men take charge.
Hindustan Times | By Tavishi Paitandy Rastagi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 02, 2008 08:50 PM IST

When actor Arshad Warsi switched roles with his wife Maria it caused some comment since house husbands were a bit of an unknown element.

But since Warsi was an actor a notoriously unstable occupation no one really made much of it. The scene is different today, when more and more men in more traditional occupations than films, married to women who earn just as much as they do if not more, are beginning to feel what Arshad felt then.

'Why do a job you don't particularly want to do, if you'd be happier (even if less well-paid) doing something else?' On the face of it, it's logical. If women can depend on their husbands for an income while they stay home to take care of the kids, or work on something that interests them but doesn't bring in enough money, then why can't men do the same?

Trading place

They can. (Or at least, are beginning to realise that they can.) And, in fact, as lawyer Sidhant Manchanda did, quite a few men have done it. After all, as Sidhant says, "We have come to a stage where it really doesn't matter who works in the home and who goes out to bring in the money It's no longer a male dominated society."

But even though Sidhant consulted his wife, Sujata, who is also a lawyer, before finally deciding to quit his corporate job and take up painting full time, a few months into the new arrangement, he discovered that it had put a great strain on their relationship. "When I was in my nine to five job and so was my wife, we had disagreements and fights but things were not really bad," he says. "We argued about everything in general, including issues of financial independence and equal earning. We fought if I didn't help with laying the table," he recounts.

"But that was all normal. Two months after I quit however, Sujata who was so supportive when I made my decision, changed." Now, says Sidhant, Sujata is constantly bitter The two of them fight all the time over issues that had never cropped up before. "She has a problem with whatever I do," says Sidhant.

"If I sleep late, if I have to travel for my exhibitions, she has a problem. She feels that what I do does not bring in enough money, and I am not doing enough to build a proper future."

One way

Sidhant is not the only house husband to face this predicament. Delhi University lecturer Milind Mishra also had to deal with non-stop criticism from his wife when he took study leave to complete his Ph.D. "I had enough savings, but things were stn financially tight and my wife had to be the family breadwinner for that whole yeal:" says Milind. "

And she never let me forget it. I was constantly told that I was irresponsible, selfish and uncaring. I tried to understand the pressure she was under, but finally I couldn't take it any more and asked her a single question. What if she decided to quit her job some day? Should I castigate her in the same fashion?"

That silenced Milind's wife, but that's a question a lot of men ask. If, as sociologist Aruna Aggarwal says, society has changed and women can be as independent as men, why is it okay for a woman to stop working, but not for a man?

The answer: as sociologist Aruna Mahajan says, is that society has changed - but not so very much."In a society like India, a girl is generally brought up in a far more protective environment than a boy," says Mahajan. "Even in the most broadminded households, women grow up believing that though they are equal to men, they still need to be taken care of. They are psychologically and socially more comfortable assuming the role of the nurturer rather than the bread winner"

For a lot of women, this is true. It isn't a matter of avoiding responsibility, it's more about being easier in a particular role. "I am quite comfortable earning the money," says teacher Suparna Awasthi. "But to do it all alone with no help... I don't think I could do that. If I were really alone, it would be fine because I wouldn't have any other choice. But since I have a family, I think fathers and husbands should be the primary income-earners."

First among equals

That aside, a lot of women are not comfortable with the idea of being the primary income-earners because they feel that their husbands would not do enough around the home.

"Boys are not brought up with an attitude to stay at home and cook for their wives and kids," points out call centre executive Paromita Menon. "But girls, however independent they may be, have it ingrained in them that they are also home makers. That's the difference. When a woman goes out to earn, she does not forget her household duties. A man often does."

So equal distribution of work is a huge issue when it comes to house husbands, and so is the fact that - yet again - society has not changed as much as we think it has. If a man doesn't work, neighbours and relatives want to know why - and they'll have some rather uncomplimentary things to say about it.

As psychologist Prerna Gill says, perhaps financial independence is not the only factor at work in the house husband issue. "Women like to be in control," she says. "But they also like to be associated with people who are in control themselves. Call it lateral pride, but it exists." Till that is sorted out, men will have to accept that in some areas, it's tough to give up control.

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