I have devised a test that separates the wheat (wholesome, pukka, excellent) from the chaff (redundant useless fluff), and I’m calling it the Makhan Test: right this minute, do you know whether there is butter in your fridge, or not? If you do, then you’ve passed and you can carry on to the crossword and Dilbert in the comics section. If you don’t know, then please proceed to read the rest of this column quite carefully if you’d like the women in your life to be nicer to you.

We talk a lot about work, and the nature of work, and how women’s work is devalued and men’s is not, and how men are also constrained by having to work and all of that. The crux of the matter, though, the thing that strikes to the very heart of the inequality of labour between men and women is the butter. While men may help around the house and with the children, more often than not they do it because they’ve been asked to by their wives, who they see as a manager. The wife is “in charge”, and the men do what they are told—but nothing more. It isn’t an equitable situation if one person has to constantly keep pushing the other; a balanced relationship is one where both parties take initiative. When you see your partner as the manager, you are taking a step back from the responsibility of real participation in your family. In a most lucid and straight-to-the-point illustrated article, “You Should Have Asked” by Emma describes exactly what emotional labour is, and why women are stuck doing it whether they like it, or want to.

Many people seem to think that if only women took a stand and stopped doing the myriad things they do for others all day long, the inequality would address itself. That if you stopped keeping tabs on the eggs and bread, and one morning there would be no breakfast, then your partner would start keeping an eye on the eggs and bread too and voila! Problem solved. All these people are obviously people who have never practiced what they preach, because when there is nothing to eat for breakfast, you get judged for being a sloppy housewife and everyone goes to school and work hungry. It’s not a winning situation when your kids suffer because their mom is trying to make a point with their dad. It also reduces you to a hysterical looking stunt-puller, and frankly, that’s just humiliating. Only Asghari from Miraat-ul-Uroos could pull those kind of manipulative stunts and get away with it; the rest of us are mostly Asgharis bumbling along and having our silverware stolen by conniving Mama Azmat-level house help.

If you ask for a glass of water, the expectation is that your partner will refill the fridge bottle, and put it back in the fridge because that’s what you do, every time. There is no reason why they can’t do it, but they don’t. They can upend a pile of neatly folded clothes to get to the bottom shirt, but not re-stack the clothes again. The problem is not biological, that men simply lack the motor control to fold a shirt. The problem is that they never consider it unless you ask them, and that’s why the makhan test exists. Desi men are far too cushioned by socialization (it’s not a “man’s job”) and the Other Labour that surrounds them, be it female relatives’ or house help, to really bother with what they see as the boring minutae of domestic life.

And of course it is boring details, but what makes anyone think women enjoy them? It’s just that the cult of masculinity in desi men is such that being tidy, helping with the washing up or other house chores are equated with females, and so doing any of it makes you effete. But the entire edifice of a secure family life is predicated on doing chores that happen regularly. Without the support of a stable home life, it’s difficult to be a productive, useful person outside of it. Why should home be a necessarily gendered space, then? Shouldn’t men be taught that home is as much theirs as anyone else’s? And when men start considering themselves as members of a family instead of its leaders or dictators, then there is space for dialogue, for ensuring your children have a safe space to thrive in, and for love. An egalitarian participation in the welfare of one’s family makes for so many good relationships and role models, not to mention the fact that the only real way to bond with very small children is to do the boring little things—the baths, the diapers, the feeding. Children develop attachments with the people that help look after them, and if you as a father are an involved one then you’re establishing a bond of trust and love that will last you a lifetime. The same goes for a partner—it is in the everyday gestures that kindness and friendship happens, not in the extravagant roses for Valentine’s Day or grand, surprise birthday parties.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com