Watching women cook during Ramadan is a pretty common sight, with this effort oftentimes being viewed as a necessary duty. It took me years to realise how what should instead be talked about is the lack of male presence in the kitchen, and why most people don't think this is odd.
As a child, watching the women in my family being busy with meal plans, regardless of whether it is after an exhausting day of holding down the fort at home or at work, was an everyday scenario in the month of Ramadan. What wasn't as common however, was watching the men and the boys take up this role in any capacity, let alone equally, and how they would instead mostly lounge about or carry on with other regular tasks while women took over the kitchen, and my adult self has been wondering why this is the case.
Don't get me wrong, #NotAllMen are uninterested in cooking, it is just that in the case of those who are uninterested, it is not considered necessary that they participate in it. A lot of the time, even in families where the men help out with chores, and may otherwise be characterised as caring and/or good people, their absence in the kitchen is eternal, and largely accepted. Even in this day and age, cooking during Ramadan is still considered a 'duty' for women, whereas males helping out in the kitchen is viewed as something 'novel and 'kind.'
How did things become this way? Certain issues such as gender bias impacting kids could have contributed to how things are now. Cooking toys are seldom bought for male children because they are deemed as feminine. Sometimes, when a male child tries to help out with cooking in Ramadan, they are automatically asked to sit and relax while their mothers take over all kitchen duties, saying that such work is not for them. Strangely, men are encouraged to and are okay with buying groceries, but when it comes to putting in the effort to cook, they tend to be reluctant. It is as though assisting the act of cooking is acceptable, instead of the act of cooking itself. When boys are constantly subject to being taught that their absence in the kitchen is the norm, they eventually distance themselves from it, sometimes even associating it with masculinity.
How can this trend be broken? Perhaps by explaining to kids in a household that it is only fair that all individuals who have iftar or sehri during Ramadan should play a role in preparing it. Teaching kids of an appropriate age to actively participate in iftar preparation can get them accustomed to this behaviour, regardless of their gender. The same applies to adult men, if more than one individual is capable of preparing the two vital meals of the day during Ramadan, it makes emergency situations easier to handle if someone is absent, it becomes easier to divide the workload. Cooking has been made much easier thanks to recipes in blogs and various YouTube tutorials, so beginner disasters are less likely to occur. Attempting to cook could even help you discover a newfound talent. Equal distribution of the tasks required to be done before iftar and sehri hours allows others to focus on other things such as prayers, and exploring their spirituality, which is what Ramadan is all about.
This Ramadan and beyond, let us take our responsibilities seriously instead of shirking away, and help out in the kitchen not because we want to, but because we should.
Bushra Zaman likes books, art, and only being contacted by email. Contact her at email@example.com