A blanket of freshly fallen snow covered the ground outside of our Pennsylvania home and, while it was beautiful, put a bit of a damper on our weekday morning. School was still on time and I was rushing to get the big kids ready for school and get everyone breakfast, and worrying about my husband heading out on those icy roads in an hour or so.
As he bundled himself to go shovel the driveway, Eddie mumbled to no one in particular, “Man, sometimes it sucks to be the guy.”
Later I asked him what he meant.
“Nothing. It’s just a lot of responsibility sometimes. I want to help you with all of your stuff because I don’t want to be a total douche, but, and this is not your fault at all because you are busy taking care of the kids and- am I allowed to say this?- some of the stuff I take care of around here you just aren’t physically strong enough to do. So you have me as a teammate and I just kind of fly solo on some stuff. It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about it. Forget I said anything. I actually like taking care of you guys.”
Everything he said was true. My feelings weren’t hurt, not that he had said anything hurtful. I had just never considered it that way. It must be a difficult balance for the men of our generation. There is definitely a double standard there that I just never noticed until he brought it up. I’ve seen it in practice. We call ourselves feminists. We speak about our ideals of equality and empowerment, yet we constantly expect our men to save us, and if they don’t the word my husband chose is exactly the word we use for them.
One of my blogging friends recently told a story on her Facebook page that illustrates this perfectly:
Admittedly, I had the exact same thought as the woman who left the comment. Then I asked myself: If her husband would have been the one stranded with two flat tires, would she have been expected to come help him change them? All I am saying is that I am starting to think that we have a double standard for our men. I almost didn’t post this because I didn’t want it to come off like I was defending men too much. However, I never would have been afraid to defend women too much, so therein lies my first point: this double standard? It does exist. My second point, which I’ll get to later, is that I’m not entirely sure that it is a bad thing.
There is not a single task in our house that is considered “woman’s work.” My husband helps with the dishes and the laundry and the diaper changes, as we both believe he should. As children of the 80’s, we lead the way for Generation Y. We are Millennials, whether we want to be lumped in with them or not. If we hear about a man who refuses to change his own child’s diapers, it is off-putting to us. Although our marriage is traditional in the sense that he works outside the home and I am a full-time mom, that decision was made out of the financial reality that he has the ability to make twice as money as an engineer than I did as a teacher. We don’t necessarily have a lot of the traditional gender roles that our parents’ generation tends to follow. I know how to use the power tools in our garage. I can and do use the lawn mower. I’ve built furniture from scratch by myself in addition to birthing babies. I’d call myself pretty well-empowered.
I can’t think of any traditionally “female” task that I can say that my husband has never done. I can’t say that he has never cleaned the toilet or changed a diaper. He’s expected to do those things, and he’s okay with that. And I’m okay with expecting that of him, because he is a full-grown adult who should be able to function like one. But I honestly can’t say that I have ever changed our air filter, hung our Christmas lights, or shoveled our driveway by myself. And Lord knows I have never, ever been the one to dispose of the dead mice or birds that pop up on occasion (we live next to a farm). I am physically capable of doing all of those things, but no one has ever expected me to, so I just haven’t. What’s up with that? I honestly don’t know.
Men are expected to do things, while women are offered the choice. Do I want to be empowered in this situation, or do I want to be the damsel in distress? I get to choose. As long as he is there to lean on, I usually have the option of “I’d rather not.” He almost never gets that option. Because, while I’m sure he’d also rather not deal with the dead animals, one of us has to, and he genuinely wants to step up and “be the man.”
If I’m being completely honest, I have to say, sometimes playing the role of the damsel is okay with me. After all, when a snake got into the house, I was the one who locked myself into the bedroom and cried until Eddie took care of it. It might not have been my finest moment. Maybe theoretically I should have been able to handle it myself, but the reality is that I am just pretty darn terrified of snakes– which I didn’t even know until there was one crawling across our living room. I cried. He killed it. To be perfectly honest, I was happy when he did.
When the house alarm went off at 2 am and the police were at the door, I was subconsciously relieved that no one expected me to be the one to answer it. (Don’t worry, there were just some teenagers taking CDs and loose change from unlocked cars in our neighborhood.)
When there is three feet of snow on the ground and one of us is going to have to shovel our 300-foot driveway, no one expects it to be me because he is almost a foot taller than I am with 50 pounds more muscle, and one of us has to stay in to watch the kids anyway. Sure I could do it, but it would take me twice as long as it takes him. Of course I have helped, but it has never been expected of me to help with those kinds of physically demanding tasks in the same way that it is expected (not only be me, but by society in general) that he helps with chores inside the house.
I realize that the only reason I have the choice is because I have my partner here with me. If anything ever happened to Eddie and I became a single mom, I wouldn’t have the choice any more. There are single parents doing all of the everything every day. I know that. You guys amaze me. I know that circumstances like death, and divorce, and deployment leave people without their helpmates and that it is hard.
I know that if he was not here I would have had to figure out a way to deal with the snake myself, so I would have done it because I would not have had a choice. And that is what I am saying.
When I really reflect on it, I find it odd that I surrender my feminist card so willingly in exchange for rescue from reptiles or if furniture needs to be moved from one place to another. But the brutal truth is that he is physically stronger than I am (in both his biceps and his stomach) and, while he may not enjoy the tasks themselves, he likes being able to care for me in that way– and I like being taken care of. I get that because it is the same way in which I am emotionally stronger and can help walk him through tricky situations with the kids or a friend.
It’s hard to find a balance while we try to reconcile wanting to erase gender roles because society seems to constantly be telling us we are supposed to, with actually enjoying being taken care of and finding satisfaction in taking care of someone.
I sent this post to my friend Allison to get her thoughts and she jokingly replied, “#HaveOvariesWillBeSelectivelyFeminist.” Touche.
I believe that a woman can be anything she wants to be, whether that is a doctor, a lawyer, a homemaker, a plumber, a mom, an artist, or an accountant. That is what makes me a card-carrying feminist. But I also believe that there is nothing wrong with keeping the femininity in our gender or the chivalry the other.
If that makes my feminism watered down, I’m not sure that I really care.