The struggle is real. I occasionally take Friday’s off to get chores done and have a weekend. It doesn’t mean I don’t check emails or take staff phone calls, it just means I do those things in my yoga pants while I switch the laundry.
My great grandmother had an 8th grade education and never worked outside the home. She cooked 3 meals from scratch every day of the week at 6, 12 and 5 like clockwork for almost 100 years. She had time to water African violets, dust her elephant collection, play the piano and make every person she encountered feel loved. How? She was always happy and her house smelled like Ivory soap and pie. I’m not saying I’m unhappy doing housework I’m just saying I have to take a day off from my full time job to make it happen. This wasn’t the case when I was single and while I’m grateful my husband helps, that’s the problem. His domestic contributions are viewed as ‘help’, as if to suggest the true employees of housework are women. I’m not saying men are useless, unhelpful babies. I quietly think it on occasion, but I won’t say it out loud. I’m just questioning why, still and wondering if there’s anything we can do about it.
The expectations for women are rooted in particular beliefs about what constitutes women’s work and the value of women in society. My husband is pretty sure that laundry, decorating, card and gift sending, food shopping and a few other tasks are really ‘my thing’. Bug rescuing, trash removal, dog poop scooping, wood chopping, appliance repair, car maintenance, those are ‘his things’. I suppose that constitutes a certain kind of balance but given my years of research on the subject I’m still inclined to direct my empathies toward the fairer sex. In his absence I rescue my own bugs, take out my own trash and chop my own wood. When we were dating his clean laundry lived in a swirly pile on his bed.
Many of the expectations are unspoken, despite the progressive conversations of modern couples attempting to work towards egalitarianism. What’s disturbing in that movement is the research coming out suggesting men who participate in housework and childcare are having less sex. I call it shameful anti-feminist propaganda.
I Want a Wife
Judy Brady wrote a cheeky essay in 1972 about why she wanted a wife. I’ve shared it at bridal showers for fun and even once dared to discuss it with my dad. He had a habit of whimpering at women like a lost puppy throughout my childhood. He’s very french, was a musician in the 70’s and for now I’ll leave it at that. The essay conveys that a Wife is essentially a helpmate designed to support the daily needs, desires and goals of a man. Wife is a full time, unpaid job. After I got divorced I remember rephrasing alimony to all-you-owe-me. I didn’t seek payment from my ex person as I wanted to no longer have interactions with him. The businesses we built are still making money somewhere and I didn’t stake claim to any of that either. In short, he was abusive and I was glad to be free and start over. I resolve my issues by researching, so I researched divorce. The bitterness of women talking about all they’d done for their ex male spouses got expressed through the demands they made in divorce blogs or articles. ‘I raised the kids, kept the house and dealt with his mother all those years..now he’s a lawyer and he left me for that slut and he owes me.’ They seemed to considered alimony a kind of severance pay for years of servitude. Wives are still, in too many parts of the world, considered property. I worked as a therapist for roughly ten years and heard more of the same. The quote isn’t from any particular client but a general expression possibly the result of out-dated enculturation which taught us to believe it was our job to be a good wife in exchange for a particular sized diamond ring and comfortable lifestyle. There are fragments of similar expectations for a fee-for-service helpmate you can sleep with except now, on top of that women have careers and children. WHY?
My best guess is it benefits an opportunistic Capitalist system to us believe we need to have, be, produce and get more. Women, under a patriarchal construct, play an important and exploited role. Articles will state I’m allowed to lower my standards and cut myself some slack but the media messages remain crystal clear: hustle. There’s an ever-present notion that women must be striving to please one audience or another. The bar is set so high we often turn on each other or on ourselves. That Scary Mommy blog is scary, and it’s no wonder. We’re always one perfect meal, car seat, outfit, presentation, post or face cream away from some unachievable seal of approval. Convincing women we need to work just a little bit harder has had some major perks over the years. Just ask Paula’s Choice, Weight Watchers, Revlon, Ideal Image, Betty Crocker, Napa Valley, American Express and Philip Morris.
Mabel was amazing at home-keeping and nursery rhyming because that was her whole world; one husband who loved her exclusively for all of his 86 years. She didn’t have to compete with millions of half naked women on Tumblr, Instagram, or Steak and Cheese.com. Just Mrs. Pike and Mrs. Sherrick across the street who were also happily married and not gardening over their cleavage in see through spandex. Plus Mabel made the best mashed potatoes and Edward would’ve been crazy to give that up. Her world was small, simple and kind. Growing up watching the way she loved and cared for our family and even total strangers instilled some desire to model those behaviors in my own life, minus giving birth to children on a kitchen table. I made a conscious decision in second grade that I would never, ever become a parent. A combination of my trauma history, the way society treats children like exploitable accessories, and daycare costs solidified my choice. It was clear that doing it all was impossible, especially without money; and we didn’t have any. According to the CDC it costs an estimated $200,000.00 to raise a healthy kid from birth to 18 in America, and that doesn’t include college, a car or name brand anything. So, it’s fair to say breeding is another experience with limited access based on privilege and we could argue that but I’d rather live in reality and claim authority over my uterus and resources. On the flip side look at how many wealthy men leave their wife for the nanny; seems like confirmation that having it all at both ends of the spectrum is a strangely perpetuated myth.
A few years back I remember reading a proposed solution for all working women, mother’s or not, was to lower our standards. Right. Rather than expecting our mates to pitch in or spend half our hard earned income hiring help we should learn to let go of the notion of rightly folded laundry. If we couldn’t accept compromises the onus was on us to work harder. This year I forgot my best friends birthday. If I have to choose between a sink full of dishes and being there for the people I love, bring on the stink? Which is reason 10,001 why I support a child-free life. There are lots of people already here in need of love; why make new ones? Amassing more seems to be part of the problem. More kids, more stuff, square footage, accomplishments, selfies, money, things, channels, activities, epicness, perfection, recipes, appliances…we don’t seem to be filling the void.
Less is More.
It’s one of my favorite concepts and not in the self-righteous, unachievable, death by elocution, minimalist way. Just shorter to-do lists and the occasional deleting of mental clutter. I have to be careful of my own tendency towards rigidity but overall it’s about peace. My godmother has a wooden slab on her kitchen wall, decorated with wildflowers that says ‘A crust of bread with love, is better than a whole loaf without.’ and my mother had a magnet on the fridge that said “Mom loves hugs, mom loves kisses, mom would really love help with the dishes.’ Clearly no solid answers, but something about quality over quantity and maybe get a dishwasher.