Some Informal Thoughts on Gender Equality/Wifemanship/Motherhood

An Essay By Madeline // 2/21/2014

I stood in the kitchen, sifting flour and baking powder and salt into one of our embellished white bowls that probably wasn’t intended for baking use. On a whim, I added a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder and mixed it all together. I’d spent a lot of time in the kitchen lately, cooking and baking tons of gluten free things. Some were successful. Others were made with noble aspirations and didn’t quite live up to my hopes. But it was okay. I still ate them.

When I get married, my husband isn’t going to have a hard time getting something to eat.

The thought was a absentminded one, taking a quick flit through my consciousness. It wasn’t unreasonable. A lot of people equated cooking and cleaning with good housewifeship, and I guess I’d fallen prey to that. I’d was just about to do the dishes, for goodness sakes. It wasn’t unreasonable.

For a thirty year old. Maybe.

I carted the dishes over to the sink and composed parts of this essay in my head while I worked, brain kicking into semi high gear. I stumbled over word choice for a moment.

I’d received those comments before. “You’ll make a great Mom!” From of one of our daycare mothers. I held her baby on my hip and smiled reflexively—a disproving reply. Okay, so she had a point. I was great with her child. I changed her diapers and rocked her to sleep. I doted on her.

It was supposed to be a compliment, I reminded myself as I handed the toddler over. A hot summer month of five-days-a-week daycare had worn on my nerves a bit, and I didn’t cast children in quite the same golden light as before. I knew now that if I ever did have kids I wouldn’t be able to put them in daycare out of awareness, even if duty called for it. Babies were miserable without their mothers.

“I’m not going to have kids for a long time,” I’ve told my mother confidently several times.

I know how to shop. I can do laundry, budgeting, baking, menu planning, dishes and cooking. I’m good with babies and I’ve learned how to take care of them, even newborns. I’m perfect mother material, if I were so inclined. If I met somebody I loved, and I was inclined, we could get married and I could have children and stay at home.

“You’ll make a good wife someday!” I was informed by a sweet older lady at the grocery store while she watched me bag groceries alongside my mother. I’d just been paid the Ultimate Compliment by the whole world’s standards, it seemed. The same smile came back. My “thank you” was placid.

“Why does everyone have to equate worth to that?” I asked my mother afterward.

“Oh,” she said—or something like that, I don’t really remember—“they just do. That’s the way it used to be.”

But it wasn’t anymore.

All of this ran through my head as I stood over the sink, methodically doing the dishes, enjoying life. How the world is changing. It used to be you’d get married and have a bunch of kids, make dinner every night, do the dishes and laundry, raise your babies and be a perfect, beautiful wife. That’s what women were for, anyway. The promiscuous girls who sought out something more were nothing more than scandals. They were condemned. There was that word I’d been searching for.

The thing is, I like all that—kids and making dinner, dishes and laundry—but I don’t want to be somebody’s perfect wife. Definitely not. Even if I met somebody I really, really loved (and I haven’t yet, which is perhaps for the best) I doubt I’d have any itch or whim to be their wife. The life, in the abstract, seems idyllic—wonderful dinners, gorgeous children, getting to stay at home and take the kids on playdates with your best friend. I could liken it being a modern day fifties housewife, only better, because there would be gossip to be had and lattes to sip and cute, storebought outfits to button the babbling babies into. The whole notion is entirely romanticized.

But for those who don’t aspire for that after the turning point in their lives, those are the ones we deem condemnable. It’s perfectly noble to want to be an author, lawyer, doctor or teacher. It’s expected of the generations. But there will always be the comments from those older and, seemingly, wiser than us.

“You’ll make a great mother. You’ll make a great wife.”

We can find parallels to that even in our teenage friendships. Why is it just so darn exciting when your friend has a new crush? When he likes her back? Why is it that our minds automatically go there—You guys are so going to be married one day! Can I be a bridesmaid at your wedding? Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for when we’re older and our kids can grow up together! I’ll name my baby after you.

And those girls that seek out more—or less, depending—they are the ones we ostracize. Thin girls with perfect hair and lips, jeans that fit in a way that makes them immodest, with shirts that ride up when they reach for something and they have perfect stomachs, a bellybutton ring that flashes brilliantly. They are constantly and consistently made up, they have aspirations we feel are below us, and we hate that they wear the skimpiest of bikinis. So trashy, we think, even if it’s subconsciously. Probably the same thing those aspiring housewifes-to-be thought when one of their more brazen classmates scuttled off to Vegas as soon as the graduation ceremony was over to be a showgirl in the strip. Waitress by day, lit cigarette pressed to painted-on lips, with their uniform buttons undone just enough to be indecent. Completely sexual beings, with no real morals or obligations in the world. They didn’t want children or a husband. They wanted a niece or a nephew to dote over and a guy to entertain them for a week or two. Honestly, what was their purpose?

Maybe it was to be a cigarette-smoking waitress of the day and a perfectly plumed woman with the teeniest of waists by night. Perhaps it was their destiny as they legs arced in the air and their high heel pointed heavenward. Maybe they were happy sipping champagne after their show every night, giggling with their friends.

Despite the leaps and bounds made in society toward gender equality, we still have those gaps between men and women. It’s a deep-seated feeling that we are simply not equal,and we’re still not rid of it.

You’ll make a great wife to somebody!

You’ll make a great Mom!

“No, actually, I won’t,” I wanted to say even though those women were being kind mothers and wives of their own, just to shock them. “I’m not going to get married and I’m not going to have kids.” It probably would have been a lie, whipped out to spite the well-meaning words, though in the heat of the moment, but I wanted to mean it. Just for the sake of combatting the world-spanning unfairness.

For some the fact that they are women and therefore limited comes down on their shoulders, heady with its weight. The knowledge that I’m female is something I embrace, and I’ve never felt like that was going to deter me. This world I’m in is open, full of opportunities I’m free to take. In other parts, or even maybe just down the street, it’s not the case for some. It really lies in your environment and in the people you surround yourself with.

They meant it as a compliment, I tell myself. And the inquisitive lady at the yard sale that one time—the one in pink sweats, harried and out of her mind in every sense of the world, with one baby in only a diaper and a toddler sucking down on a mountain dew—she asked me if I had kids. I’d been guiding her son down our steps, talking to him in my nicest voice. I stopped and stared at her, a little stunned.

“Who, me?”

Our neighbor, who trailed behind, was incredulous. “She’s just sixteen!”

“No.” I shook my head, firm. “Definitely not.”

“Ah, well.” She shrugged.

For reference’s point, this is all coming from the daughter of a fantastic Mom who has been a stay-at-home housewife all her life with us and loves it. She gave up a job to be married and have kids—that became the number one thing she wanted. She homeschools us; she spends virtually every waking hour with us, and I’m so thankful for that. People who want to be mothers are just as well off as those who don’t—I just wanted to proffer my stance on the flipside of that lifestyle. It’s the side I feel the desire to argue, mainly because of the pressures society puts on women to live that life. As I said: all the better for those that do. I don’t know what my life would be if I didn’t have the type of mother who cared so much about me and wanted to actually, you know, be a mom. It’s just that girls who don’t want kids or a husband shouldn’t feel pressured to have them, or looked down upon for it.

Let’s face it, girls: if you’re good with kids, or groceries, or housework or anything that people can equate with husbands and babies and overall worth—you’re going to get those comments, especially as you get older. You may embrace them and take them in stride—or if you’re anything like me, smile and be internally cynical about it.

You’ll also probably look upon more outwardly sexual girls as less than you. It’s our default. It’s a sad one, but it’s there. I’ve thought to myself before that I’m better, and it’s ridiculous. Everyone is different. We need to stop this generation from reverting back to the old-age way of first husband then baby equals perfect woman. The formula has changed, and thank God for that. We are not defined by men.

It’s largely up to us to continue the world as we’re the only gender that can have kids, but there are plenty of people in it—and a large majority of them will eventually have babies. Maybe you will, too. Let’s just focus on not amounting our worth to that. Because it’s not, really. If you’re good at art or music or math or science or history—that’s what’s written between the lines. That’s what’s going to stick with you and, if you’re willing to be brave and project those talents outward, to the rest of the world.

“You’re going to make a great wife!”

“You’re going to make a great mother!”

“Actually, I want to make a great writer,” I’ll reply next time someone says that. Because there will be a next time. “But thank you anyway.”

Comments

Hmm?

Maybe people in your area say those sorts of things a lot, but not where I live. I mean, I went to a Christian college where the jokes were "ring by spring" and "freshman fifteen" was " the days to find your future spouse," so there was some expectations like that, but with a girl-guy ratio of 2:1, it was also understood that not everyone would have a significant other, and we had tons of speakers about relationships and the value of waiting and patience and all that.
And if you look at the mainstream media, mothers are NOT seen as the norm, at least not married, stay-at-home mothers. I never watched, say, Desperate Housewives, but the trailers promised enough murder, adultery, and criminal activity to subvert the ideal. And then there's shows like Subergatory, which mock not only motherhood but the idea that anyone could find happiness in non-urban areas.
Sure, the expectation is there, but it's also looked down upon, as often as not. In fact, in some cases, the issue isn't defining woman by their parenting ability, but belittling anyone who desires children.

Julie | Fri, 02/21/2014

Formerly Kestrel

Hmm?

Maybe people in your area say those sorts of things a lot, but not where I live. I mean, I went to a Christian college where the jokes were "ring by spring" and "freshman fifteen" was " the days to find your future spouse," so there was some expectations like that, but with a girl-guy ratio of 2:1, it was also understood that not everyone would have a significant other, and we had tons of speakers about relationships and the value of waiting and patience and all that.
And if you look at the mainstream media, mothers are NOT seen as the norm, at least not married, stay-at-home mothers. I never watched, say, Desperate Housewives, but the trailers promised enough murder, adultery, and criminal activity to subvert the ideal. And then there's shows like Subergatory, which mock not only motherhood but the idea that anyone could find happiness in non-urban areas.
Sure, the expectation is there, but it's also looked down upon, as often as not. In fact, in some cases, the issue isn't defining woman by their parenting ability, but belittling anyone who desires children.

Julie | Fri, 02/21/2014

Formerly Kestrel

Every word of this.

So much. I've been getting those comments since I was a pre-teen. Really, I've been getting them as long as I can remember. It's as though the Christian culture can't *really* conceive of a woman not bearing the "curse of Eve" and being a wife and stay at home mother. It's linked to a whole glut and mess of gender double standards, wages gaps, and career opportunities.

A man in politics who is criticised nearly always has his possible past mistakes such as drugs or corruption brought up. A woman in politics gets attacked as a woman and/or mother specifically, and made out to be some kind of heartless monster if she ever put her child in daycare for ten minutes. I hate it.

Go be a good writer. :) Be a good anything you want, but do NOT be a wife and mother unless that's 100% what you want, no matter how 'good' you'd be at it, because what's important is doing what you love. :)

Sarah | Sat, 02/22/2014

"Sometimes even to live is courage."
-Seneca

Blogging away!
busyscribbler.wordpress.com

This is awesome! I think that

This is awesome! I think that comments like that come up more in small towns than in more urban areas, where people just expect you to go to college and be super successful. I used to think I would never have kids, but I've recently been babysitting more and realized how amazing little people are. You're brave for working in a daycare....I couldn't even imagine doing that! I know what you mean about people asking you if you have kids. People have thought I was the mother of the 4 year old that I watch! I won't lie, I'm a wedding freak. They make me happy! But I'm with you, I won't be defined by men or being a wife or being a mother. But if that is what defines you, then go for it. I honestly admire women who do that because it is a challenge to manage a family non stop.

Erin | Sun, 02/23/2014

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

:)

As someone who sees it as "normal" for women to be married and mothers, I would agree that that's not our "worth." One thing I realized in my years at home was that while I agree with the thought that we should raise daughters to be capable homemakers, often that's overemphasized and we neglect other talents as well. I spent a lot of time at home doing "homemaker-y things" and do now that I'm married as well... but I'm also practicing lots of music and taking an advanced music theory class, a class on the US Food System, and writing.
So while it's not our only worth, I do see it as "normal" for women to be involved in that.

Kyleigh | Sun, 02/23/2014

Thank you for your inputs and

Thank you for your inputs and your feedback! I really appreciate it. Obviously, this essay covered just one facet of my thoughts on motherhood and being a wife and, really, being a woman. I suppose I'd also like to add that--after helping my Mom to run a daycare--I wouldn't be able to leave my kids in one if I ever have them. I understand that it's necessary for some, but for others who are able to stay home and work despite that--well, the effect it has on kids is saddening. Not that people should be with their children 24/7, but especially in formative years, I just think spending a lot of time with them is so important. I mentioned that briefly in my essay. Also, I have so much respect for stay-at-home mothers. I didn't want this to make it sound like I don't. It's a wonderful choice to make for your life, as long as it's something you want.

Kestrel-Julie: Actually, I don't get those comments too often. There were just a couple isolated instances of this, but when I had that thought while baking, I decided to take it and run with it. I suppose my point was: don't be thinking about being a good wife and a mother and taking those comments seriously when you're sixteen. I just think it's a bad idea to make them to someone so young, because really, they should be focusing on their own interests--not so far into the future. And I still think it's the norm for people to expect others to have children--as I said in my essay, even as teenagers, our minds often jump to the conclusion of: You're gonna get married and have kids and it'll be so exciting! Which is okay. But we shouldn't make that an eventual expectation of women.

Another example of this still being an expectation is society is the fact that people believe one of the sins of being gay is the fact that a gay couple cannot naturally conceive children. Well, why would they need to have kids in the first place? Why should that hold any credibility? Just a thought of mine. It also sounds as if your college had a lot of those same expectations of you, but my apologizes in advance if I misunderstood what you were saying.

Thank you for your feedback! Sorry for a bit of a long-winded response. Perhaps it's a bit misplaced to say after writing so much but I really, really don't want a debate! LOL! I did that enough when I was twelve and thought I knew better. :P Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as are you, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Please feel free to come back with an answer of your own because it wouldn't really be fair if you wanted to say more and didn't because I said I don't want a debate. haha! :)

Sarah--Thank you! It's too bad that gender equality is STILL a problem. You would have thought for sure we'd be way, way over it by now. I guess it's up to the generations to make that difference. :) Having children and a busy career is a sensitive subject (since you mentioned a woman in politics) since people have so many varying opinions about that. Thank you for your comment and your encouragement! The same to you.

Erin--Thanks so much! Kids are fantastic and such a joy. I love them. They're such a giant responsibility though, so it's important that people have them for the right reason. The daycare was super rewarding, but difficult--up at six-thirty every morning, and it was go go go until they left twelve hours later. Feedings, changings, walking, playing--it definitely kept me busy! Weddings ARE something to be happy about, definitely! One of my favorite things to watch on TV is wedding shows. :P I suppose I may have come off to brazen in my essay--I *will* probably get married someday, I'm just saying, again--for the right reasons. :) Marriage is wonderful, but--again--my point is that people shouldn't have pressure put on them to get married, or have kids: women in particular. They need to be able to find their own path with support for whatever they're doing. And I agree--it's a challenge, and admirable!

Kyleigh--I think it's perfectly normal for women to be married and have kids. Absolutely. It's probably the most normal thing in the world--that's how it's been since the beginning of time. :) I agree with what you said as well, that talents get neglected, but in line with my personal beliefs I would change homemakers to teaching valuable life skills and that both boys and girls should be taught those things. :) Again, congratulations on your marriage! It must be very exciting. :D

Madeline | Sun, 02/23/2014

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

Ah! This is positively

Ah! This is positively excellent. As a girl who can keep watch over tiny humans, but doesn't exactly want one for her own, I completely understand where you're coming from. This kind of reminds me of things I get from people, such as, "You'd be a great literature professor/librarian/etc!" which I do take as a compliment, but to be honest, I want to be in a band with my best friend and do some writing on the side. I know it's not the most stable thing in the world, but I can honestly see myself doing that.
I also appreciate how you didn't condemn the women who were showgirls. I tend to live by the "if it makes them happy, leave them be" principle, so this was absolutely lovely to see. Overall, it was a very well-written and amazing read, and I enjoyed it immensely!

Flying Past Clouds | Sun, 02/23/2014

Ah! This is positively

Ah! This is positively excellent. As a girl who can keep watch over tiny humans, but doesn't exactly want one for her own, I completely understand where you're coming from. This kind of reminds me of things I get from people, such as, "You'd be a great literature professor/librarian/etc!" which I do take as a compliment, but to be honest, I want to be in a band with my best friend and do some writing on the side. I know it's not the most stable thing in the world, but I can honestly see myself doing that.
I also appreciate how you didn't condemn the women who were showgirls. I tend to live by the "if it makes them happy, leave them be" principle, so this was absolutely lovely to see. Overall, it was a very well-written and amazing read, and I enjoyed it immensely!

Flying Past Clouds | Sun, 02/23/2014

Read this awhile...

Ago, and completely forgot to comment. I don't have much to say on this though, mostly because I agree completely! I honestly don't feel that big of a pressure to be a mom, but that's probably because of how my mom encourages me to go out into the world before having children.
Very well written! I love how you piece everything together :)
Thumbs up!

Kassady | Thu, 02/27/2014

"Here's looking at you, Kid"
---
Write On!

:)

I have to say, this was extremely well written. Everything flows, and the description is so good I can see everything really clearly.

I'm glad somebody else says the same thing about daycare! If I ever get married and have kids, I won't be putting them in daycare. It's seriously like a germ factory....besides, I would want to spend every moment with them while they're cute!

Maddi | Fri, 02/28/2014

Goodbye? Oh no, please. Can’t we just go back to page one and start all over again?” – Winnie The Pooh

Responses Flying Past

Responses

Flying Past Clouds--Thank you! It was lovely to get a comment from you. :) And why not be in a band and do some writing? I agree! Go with your instincts. Whatever makes you happy will be enough payoff. I seriously (and this is another topic) have no idea what I want to do yet. Right now I love writing and playing songs and have found I really, really, really enjoy gluten-free baking. So what kind of career is that going to be?? Haha! Baker by day, singer by night! :P Anyway, thanks for your comment!

Kass--Me either! (pressure to be a Mom) I'm lucky in that I don't feel pressure to be much of anything in way of careers or jobs. We're lucky to have parents that don't care, as long as we're happy! haha :D Love ya!

Maddi--Thank you very much! It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, so I appreciate it. Glad to hear that as well! Of course people have to make their own decisions--and some people are forced to put their kids in daycare because they might be a single-parent/need to work, but things change when you witness what a baby being away from it's mother. It's sad, because that's all they really want, and they can't have it. Anyway! Thanks!

Madeline | Sat, 03/01/2014

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

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