What could be more tedious than housework? Reading about housework, of course. Or so I thought, until I kept finding myself rammed halfway through posts scattered around the intertubes, all strangely devoted to domestic duties (hi DoctorMama and the modernity ward!) and actually rather intrigued by it all.
Housework is one of those rare topics that manages to be absolutely stultifying as well as instantly galvanizing. Getting people to discuss the division of domestic labor has about the same net effect as turning a few gladiators loose in one of those spherical iron cages: a swinging, hooting, bloody mess of vengeful madness. Particularly here in the twenty-first century, where the legacy of feminism unfortunately contains — along with its fabulously cracked glass ceilings, voting rights for half the population, etc — a certain degree of confusion about what, exactly, constitutes valuable work. [See: Hilary Clinton’s unforgettable cookie comment and ensuing backlash.]
These days, we are all careful to ask one another, “do you work outside the home?” rather than “do you work?” so as to sidestep the implication that homemakers don’t do real work, a notion that has been laughable since neanderthettes were stuffing wooly mammoths into crockpots and Swiffering out their caves.
But despite this growing consciousness, the fact remains that work inside the home – be it cleaning, cooking, or childrearing – is inherently less valued in our culture than work outside the home. How do I know this? Because no one pays me to change diapers, scrub the bathroom, shop organic, or find Polly Pocket’s goddamned shoe. No, that is its own reward, dear hearts!
And here’s where, for years – YEARS – my husband and I tripped over our mutual resentments on an almost daily basis. I probably don’t need to go all granular with our separate points of view, where he laments the chains affixing him to his desk and where I sadly reflect on the fact that he at least converses with actual adults during the course of a typical day. It is probably all too familiar for all too many of us, in varying degrees and permutations.
So as I read DoctorMama’s two-column list of his ‘n hers chores, delightfully peppered with gender stereotype-busting duties, I admire the balance of their shared responsibilities yet at the same time note that for a while now I’ve been studiously avoiding making exactly those sorts of lists.
Because for Monsieur Shriek and I, even though he excels at ironing napkins and I usually manage to get a square (ok, triangular) meal on the table most nights, keeping track of who does what is a ridiculous exercise, provocative only in its propensity to ignite the chips on each of our shoulders into flaming pyres rather than foster any sort of productive dialogue of mutual appreciation and support.
No, the mutual appreciation and support only comes when we relax our grip on the “I do this, this and this” stick and instead recognize that at the end of the day, we are each drained in our own way and try our best to replenish each other with humor, hugs, and the occasional Harvey Wallbanger (ok, actually a Cosmo or iced Lillet, but bear with me, I do so love alliteration).
The fact of the matter is, he’s got the earning power, I’m the Polaris of our domestic compass, and both of us do work of Sisyphean proportions in our own way. He is wonderfully hands-on with kids and chores when time permits. I freelance for pay when I can squeeze it in. The scales may not always balance out, but knowing that we seek fulfillment in other areas of our lives at least helps us disengage our sense of worth and identity from what we must do and instead focus on what gives us joy, what intrigues us, and what unites us.
Honestly, at this point I’m convinced that our best option is to stick our heads straight under the sands of the gender equity debate, at least as far as the who does what conversation goes. I’m tired of trying to hold up my feminist ideals with one hand while vacuuming with the other — I know I’m an intelligent creative woman whose integrity is in no way diminished by quotidian responsibilities (and here please permit me a small plug for my children, who have enriched my life beyond words and yes by enriched I do mean those low lows as well as those high highs). I realize this may not sound like a terribly enlightened approach, but I think if we want to stay married – to each other – making like ostriches will ultimately prove to be our saving grace.
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