How to make good chocolate
Gather your cacao beans and patiently dry them in the sun. Roast them until the house is filled with their aroma, then carefully remove their shells. Put the beans in the manual grinder; diligently keep the device turning until it produces a smooth paste. Now, with gentle yet firm hands, mold the paste into tablets, and, with more patience, let them set in room temperature.
This is the process that my paternal grandmother followed to make tablea or dark chocolate tablets. She taught my sister and me when we were little, and it is one of the things that she, a housewife, demonstrated in her distinct way—a cumbersome procedure she carried out with grace and meticulous patience.
Housewives and domestic figures played crucial roles in our growing-up years: a mother who, despite being a graduate of a business course from a private university, chose to raise us full-time; grandmothers and aunts who shared mothering responsibilities; and housemaids who saved us from heavier household chores.
It’s not just what they did that shaped us, but what they imparted as well. Patience, practicality, and sense of serenity—whether in making tablea or making it in life. While the earners of the household buckled down to work in their offices, the women undertook the equally important task of nurturing at home.
No doubt many Filipinos—even those of younger, more modern generations—have been raised this way, reared at home by a familial hand or the other. Yet of all the heroes we celebrate and the causes we fight for, the household nurturers hardly get the value they deserve.
Decades back, full-time homemaking was the ideal and expected role of women. But feminists challenged this ideal, asserting that it left women stifled and dependent on their husbands. By the 1960s and 1970s, this critique had swept across the globe, ushering in the emancipated woman, free to embark on her own career outside the home.
Today, the ideal seems to have been completely transformed. It is no longer of women primly staying at home, but of them being powerful at work. Today’s feminism persistently urges the career woman to break the glass ceiling, fight any perceived form of male dominance, and climb the corporate ladder. When it comes to your job, “do not lean back—lean in,” encouraged Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her famous graduation speech.
While the empowerment of career women has its merits and feminism should certainly keep pushing for true gender equity, none is currently of much value to the persons who carry on with the domestic work.
In fact, some scholars believe that today’s mainstream feminism may even be unjust for domestic women, because it is skewed toward the demographic of working women only.
Author and professor Nancy Fraser, in an interview with the New York Times, asserted that this career-oriented feminism benefits only educated women of the professional-managerial class. Without real structural changes, she said, these career women then have to offload “their own care work and housework onto low-waged, precarious workers.”
This does not even have to be a discussion on feminism. The emphasis on career over home life now applies to both women and men. Nurturing roles at home are vastly undervalued, making them a less-than-ideal option for either gender.
This is how undervalued our nurturers are: Our mothers are socially discouraged from becoming “plain” housewives, our fathers even more so from becoming stay-at-home dads, and our house help, to whom they entrust their caring roles, have to make do with barely-minimum wages.
These primarily stem from the prevailing notion that care work at home is only secondary to professional careers. No one says it out loud, but being a full-time mother, housewife or yaya is considered a supporting, sometimes even negligible, role. She fades into the background as soon as we’re out the door every morning.
But any one of us who has ever experienced the care of a household nurturer should know better. Anyone who has ever woken up to a breakfast prepared by the mother who rose before the sun. Anyone who did not have to worry about having clean, well-pressed uniforms for school or work because the house help made sure the clothes were fresh every day. Anyone who has ever been sick and was soothed only by the cool massage from a parent.
Nurturing roles are vital, not secondary. They deserve not just our attention, but also our celebration.
This means that women—and yes, men—should not have to be humbled for choosing a life at home, if that is what they believe to be good for themselves and their households. We start by letting go of demeaning preconceptions: housewives are not “plain,” and full-time parenting does not automatically mean slacking.
This also means that we tangibly give value to our domestic workers. The Philippines already has the Domestic Workers Act, also known as the “Kasambahay Law,” which sets proper wages and benefits for household help. Complying with it is a solid way to aptly honor the work that our ate and manong are doing for us.
Whoever else are taking care of us at home—grandparents, guardians, relatives—are worthy of the esteem that we give to any of society’s highly respected careers. Because it is not CEOs and office supervisors that have raised us with 24/7 care, it is our parents and other nurturers. It is our nurturers that have instilled in us our essential values and capacities, be it the skill of reading, the fortitude to face problems, or the loving way to make good chocolate.