Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Politization of Everything

There is something very sad about this post. It seems that, for this young, bright, well-written woman, feminism has turned the most mundane chore into a political statement:
This may sound ridiculous, but for me, washing or not washing my boyfriend’s dishes is an inherently political act. My boyfriend is sweet and generous enough to cook me wonderful meals at his place fairly often. He is a clean and dapper gentleman with the exception of his apartment and particularly his kitchen—I keep telling him that any foodstuffs growing green or white fur should have been thrown out weeks ago, that he might want to wash his plates before the food has been crusted on there for over two weeks, and that his living room is NOT A TRASH CAN. Now, I am resistant to doing his cleaning for him because I don’t want him to get used to me being his maid, cleaning up after him as if it were my duty as a female. (I don’t think he sees it like this at all, it’s just a strange paranoia I have…) And yet, I would like to see his apartment somewhat cleaner since I spend quality time there, and since it would be nice to do something in return for his wonderful cooking. (Said cooking really is wonderful by the way—Indian food to DIE for, and he makes it seem so easy…)
The answer to this little dilemma is painfully clear, at least to me. The boyfriend clearly doesn't care if his dishes are washed; the girlfriend clearly does. If the girlfriend cleans the dishes, she is clearly doing it for herself, not for him as she fears. Nonetheless, barriers must be broken at all costs:
I think I have internalized a great deal of my mother’s very strong feelings on the household division of labor—even though my dad worked 11 hour days in the office, my mother would demand that he help with at least some household chores. So I have grown up with very strong feelings that whomever I settle down with WILL do dishes and laundry, clean the house and change diapers because I certainly will not do all these things single-handedly.
I hope this young lady finds a man that WILL do as she wishes. I hope conversely that she will not be surprised if he expects that she WILL sharpen the lawnmower blade, change a flat tire in the rain, snake out a clogged toilet, caulk the second floor windows, and trim the hedges. I only point this out because much is devoted to how much the author expects of her man and precious little to what he might expect of her. Clearly, cleaning up after his cooking is a little too much right now, given the loaded gender politics of such an act.

My late wife wasn't interested in working in the yard or on the cars. We agreed that I would work outdoors and she indoors, and whoever finished first would help the other until we were both done. Not rocket science, that. But apparently too much for these youngsters. The good news is that with her gone, I know how she liked to keep the house. And if I had gone first, she would have been able to keep up the yard.

Anyway, when everything is politicized, there can be no simple and equitable division of labor. Too much weight to be considered. Witness:
Anyway, back to my boyfriend’s dishes. For me, I want to be able to define what the washing of dishes means to me and what I want it to communicate to my partner. What I want my washing of dishes to say is, “Thank you for making me such wonderful meals. In gratitude and love, I wash your dishes.” I do NOT want it to say, “I belong in the kitchen. I accept my role as a subservient female.” The trouble is that household chores are so terribly gendered that for me to engage in them feels dangerous—feels as though I’m treading gingerly on the knife edge between loving consideration and subservience.
Whoever thought such simple tasks could be frought with such meaning? Additionally, if dishwashing is a vehicle for sending a message, the recipient is not really a "partner."

Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but apparently washing the dishes can never be "just cleaning up." This young lady is resistant to "household chores" simply because women have done them in the past, and it will somehow demean her to fulfill that "role" going forward. The knife edge she fears walking is one of her own construct; isn't the difference between consideration and subservience internal to the auther? It seems to me that a pro-choice could mean choosing to do a chore on occasion for your own reasons, but apparently abortion is the only choice feminists can make without feeling subservient.

Still, underneath it all, some glimmer of hope shines for this young woman. On some level, it seems Laura Schlessinger of all people made some sense to her.
I hate to admit it, but I do think that the feminist agenda may have done some damage, making some women (myself included) selfish, demanding and psychologically immobilized in heterosexual relationships for fear of fitting into the 1950’s perfect wife role and then somehow getting trapped there permanently.
I suspect that in the future this woman will understand that in a truly equal partnership, people will do whatever their partner needs of them, regardless of the political implications or historical gender roles. Partnerships are not about making political statements to your partner, your friends, society, or even yourself. They are about helping each other through life, with the joy of trusting companionship. The rest of this nonsense is just "boyfriend-girlfriend" stuff.


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