In a world that generally reeks of patriarchism, it isn’t every day we find women in roles predefined to suit men. The lives of women have been tailored to fit certain prejudices that limit them to the walls of their household. Women are to immerse themselves in the works of the home while men set out to earn wages. With time, aspects of this fallible structure has been questioned and fought against, and in many areas of our lives we now see women donning ‘men’s’ roles. What lead to the gendering of certain work is unknown or rather can only be found by digging deep into the patriarchy embedded within many.
Traditionally there are many jobs that have only been done by men for ages. The culture and tradition of Kerala have been weaved so that these fields of work were never considered to be appropriate for women. It was either because it demanded much strength or it involved a higher level of risk. Manual labor, that didn’t involve a household of any sort, was never considered a woman’s cup of tea. Having said this, in recent years women doing what is traditionally a man’s job is a common sight in Kerala.
Kerala is a land of powerful and ambitious women, women that venture into different fields of work without letting societal norms hold them back. Over the years, women have started taking what was mostly considered a ‘man’s job’ in Kerala. Manual labor which was predominantly done by men are now also done by women in many parts of the State. The sky isn’t the limit but the starting point for the hardworking and strong-willed women of God’s Own Country. Kerala Insider has put together some of the areas of work that was considered only for men up until now and some amazing women testing their boundaries.
The giant chenda, a percussion drum, is much more than just an instrument for Kerala’s people. The “Singari Melam” popularly played at festivals, temples and celebrations like onam among many other occasions evokes several emotions in Malayalis. It is traditionally played by men but off late we see women clad in sarees conquering the art. The chenda weighs around 10kg and its playing demands a lot of energy from the drummer, this is in no way a barrier for the women who enjoy playing the drums. Female chenda players like Nalini K and Deepa V have set an example to many, they motivate women and girls to take up the art of chenda which is dominated by men. Dr. Nalini Varma is yet another female chenda player that is popular for conquering the art of chenda.
A field of work that has been drawing women to it is the climbing of coconut trees, earlier the thought of a woman climbing trees would have been unfathomable. After machines were made to make climbing trees easier, women have also started climbing to make a living. There have been many efforts by government bodies, educational institutions and other communities to teach women how to climb trees and thanks to this there are quite a few women who have taken up the job. Women work in fields, construction sites and other places that require manual labor too.
What else is typically a man’s job? Driving heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks were never done by women for the longest of times. Kerala’s Radhamani TK is a 69-year-old who has over 11 licenses to her name and can drive 20 different heavy vehicles. Radhamani Amma is not the only one, though she is one of the very first to venture into driving heavy vehicles in Kerala, there are many other women driving KSRTC buses, school buses, trucks etc. V P Sheela has also shattered the stereotypes and went on to become the first women driver at KSRTC. Women also drive auto-rickshaws and it has now slowly become less of an unusual sight. Women are acquiring whatever invisible power that men had and women didn’t earlier.
To top it off, Kerala is also home to seafaring fisherwomen. Rekha from Thrissur, is the first woman in India to get a deep-sea fishing license. She goes fishing in the deep sea and doesn’t limit herself and her ambitions. Women are venturing into all fields earlier gendered and kept aside only for men. What was once considered too dangerous or too risky of a job for a woman is now no more so. High participation of women in manual labor has never been the norm in Kerala, women were meant to do jobs that required less strength and was more domestic, but with time perceptions are changing.
Over the years parotta has become the staple diet of Malayalees with an ardent emotional connection when you eat it with beef roast. It is an art to make crispy, yet soft parottas and people specializing in this have great demand in the hotel industry. Just when we thought parotta making was a man’s job, here is Merinda and her mother Ammini who could sway, roll and beat the flour to make crispy, hot parottas. The duo became a sensation on social media with their amazing parotta making skills.
As the fight for equality progresses all around the world, Kerala doesn’t lag behind in helping its women pursue their dreams and passions regardless of what the norm is. There are several such women who are breaking traditional constructs and roles all over the State. I’m sure you know many groundbreaking women yourself!