Some Informal Thoughts on Gender Equality/Wifemanship/Motherhood
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.
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.”