For countless centuries, women were bound by gender roles that were made to restrict and suppress their dreams. As women’s rights were realized, they knew that they were capable of much more than just cooking, cleaning and bearing children. Women can lead governments and discover new technology. They can be trusted doctors and brave soldiers. Women can write, and paint, and make music. A woman can be anything she wants to be. She can do every single thing that a man can do. But can a man do everything that a woman can?

While we have focused on overcoming patriarchy by empowering women, we forgot to look at the other side of the coin. We have almost achieved an “independent woman”. What about an “independent man?”

Many women all over the world today are proving that nothing can stop them. They cook for their families in the morning, work at their offices for the whole day, come back home to spend time with their children, do all the household work and cook dinner again. Women are challenging their limits every single day. But have we achieved an independent man? Now you may say that men have always been independent. I beg to differ. They never were. They first had their mothers and sisters to care for them. As they grew older, they had their wives and daughters. If they didn’t have any of these, they had housemaids. During this past year spent under COVID-19 lockdown, I wonder how single “independent” men are getting things done, with restaurants closed and house-helps relieved. I hope they’re doing fine. While we taught girls to read and write, to earn money, and to make their own decisions; this society forgot to teach boys to cook, to wash clothes, to do dishes and to clean the house. We teach a working woman that she also needs to care for her family and do household work because no job is less important. A working woman has to balance her profession and her household duties, and excel at both, whereas men can be content with just earning money, because what are wives for? They tell young girls these days that they must know how to cook, not just because they need to feed husbands, but because it’s an important “life skill”.

If a girl is living alone in a distant city, relatives ask her “Do you cook there?” And a guy in the same situation, they’ll ask him whether he found a mess or canteen nearby, or whether someone can come work for him. Women of this era have grown into wonderful human beings, who are capable, strong, and caring. But why don’t we see men taking up brooms and mops? Patriarchy still conditions men into feeling that doing a “woman’s job” is going to puncture their bubble of (toxic) masculinity. The society labels a homely man as “weak, submissive” and even “his wife’s slave” while men who do not help with household chores, sit watching the TV and pass around orders are thought to be strong tough men who can dominate their servile wives. How many men are babysitters and nurses? How many are house-husbands who have quit their jobs to spend more time with their children? Why can’t they be soft and caring when needed, and strong and stern at the same time? Why can’t they be that when women can be loving mothers and authoritative bosses at the same time? We encouraged women to do everything that a man does. But we didn’t allow men to do the same. We made them feel that whatever it is that they do, it has to fetch money. We emphasized on the man being the “bread-winner” and enforced gender roles. That’s why you can see them become professional cooks and janitors, but there’s still a stigma that makes other men wary of doing these jobs at home, for free. We uphold the modern woman’s multitasking skills, the way she juggles between office and home, we see advertisements where she’s shown with eight hands, we glorify her unpaid labor as “Maa ka pyar” or a woman’s “natural instincts.” Men who do their share of household chores are thought of as “perfect husbands,” who are “supportive” of their wife’s job and “help her.” We must encourage them to do this, but also remember not to put them on a pedestal. The bare minimum should not be exalted.

Unless and until all gender roles are done away with, we cannot attain a world with equality. Let us inspire both men and women to realize that they can do everything in the world, that no job is less, and no work is gender specific. Let us create a healthy and fluid society where men are allowed to show emotions, to cry, to be soft and weak at times, just as we let women be strong and daring. Let us uproot patriarchy and let the world finally become one harmonious heaven where every individual feels free to be what they want. Let us start from the people in our lives, our friends, co-workers, relatives. Let us be aware, and make aware. Let’s talk. Let’s fight for that one beautiful world where man and woman are equal, in all aspects, and each role that they perform is equally important.

Saraswati Palnitkar is an ASAP Youth Champion from India.