Care and Caregiving: Beyond Gender Stereotypes

Caregiver, Gender, Stereotype

My grandparents, both maternal and paternal, shed gender expectations like snakeskin. They were bold in their thinking for the time. They divided the chores of the house, pursued careers in fields they were interested in, were legally, financially and morally equal individuals in each other’s eyes. It was the first spawn of true feminism in our household that once demanded strength and structure. To my surprise, my parents more or less fit the mould of traditional roles: my mother stays at home, governs that space, and works from there. By 8:30 a.m., my father is out of the door and headed to work. The contrast between the generations was highlighted by how the elders were more ‘modern’ than the children – it seemed like their ideology didn’t rub off on them.

To certain Indian groups, this is an eyebrow-raising development. The gender roles and stereotypes assigned to people aren’t as easy to shrug off, despite women being as educationally empowered as men. My mother works from home, yet, she herself assumes the responsibilities of the house since my father is too tired to take care of it. It’s not gender-specific, it’s just the way things are. It’s still equal if you look at it through that lens, right?

Not really. There are different roles people take on in a house which also extends to caregiving. The role of the static male and female in the house is rather typical. The static male is responsible for commanding, organising and solving. The static female excels at nurturing, compensating and enriching. Together they form the establishment of a household, the steady foundation, the roots that sink deep. Here’s where it gets a little more free, though. The dynamic male accomplishes, succeeds and rethinks. The dynamic female visualises, creates, explores and reshapes. Each one of us has the capability to not only possess, but master all of these traits.

Now, why should this matter to caregivers?

Indians value hierarchy and respecting rules. We also value, in most states of India, allowing the male to make the final decisions. The children of our society are taught to essentially fear their elders, and more so male ones. Since men are busy planning, achieving and succeeding, they have very little time to nurture, explore and enrich, which makes them appear steadfast and scary. Male traits focus on things like earning higher revenue, being appreciated for original work,  This leaves women managing the job of caregiving by themselves, something that has been embedded in our behaviour for as long as we can remember. Because of our evolutionary transformation, female caregivers tackle the emotional aspect of issues with caregiving, while males tend to study at the problem and fix it. However, coping became even easier when problem-solving strategies and emotional-support strategies are combined, and emotional support and acceptance is sought in line with social support and information. The combination of strategies employed by male and female caregivers return the most beneficial results to improve one’s quality of life. It is therefore up to the caregiver to take these hard facts and fashion them into workable strategies.

  1. Change the way things are done at home. Involve males and females equally in decision-making, even if you don’t always agree or take someone’s input sometimes. Create a rotational system where people are caregivers for a specified amount of time and divide jobs according to abilities. Take turns doing menial tasks if time permits for all the members of the family, like watering plants or bathing a bedridden care-receiver. Create boundaries between yourself and your caregiving job to ensure you’re not always in a constant state of compassion fatigue and burnout. This defining static masculine trait comes handy when it’s applied in ways beneficial to you.
  2. Let your patient be. It is great to inculcate the static feminine trait of being nurturing when you’re caregiving, but that may lead to negative attitudes like hyper-attention, feelings of guilt and care-receiver blame. Always remember to give your caree some space because they need a break from taken care of, too. It is emotionally taxing for them to see a loved one do everything for them, and can even worsen your loved one’s progress. Ask them if they’d like to be more involved in their own care-taking, and then allow them to do certain tasks for themselves if they say yes. [hyperlink at ‘certain tasks’ to Aneesh’s article]
  3. Engage in creative downtime. Colouring in mandalas results in significantly lower stress levels. The dynamic female really know what she was doing! So while colouring in notebooks may seem juvenile, working with pencils and colours may, in fact, help untangle the knots of worry at the forefront of your mind. If not that, develop a creative hobby – learn a new instrument, take up knitting. You could even involve your care-receiver if possible, thus strengthening your bond in a time of peace. It may seem unorthodox, considering the fact that India has rules for what men can and cannot do, but remember that you are in the role of a caregiver, and the journey you endeavour for your loved one is enormously brave and risky. Might as well go all the way, right?
  4. Speak about your caregiving journey at work. This is one thing most people struggle with – lowering your defences and breaking your silence on something you’ve withheld for long. It’s not easy to share the fact that a loved one has a debilitating condition, but the feat deserves to be appreciated. Seeking social support as a coping mechanism previously proven to be effective. On the contrary, your boss may not promote you because of your caregiving duties and may believe you could be inefficient. Therefore, open up to a trusted circle of colleagues at work, and speak to your HR department about flexible work timings and ponder over your options. Opening up is part of self-expression, a dynamic feminine trait that everyone should have for a healthy mind.
  5. Plan your finances, but don’t overplan. Individuals with male traits often prefer sticking to a strict budget and not making concessions for individual members while instead thinking of the family’s well-being as whole. Members of the family with female traits, however, because of their more nurturing nature, tend to indulge children or other members of the family in their own whims. This allows female-oriented caregivers to strengthen their bonds with care-receivers a little more. Still, one must remember to not cross the budget by a lot – and this is why one needs to have both masculine and feminine traits in a balanced way. This also gives you an opportunity to see how secure your material well-being is, in terms of income and assets, which is an often unnoticed aspect of quality of life.

The compound word Sati-Savitri in Hindi, the names of two women in Hindu mythology who risked and even sacrificed their lives for their husbands, is the standard we often hold Indian women to. Caregivers, who are often female, directly get affected by these stereotypes, especially if they do not conform to them. Societal benchmarks affect men negatively just as much, as male caregivers sometimes struggle with being nurturing and replenishing – much like a caregiver I interacted with who just couldn’t say “I love you” for the longest time to his terminally ill brother. Speculating about the role you play outside of caregiving as a parent, a child, a professional – everything else you are – can set you on the right path to maintaining quality of life. Recognising who you are and what you need to be, and observing well-rounded caregivers around you, can accentuate your quality of life. Be mindful of your uniqueness and individuality regardless of what society asks of you. Our job as caregivers is to create a healthy synergy of male and female traits today for a happier tomorrow.

About The Author

Angelina Robertson

Angelina Robertson is a student at Oberoi International School. She takes a keen interest in the fields of psychology and journalism, and wishes to pursue a career in said veins. She also firmly believes in dismantling prejudices people have against seeking therapy especially in the region of India, where mental wellbeing is often ignored. 

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