When I was younger, my sister and I had certain household chores. Not always, but most of the time we all kind of banded together with my mother to keep on top of things like washing dishes and sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms. My dad was and still is the cook of the family – taking everything he makes seriously, even if it’s his beans and cornbread.
But most of the cleaning fell to the girls. And that was fine, it was just the way it was. But as I got older, I became a bit more irritated at all the ‘women work’ we were expected to do. And I wasn’t one to suffer in silence. I complained and complained and complained and can almost, to this day, feel my mother rolling her eyes at me.
One subject that we constantly debated was the fact that my mom ironed my dad’s shirts. To me this was the ultimate low. Like – she was not valued as a woman and life partner because she was made to iron a work shirt. And when she didn’t have time the task fell to me.
One day, after a particularly sullen teenager outburst, my mom told me that in the future I would be happy to iron my husband’s shirts.
I think you can guess how I responded to that. I don’t remember the exact words, but I believe it came with scoffing and laughing derisively because no way was I ever going to stoop to that level where I enjoyed being subservient to a man.
In college, my determination hadn’t waned much. I fell into women studies classes because I took an English elective about women writers, but stuck around for a while, contemplating a minor. While immersed in these classes, however, I became even more bitter and angsty over the plight of women. I was not a joy to be around.
But I didn’t want to be mad all the time. I didn’t want to hate men. Not that that was a requirement to take these classes, but from my experience they were all US versus THEM. I decided I didn’t want to live like that, and there is a limit to how much wallowing one person should do.
I did not pursue the minor.
It took years and years for me to find my place in the world, in my life, to figure out who I am. And I realized that did not include being a bitter woman. Yes, I agree that women still have a long way to go for equality. But to me, real feminism doesn’t have to be such a negative, polarizing thing. It’s not us versus them. It’s having the ability to choose.
And I was given that ability. I chose to be a stay-at-home mother for years. I chose to go back to work. I choose, daily, to support my husband and family as much as I can, just as they choose to help me. We’re in all of this together. Sometimes I do more cooking and cleaning, but my husband does more outside work like mowing and changing the oil in the car. Sometimes we work side-by-side to finish a task, be it raking landscaping rock or folding laundry.
So a little thing like ironing my husband’s shirt doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. I don’t feel undervalued any more than my mother did. She was right. I do enjoy ironing my husband’s shirts. I like doing something for him to show my appreciation, my love, be it ever so small.
(Also he’s really bad at it and does it wrong and it’s just better if I do it myself.)
*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on August 27, 2014.