Homemakers: Very much a part of the global workforce


 Recently, when Pakistan's cricket icon, Shahed Afridi, hinted lightheartedly during a casual interview that a woman's place was at home, it set the cat among the pigeons.  The Pak yuppy crowd (including a few DAWN columnists) blew it out of all proportion.   Would such a comment in the 1950s or 60s, or even in the 70s raise the raucous it did?  Probably not .. or never.   It was only the man's personal opinion, something to which everyone is entitled.  There are loads of women who would actually concur, who prefer to avoid the dreadful hassles of waking up early every morning and spending nine hours at a workplace, five days a week, with all its rants and workplace-intrigues to say the least!  Who in their right minds would every look forward to that unless compelled?  Thus, the modern-day expression in North America, "everyone hates Mondays" is understandable.  Fantasies set aside, realistically a career is often a lot more stressful than fun.  If it was possible for  everyone to win a lotto lucky number at least once in their lifetime, most business centers would look like ghost towns.  

A typical "South Asian" half-baked and depthless reading is to misconstrue any comment on women being good cooks or fine caretakers of their homes as derogatory, viewing them as incompetent and reclusive compared to the 'busy bodies' outdoors.  There is no dearth of one-dimensional fools who have never realized that pursuing housework has nothing to do with being a nincompoop.  On the contrary, it's yet another remarkable talent.  There would be any number of Muslim women everywhere in the world who run their homes wonderfully and also have brilliant minds to think, decide and articulate themselves concerning all walks of life.  The fact that most households actually do have a dependency 'problem' on their  womenfolk who perform their household tasks expected of a wife, mother, daughter or sister with grace and skill must not be downplayed.  Such versatility is the first and most indispensable prerequisite of a bright and exceptional mind.

While the Western media does harbor a judgmental approach concerning stay-at-home Muslim women in the Muslim world as a part of its condescending 'etiquette,' the aspect of  homemaking itself is greatly appreciated in the West. Home cooked food, home baked confectioneries, home stitched clothes, home knitted sweaters, home embroidered table covers, napkins, wall-hangings, linen etc. are considered awesome manifestations of skill  that would help you earn tons of compliments from friends and neighbors compared to similar commercial items purchased from the market.  Personalities like Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker and many more whose expertise is primarily as homemakers - cooking and decorating - have acquired enough money and fame to buy those who make light of homebodies several times over!   A popular new approach in the West is dispelling the notion that skills and talents developed through homemaking aren't marketable or valuable.  Yes they are, and many senior corporate executives agree with it.   Quoting a very interesting bit from CS Monitor, "Robert McNulty, vice-president in charge of planning and operations for AT&T Information Systems states flatly that reasonably well-educated homemakers wanting to enter the workplace may be the largest untapped source of managerial talent in the country.  The ability to juggle a number of diverse tasks at once, a knack for getting warring parties to work together, an ability to see that contract workers (i.e., plumbers and other service people) do a job right - these are among the ''general manager'' skills that a good homemaker may have developed.

The purpose of this discourse is NOT to thwart career orientation in women, rather it's to define the vast diversity of the concept comprehensively enough to avoid misconceptions based on opinionated ideas and discrepant generalizations, while not dumping the cultural side of ourselves altogether in a frenzy of 'hop, skip and jump' for a change.  The diversity in the entire field of professional careers consists of an extensive variety of skills - the job description of a homemaker being one of them. 

There are lots of women in Muslim countries who need to work because their husbands aren't making enough to maintain the standard they want for themselves and their children.  In some families single women need to support their elderly parents and younger siblings.  These are common, compelling and tough situations, not envious ones.  Such women simply must work, there can be no two ways about it, unless they are unable to find work.  Women working outside their homes didn't become a practice in the West out of naught.  It developed out of financial necessity, particularly after the war when cost of living began to climb rapidly putting greater pressure on family budgets of the middle-class.  Where the husband makes enough to comfortably meet the requirements of a fair lifestyle without any financial contributions from his spouse, women are in no hurry to join the workforce.  They often never do.    

Marriages seldom break because the wife is a bad doctor or an incompetent lawyer.  But they are negatively impacted a lot more often if she's a slovenly, cranky and disinterested manager of her home.  Eventually your kids won't remember you and love you because you were a good writer or a good singer;  they'll love you if you were a good mother who spent a lot of time with them in a caring household. At the end of the day, parents dote on their daughter because she's their child who adores them just as much, not because she's the first female engineer or first female pilot of her country.

Briefly recounting the story of Marie Kaczanowski which appeared in Edmonton Journal in January 2014.  She was a Polish-Canadian woman who lived in the prairies.  Marie married a Polish immigrant in the 1940s residing at a nearby farm after speaking to him one day for only five hours .... and the marriage lasted for almost 40 years until her husband passed away in the late 1980s.  The couple had four children and moved around small-town Alberta.  The article writes, "Through it all, Marie was a perfectionist in her homemaking. Her children remember angel food cakes baked in wood-burning stoves, entire wardrobes stitched by hand, and majestic spruce trees that she grew from seed. Her gardens provided both beauty and nourishment. She canned and pickled her produce, and wouldn’t waste a vegetable scrap or a seed."  Marie passed away in 2013.  "She recycled before it was even a word," said her daughter, Anne. "There were lots of women like mom, but their story was never important to anyone."

This is precisely the archaic outlook in countries like Pakistan and India in the 21st century, yet tragically misinterpreted as contemporary and modish.  Talent is defined by viewing it through a very narrow prism and thus the stories of amazing homemakers are never important to anyone.  Surprisingly, talented, educated and cultured homemakers are dissed more often by other women rather than men.  Some women with excessive pent-up steam for a "change" have a difficult time recognizing that what others do in managing a home is NOT a whole lot different from what they might do in managing a business or an office.