As she takes her keys out of her handbag to let herself into their penthouse, she can already hear the laughs of the children echoing. “Mummy! Mummy!” they squeal as she steps in, hands flailing about as all three of them lunge towards her. “Hello my darlings”, she says as she picks the youngest, “did you have a good day today”? She asks. As the reunion goes on at the entrance, her husband emerges from the kitchen, the distinct spicy aroma of peppered stew wafting off of him. They smile as they make eye contact in the midst of the chaos being formed by the children. “Kids go wash up so we can eat”, he says, this statement finally earning him some quiet time with his wife. They embrace and ask about each other’s days. “I had to give a presentation to the board of directors and it was honestly nerve-racking”, she says. “But I did it, and if all went as I hope, congratulations would be in order soon!”. “That’s amazing”, he says. “I dropped the kids at school, turned in some reports at the office, then I went to the market. The price of tomatoes keeps increasing and it is ridiculous, but I got all we needed, picked the kids up, and made dinner. It’s your favorite, rice and stew. I’ll take your bags to the room, just sit down and eat”. As she gives him her bags she realizes that the door had been open this whole time. As she turns around to shut it, her nosy neighbor who was supposedly ‘taking out the trash’ says to her “you must be so lucky to have a husband that cooks, cleans, and takes care of the kids, but you are the woman of the house, do your job so that he does not find a wife somewhere else.”
“You must be so lucky to have a husband that cooks, cleans, and takes care of the kids, but you are the woman of the house, do your job so that he does not find a wife somewhere else.”
Let’s analyze this statement. Firstly, the term lucky is described as a feeling of being fortunate, blessed, and favored usually due to chance and not one’s will. This mother, working a full-time job, is described as ‘blessed’ because her children are being taken care of by their other parent and because she doesn’t have to go through the stress of preparing a meal after a long day at the office. Is there a flaw in this neighbor’s judgment?
Now, let’s consider the scenario as a whole. The setting is the high-end apartment of a middle-class family. The wife is the breadwinner, and the husband is the primary caregiver. Objectively speaking, it is unusual for the man to be the main caregiver or homemaker in the family. Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and his wife Yasemin Besen-Cassino, from Montclair State University, conducted a study on this topic, relying on the American Time Use Study. According to their findings, Most men—77 percent—did no housework on any given day. Let’s narrow this down to Nigeria.
“The Nigeria Men and Gender Equality Survey (NiMAGES) was conducted in six diverse sites across the country. NiMAGES aims to provide credible information on the realities of gender relations in Nigeria in order to stimulate debate and provide a platform on which to advocate for gender equality. Voices for Change hopes that the results will provide an important source of evidence which Nigerian activists, policymakers, researchers, and others can use as they adapt and expand their work with men and boys, women and girls, and Nigerian communities as a whole to advance a thriving, equitable, gender-just future.”
According to this study by NiMAGES, the agreement on restrictive norms about gender roles in Nigerian households was almost universal, with 94% of men and 91% of women agreeing that ‘a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for her family’. In this same study, most respondents recall their fathers playing a role in certain domestic work and childcare, but only at low to moderate levels. More than half of respondents reported that their fathers ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ prepared food, washed clothes, cleaned the house, or fetched water.
On the topic of decision making, participants’ reflections on their childhood homes reveal a highly gendered division of decision-making authority. The majority of respondents – 74% of men and 72% of women – recall that their fathers ‘had the final word’ about decisions related to ‘large investments’. Respondents’ mothers, on the other hand, tended to wield the most influence over decisions related to food and clothing. This reveals that the men handled the ‘more important’ tasks and are therefore seemingly superior to their wives.
Going back to the aforementioned scenario, it can be said that the lifestyle of that family is quite unusual. These findings raise the question: Why is it unusual for men to be the primary caregivers in a household? The simple answer-mindset.
The term mindset is defined as a set of assumptions, methods, or notions held by one or more people or groups of people. A mindset can also be seen as arising out of a person’s world view or philosophy of life. Mindsets related to gender, gender roles, and gender inequality are not limited to household roles such as cooking and cleaning. Common mindsets that fuel the notion of gender inequality include:
- It is the woman’s job to cook, clean, bear children, and take care of the children.
- Boys have more potential and therefore should have more access to education.
- Men are naturally dominant and therefore should hold positions of authority in the workplace or wherever.
- The boy child is more valuable than the girl child because they carry on the family name.
- It is the man’s job to ‘provide’ for the family.
- Men are smarter than women.
- Men are more credible sources than their female counterparts.
- Once the bride price is paid, a man is free to do whatever he pleases to his wife.
- Women in leadership positions are very easily influenced.
These 9 are only a glimpse into the thousands of mindsets that have built and shaped society as we know it today.
Tackling the real culprit behind gender inequality, our mindset, is the way forward. Simply put, we need to change our mindsets. Changing societal mindsets may take generations to complete but we need to start. It is not a simple task seeing as some researchers have declared that it only takes a tenth of a second to form a nearly unshakeable first impression. Compare this to years of misinformation. We need to put an end to these preconceived notions, change our perspectives and how we view the world around us. We need to instill in ourselves and others, a high level of self-awareness that helps free ourselves and others from the limiting power of stereotypes. Steps we can take include:
- Analyzing situations objectively.
- Learn, understand, and accept that men and women are equal beings.
- Understand that household chores and children’s care are every adult’s responsibility.
- Watch for signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse, especially in marriages.
- Empower women by voting them into positions of authority.
Although difficult, it is possible to tackle the real culprit behind gender inequality. Today,
- There is no country where women earn the same as men.
- There is no country where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as women.
- There is no country where women and girls do not suffer violence.
Improve your mindset, give women and girls a chance to flourish, and watch how society blooms. Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s not a luxury or a’ first world problem’. It’s the very basis of a fair and prosperous future.
Colantuono, Susan. “Changing Mindsets, Taking Action.” Leading Women, 2019, www.leadingwomen.biz/blog/changing-the-mindsets-of-managers.
Council of Europe. “Let’s End Gender Inequality!” Council of Europe, Council of Europe, 6 Mar. 2020, www.coe.int/en/web/portal/end-gender-inequality.
“Empower Women – Mindset’ Key to Unlocking Gender Equality in the Workplace.” EmpowerWomen, www.empowerwomen.org/en/resources/documents/2017/01/mindset-key-to-unlocking-gender-equality-in-the-workplace?lang=en.
Khazan, Olga. “The Only Chore Men Will Do Is Cook.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 26 Oct. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/10/the-only-chore-men-will-do-is-cook/505067/.
O’Sullivan, David. “Toward Gender Equality: We Must Change the Working Mindset.” Medium, Delegation of the European Union to the United States, 8 Mar. 2018, medium.com/euintheus/toward-gender-equality-we-must-change-the-working-mindset-36bcf002d16e.
Wilson, Julie. “5 Top Issues Fueling Gender Inequality in the Workplace.” As You Sow, As You Sow, 25 Feb. 2019, www.asyousow.org/blog/gender-equality-workplace-issues.
Written by Chimdalu Ibekaku