‘I will not take orders from a woman,’ Sanobar chewed on the words before letting them out. He was leaning over me, looking larger and taller than ever before.

‘Splendid. Go home.’ I said almost immediately, devoid of emotion.

Sanobar’s eyebrows reacted first. They jumped apart. Then he began to process the repercussions of what my words really meant. A wave of uncertainty disturbed the resolve in his eyes.

Then he mustered a measly response, ‘But she’s a woman. And we don’t work with women.’

Honestly, when I hired a female chef, I thought the only possible crime I could be alleged for was to reinforce the narrative that a woman belongs in the kitchen. But here I was, violating Sanobar’s sense of manhood because a woman had asked him to chop her some onions.

So on one hand Sanobar has these ideas about a woman’s place in society that limit him in his capacity to work in diverse, mixed gender teams and on the other he’s probably the greatest house help one could wish for. And that leaves me in a bit of a pickle.

Sanobar has worked at my residence for five years. He helps everybody with every chore and still has energy to do more. He has probably never complained about anything in the time he has been here and almost everything he says ends with a chuckle or a smile.

I didn’t want to lose Sanobar to the ‘feeling’ of uneasiness he experienced when a woman asked him to cut her some onions. So I worked on him.

‘Sanobar, you are a God fearing Muslim right?’

‘Right’

‘Ok. Do you know the history of the religion you follow?’

‘Yes, I do’

‘Great. Do you know that right at the start, when it all began, when Islam was born, certain well-known Muslim women of the time fought wars alongside men?’

‘Yes, I know’

‘So men and women can fight wars together, but they can’t cook in the same kitchen?’

After a brief pause, in typical fashion, Sanobar chuckled. And then when I thought he would say something, he chuckled some more. And then he uttered the one phrase I was hoping he wouldn’t.

‘But she’s a woman’.

I realized I was dealing with an opinion that had formed and solidified over twenty-six long years. The limitations of flawless logic steered me into the realm of emotion.

‘So you have never taken orders from your mother, or sister, or cousin or aunt? Have they never asked you to help with anything? Have you never worked together?’

Atypically this time, Sanobar didn’t chuckle. He only nodded in quiet contemplation. I suppose he was experiencing some kind of philosophical transition; a flashback perhaps of all the times he was taught not to interact with women beyond blood – who knows.   

The only thing that matters is that he’s back to cutting onions and keeping the house in order. Whether he has truly crossed a barrier in his mind or not, one can never know for sure. I can only tell you he’s not chuckling as much as he used to. And a lot of people aren’t. And this is not because of the difference in the way we think. It’s because of our inability to accept that difference. 

The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.