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     Volume 4 Issue 73 | December 2, 2005 |

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King of the Castle and his Loyal Subject

Haifa Zangana

Having a baby in the family is fun. Babies are adorable. They are amused by the smallest things from the unassuming toy hanging over their cot to annoying ring-tones on your cell phone. If you love them, they will love you back unquestioningly. In this complicated world, it is wonderful to spend some time with an individual so incredibly simple someone completely untouched by the problems of adult life.

With a baby in the family, adults add to their vocabulary new words like "gaa gaa goo goo" or "oochie poochie koochie" when they run out of things to say to the young one. The baby might think: 'these people are weird, I'm ashamed of my family!', but they are good at hiding their disappointment when adults act silly. After all, they don't want to hurt our fragile feelings. Adults may also unwittingly start humming "baba black sheep" or "twinkle twinkle little star" in a bus or market-place, making others wonder whether they need a visit to Pabna! They may start saying "gaa gaa goo goo" even when the baby isn't around due to force of habit!

Recently my uncle proudly declared that he had changed his baby's diaper. One never finds a woman boasting of changing a nappy, because she does it uncountable times every day. A woman never shows off about all she does for her child. It is taken for granted that it is her sole responsibility to feed, clean and clothe the baby, put the baby to sleep, keep the youngster happy, and so much more. An average housewife with a child works longer hours than her working husband, but her hard work is never recognized. Men have office hours, after which they can relax. On the contrary, a mother's job continues twenty-four hours a day, every single day.

Most people in Bangladesh assume that the western world is more progressive when it comes to gender issues. However, recently the "hit TV series" Wife Swap on Hallmark Channel proved otherwise. Many women in US are under the impression that it is only their duty to manage the household and kids, while their husbands get away with 9-5 jobs. For eating the forbidden fruit, Adam was made to earn the bread for his family, while God condemned Eve with labour pain and raising children. This trend continues today. Women are often confined to the house.

The condition is hardly better for women who participate in 'earning the bread'. A man's profession gives him a pretext to be lazy at home. Once a man steps into his abode, he is safe from the storms of the outside world. He may be a mere clerk at his office, but at home he is the king of the castle, and his wife his loyal subject.

In contrast, a woman's career means that no matter how exhausted she is when she reaches home, she must continue to play the part of a wife and mother. Women everywhere are being overloaded with work in the name of 'emancipation'. Some families in Bangladesh are beginning to recognise men and women as equals. Women are no longer being viewed as belonging only to the domestic sphere. On the other hand, a man's obligation to participate in household chores is also being acknowledged. However, the deviation from the gender stereotypes is taking place at snail's pace. Individuals or families that dare to be different face social opposition. My parents were happy with two daughters. Yet after my younger sister's birth, many people advised my mother to consider a third child. These people included female cousins, aunts and grandmothers, who were disappointed that my mother had been 'deprived' of a son. Men are quick to point out that a woman is a woman's worst enemy. A woman accepts that she is lesser than a man and stands in the way of others who exert their equality. However, these men overlook the fact that women have been conditioned by the patriarchal society for centuries to believe in their inferiority.

Fatima Tuz Zahra is a student of the English Department at Dhaka University. Both of her parents are lawyers. Due to illness her mother is unable to cook, and her father has happily replaced her mother in the kitchen. In Fatima's opinion, it is the parent's responsibility to feed their offspring, and she is not particular about which parent. However, neighbours and friends frequently tell her that she should cook for the family. Not surprisingly, her brother is never expected to do the same.

Coming back to the baby talk, there is no denying that a mother knows what is best for her child. She has been gifted with natural instincts as to what her child needs. However, that is not to say that a father should not learn to share some of the pains as well as pleasures that come with being a parent.



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