I grew up thinking there were two kinds of women.
My neighborhood was filled with the first kind. They wore flip-flops with flowers on the top. They made Kool-Aid and kept fresh carrot sticks in water in a cup in the refrigerator for after-school snacks. They vacuumed and made dinner and took walks with their husbands when they came home from work.
My mother was the second kind. I didn’t know of any other women like her. She had the most marvelous spinning desk chair in her office. Her own bathroom in that same office. She had “teams” and “functions” in the evening. She wore a suit every day. If there were carrots in the refrigerator, they certainly weren’t cut into sticks and put in a cup of water. And Kool-Aid was generally frowned upon. But tea? Now that was a “civilized” drink. Tea ran rampant in my house.
As for men? They also seemed to come in two varieties. My dad went to work like all the other men. But he had a side I didn’t see the rest of them show. He painted. Sketched. Cooked better than my mother, usually without a recipe. Gardened like nobody’s business. I got the impression that men were supposed to be multi-faceted. Only, most had missed that memo.
This history comes to mind as I mull over conversations I’ve had in various circles recently. I hear women of all ages espouse platitudes like: “What do you expect? He is just a man.” Or, “That’s just how men are.”
These weary-sounding phrases, to me, are foreign. Perhaps because my parents did not live up to any of the stereotypes people like to throw around. She ran a business better than he did. He cooked and cleaned far better than she ever did. I guess they met somewhere in the middle. They made it work.
“Men” are a collection of individuals, no? And they will be whoever they are. But that does not mean we have to excuse behavior, attributing it to some genetic code programmed into a certain sex. If you married an ass, then you married an individual ass. His maleness does not make him an ass. I know plenty of males and they run the gamut from Neanderthal to Renaissance man.
I dated a man who knew if I cooked, he should clean up. And, despite his best intentions and really good behavior for the first few weeks, fell back into his childhood habits rather quickly. He was used to a mother who picked up after him, did his laundry, handled all the domestic chores. The key difference between her and me? She did not have a career. So, after a long day, he expected me to handle the domestic affairs, even though I’d just pulled the same workload he had in the office. While never explicitly expressed, his actions (or lack thereof) told me what I needed to know. The alarm bells went off pretty fast for me. I never said to myself, “Well, what can you expect? He is just a man.”
What prompted these ruminations this morning? I opened up my morning news to find that Arkansas has passed a law allowing husbands to block their wife’s abortion, even in cases of spousal rape. A wife will be charged with a felony if she has an abortion against his wishes. Let’s be clear. I wish abortions, as a procedure, would end simply because mistakes cease to occur. But given human nature and the uncertain tenets of medical science, mistakes will happen. Given that fact, what I like even less is telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. Particularly when someone else has forced themselves on that body and impregnated her.
And then, I was treated to Bernie Satrom, a North Dakota representative who said businesses should be closed on Sunday. He suggested wives could bring their husbands breakfast in bed rather than shopping. And another ND rep said his wife easily spends his week’s paycheck in a day of shopping on Sunday, so this law would give husbands’ wallets a break.
Just a few thoughts from me as we try to avoid women’s rights being taken back several decades. Let’s not make excuses for individuals based on generalizing the traits of an entire gender. I see men of all types right now—those who are trying to revive a bygone era that allowed them privilege and those who are fighting for women to remain equal.
My father would have been in the latter group.
And he would be proud to hear me say–let’s not settle for someone simply because we think no one better is out there–whether it is a boyfriend, spouse or political candidate. Men run the gamut. You might want to hang out on the more enlightened end of that gamut, ladies. Unless you’re the type who likes to “serve” your husband and spend “his” money.
Most of us tend to end up with not what we deserve, but what we accept. If we are very wise, those two become one and the same.
42 Comments Add yours
I have never read much about your father, even less about his creative side.
Secondly, what is happening with America? Was the sense of hostility and sexism always present but only now making the news?
Thirdly, you said you wish abortions should be stopped( I am paraphrasing). Would you like to expand on that explain? (I am not attacking your ideals)
In terms of what is happening with America, Trump’s election seems to have given a certain subset of people the feeling that it is now OK to go public with their hate and anger. Unfortunately, we elected a businessman, not a leader. A leader would address this. In terms of my view on abortion’s, I believe a woman’s right to choose comes first. However, I also am upset about life that is terminated before it really gets a chance to be out in the world. No easy answer there.
Yeah pretty much. It is not something that is black and white.
SO true. The opening paragraph was so lovely and descriptive. You took me back to memories I haven’t visited in a long time.
If we can take what was good about having a caregiver and remove the insistence on gender stereotypes, by jove I think we’ve got it:).
As a male or even as a member of the human race the list of ignorant behavior and mindsets goes beyond what the English language can articulate. Thankfully your parents were progressive enough in their thinking that they influenced you in a way where you understood your worth as a woman and human being.
My apologies for the rest of our species.
Thank you:). I know there are plenty of good men out there–I know quite a few. What amazes me is that we still have these areas of the country that seem to be living several decades behind human progress . . .
And you mentioned one of those areas..:)
Nice to hear that your parents had the self-confidence to step outside the gender roles prevalent in their time. I especially like that your father was OK with getting in touch with his creative side. Tres cool! I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the current political discord flows from the uncertainty many people feel with today’s flux in gender roles.
I think you’re right. A lot of “traditional” folks are feeling upended. And scared. And he who shall not be named plays into that fear . . .
This reminds me that I made a similar comment in response to a New York Times op-ed in the summer of 2015. A couple irate readers wrote that I didn’t know what I was talking about and the pro-Trump movement then gathering steam had no social significance. That’s one case where I would’ve liked to have been proven wrong.
I’m proud of the fact that I’m a househusband. Proud that I could retire from the military, pause my surgical practice, because my uber-talented wife is able, and loves to be the primary breadwinner.
But I’m not proud AT ALL of the political representatives that have given men, well everybody actually, a pretty bad name.
Now we have to work twice as hard to undo all the damage. I hate cleaning up after other’s messes, especially when they are too inconsiderate to realize the damage they are causing.
Thanks for these posts Kay. Hope you don’t mind the input from a guy working his way towards the “enlightened ned of the gamut.”
We welcome comments from those enlightened guys! And it sounds like you’re more than “working your way towards” it:). I think you may already be there. My ex and I also traded roles more than once. He stayed home, then we both worked, then I stayed home. I think modern couples are more than familiar with fluidity. I just wish corporate America would keep up with us!
Me too. In the meantime, I’ll use some of that spare time to develop a new found sense of activism.
I feel like I’m bragging here, but thought you (and your audience) might appreciate that this introvert recently participated in his first protest here in Romania.
Wow–I’m guessing you were participating in the protests against the law legalizing corruption? It’s amazing to me they even tried to pass that law! Was the protest you were in fairly peaceful?
During the day, the most agitated protesters were the puppies tired of being held or played with by the children. The tension mounted once the sun went down though. Fortunately the violence stopped after the first 2 days.
Oh, oooh, yes, yes, and one more time!! Thank you for this post. I agree 100% it sells both genders short to accept less.
And I bet the more enlightened males in our lives would agree:). That’s what we love about them, after all . . .
Brilliant post on gender roles, Kay. I too grew up in a household where there was no such thing as ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’. In the 1970s, my father and mother both cooked, and it was not unusual for Dad to be at the clothes line, apron on, hanging out the washing. My parents both also had busy professional careers. Interestingly, I also remember my grandfather cooking, vacuuming and hanging out the washing.
One of my most extraordinary memories of my Grandad Freddie was when he recovered their lounge suite: he cut the pattern using the old covers as a guide and sewed the new covers on a Singer treadle sewing machine (no electricity needed) that was considered ancient even then! And my grandfather was in waht was then a very ‘macho’ profession, being a career army warrant officer and later a commissioned officer (captain).
I know many fine men and women who treat each other as equals and divide the household work fairly according to each person’s preferences/talents or whatever, rather than their gender. I know many other couples in which this does not happen. I agree with you that we should never stereotype the whole gender—and it is often a matter of what we are prepared to accept. For example, a friend of mine said she ironed her husband’s work shirts every week because, although in his younger days before they were married he had ironed his own, she couldn’t allow him to do it as he would be “too slow”. I said, “So don’t look”. No, she said, he was hopeless and might go to work with un-ironed or poorly ironed shirts then. Oh well, I returned, shrugging.
On a darker note, I was shocked to read about the erosion of women’s rights in some areas of the US, especially Arkansas. How can this be happening?
Oh, I love to hear about your father and grandfather :-). My father served in the Air Force in World War II, so he was no ninny either. I think plenty of masculine man do their share at home. And the women who complain about the alternative? My response is similar to yours. They chose it. I am very concerned about the erosion of women’s rights. The defunding of Planned Parenthood, etc. is just the tip of the iceberg. It certainly doesn’t feel like the 21st-century.
Great post…really struggle with the ‘just a man’ comment as I have two very capable sons and an amazing husband! In addition I always had a successful career. Thanks for making me and others question and think!!
I have always struggled with that also, probably because of my dad. And now that I am raising two sons, I am certainly not raising them to have some woman say they are less than capable because they are “just men.” Here’s to raising rockstars:).
With you on that!!
So well put.
Thank you! It’s a topic I feel strongly about, so had to put it out there :-).
Exactly. Well put!
Mmm, now that can get interesting Kristine. I couldn’t cook if my life depended on it, simply because as I grew up I was thrown out of the kitchen, and then dragged back in to do the cleaning, washing and wiping up. I grew to loath it…in how I was brought up.
But in saying that, when I got married I always did the house cleaning, vacuuming, washing and hanging it out etc, and even prepared many basic meals, and learned as I went. Nothing fancy mind you but I did get excited occasionally and burnt a cake or two 😀 Oh, and all the neighborhood came to me for my toffee making, I had the knack of being able to get them to the right texture from lockjaws to dribblers and the kids avoided mom to get me to make them (see, I have some talent somewhere) 😀
But the one thing I have noticed, and this isn’t pointed at all younger generation, but because of this ‘both’ parents working these days, the take-away brigade has multiplied exponentially because of time limits, and that generations ability to cook and clean etc has diminished to such a degree that when I have been around them, they are ten times worse than when I was growing up.
We seem to be going through a generational change that has been quite distinct. From the oldies and their ways of husband working, mom stays home to look after the house, to all over the place in who does what…or none because they can buy it or get a maid in.
I personally ‘share’ the responsibilities, simply because that is what love does. from house work to child raising. I connect with someone who is ‘open’ to all that, but I am still prepared to adjust accordingly because no circumstance will be perfect (we’ve all got lessons in there somewhere 😀 ).
Plus there are still things that tend to be gender orientated (but are getting less I might add). If I throw a spanner at my partner and ask her to go fix the car, I may be still frowned at I think 😀
If you didn’t live across the pond, Mark, I’d be telling you that I needed to stop by for some of that toffee :-). I hear what you’re saying about household duties being fluid. At the beginning of my marriage, my husband stayed home with my oldest son so we would not have to put them in daycare. Then, I stayed home. There were also times when we both worked. I think fluidity is the only way to go, particularly if it’s important to a couple to have one parent home with the children. What frustrates me is gender roles being assumed. I think every couple and every person comes with their own set of talents and preferences. Mine definitely does not involve fixing the car :-).
Love this. It reminded me of an evening, not so very long ago, when I found myself on the perimeter of a conversation among women bemoaning the “default parent.” It was a subject born of a humorous blog post that waxed playfully over the unequal division of parental labor. I was never more grateful that my husband and I are equals in parenting and that our children look to gender roles with an assumption/expectation of equality.
Oh, I’ve been on the outskirts of many such conversations also! It always stymies me that it’s a situation that is discussed, but never seems to change. And yet, they never seem to tire of discussing it!
Well said, K. It seems the dinosaurs are waddling out of the closet. My gawd.
I cannot wait until they are extinct again:).
But — to think they were just there lying in wait — for their hero Trump to take power. Well, I keep reminding myself that the majority of american people did not vote for this terrible ideology.
Oh, Cynthia, we did not–that’s for sure. At issue, if you look at the election maps, is that we’re such a large country. So many areas where people who are “alike” congregate without welcoming in anyone who is different from them. And most who are different have no desire to move into such close-minded, homogeneous areas. So how do the conversations start? Without people just yelling at each other on social media? Ugh.
Yes, that’s true. But some people you’d never expect to vote for him also did, right? I guess that’s the surprising thing. I have a few Christian friends who voted for him, and I can’t wrap my head around it. WWJ Do? I’ve started writing a post on this topic and I keep having real difficulty completing it. If I can’t understand my friends, and sympathize with their need to vote for this man, does this make me as un-Christian as their choice? p.s. these are not poor, unemployed Americans.
Oh, yes. I hear you. I was heartened by the fact that even though I live in a highly Christian, conservative town–election results showed they voted their conscience. The thought of these folks voting for Hillary is incongruous, but they did. They chose what they saw as the lesser of two evils. The ones who chose Trump had to ignore hateful talk against women, minorities, the disabled–I am not sure how you say you follow Christ and then vote that way. I think the very fact that you are trying so hard to understand makes you very Christian. They need to see beyond their privilege. We really all will sink or swim together.
Yes. Our expectations of what we will accept make the difference between an enlightened world, and the 1950’s. Stepping backwards with regards to women’s rights, scares the shit out of me. I still remember back when I was in college in Vermont, and an equal rights amendment was up for a vote in the state. Equal rights for women was voted down. I was shocked.
I think the next generation watches all that is happening now in disbelief–as many of them have grown up with working mothers, etc. The idea that we still don’t have enough women and minorities in leadership to represent rights just amazes me.
Did you see this ad? it will air during Super Bowl:). https://www.fastcocreate.com/3067788/super-bowl-li/audis-super-bowl-ad-is-an-emotional-call-to-action-for-pay-equity
Wow. Fantastic ad. As a mother, I feel so strongly about raising my son to know that women are every bit as valuable as men in every way. And finding my own self-value has been key. If women think of ourselves as being worth less and not valuable, it speaks to treatment we will accept: expectations. Great topic!