Saturday, August 7, 2010

Confessions of a weary feminist

I'm not in an egalitarian relationship. The division of labor in my household is a bunch of bullshit, it always has been. As we speak, there are dirty dishes in my sink, overflowing garbage cans that stink, unmade beds, coffee cups with solidified coffee rings inside them littered throughout the house, a list of groceries that need to be bought, meat that is going to rot if I don't make that stupid stew already and here I am typing away hoping to get through this post before I am asked what we're having for dinner.

When I have conversations about this with other women, I often say things like "but he's a really good cook". I say things to protect my image as a feminist and to protect his image as a good husband because I have these expectations for myself that I want met, and sometimes settling for appearance is the only way to make me feel like I'm winning.

But today I'm admitting to you, shamefully, that I'm losing and I'm not even throwing punches anymore. In a few minutes I'm gonna get off my ass and clean my house and he's not even gonna hear a peep about it. Because I'm goddamn tired.

There I said it. And I don't say it to vent, where we all shrug at the end and say "Oh, that's a man for you!" and then the next girl tells the story about how her hubby puts his wet towel on her pillow every day after his shower and then we move on to talking about shopping. That's probably more respectable than what I do, more contented. I say it cowering slightly behind my screen, eyes slightly squinted fearing the blow of judgement of other women I respect, but most importantly of myself.

And this brings me to what I find to be the most difficult thing about being a woman: never fucking measuring up by anyone's standards anywhere ever. In one way or another, I just don't make the cut and I'm weary in failure. You see, I have all these yardsticks I've been collecting over the years. They're the tools with which I measure myself against which have, without exception, told me I didn't quite cut the mustard: yardsticks of the family I was born into, the religion I grew up in, academia that I was formed in, the family that I married into, the working world that I'm immersed in, and the yardstick of knife-and-fire-ball-juggling women around me with their clean homes and ironed sheets and fulfilling careers and impeccable children, and finally my own yardstick that I've built out of feminism, the one that slaps me and shames me the hardest when I don't make the grade.

The thing is, I am finally starting to realize at 33 years old that the game is totally rigged, no matter the path I choose. But at this point I'm really out of breath and my muscles ache from all the race running and scoreboard watching. My path will always be the losing one. The only thing that can temporarily make me feel like I haven't failed completely is to effectively project an image of egalitarian perfection to those around me. But fuck, I'm not fooling myself, and I'm running out of air. I'm close to having burned all the yardsticks I've come across. But my own nags at me that I'm giving up the good fight by opting for peace in my home with the person I love.

But right now? I'm trying desperately to find balance and you know, live. You know, life?

'Jimmy, you know what that is? It's the shit that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come'.*

This is what I want now: to bear hug the life I never anticipated without suffocating the shit out of it while letting go of the tethered and discarded morsels of self respect I've clung to that have not allowed me to get a firm grip on happiness. This requires burning all my yardsticks, not just the ones that leave me liberated and enlightened.

I'm a feminist. I was one before I met him. I question how true I am to it now and the guilt towards myself that I carry for not fighting harder, a fight that may have eventually broken us as a couple, is harder than I ever imagined. But feminism was never meant to make anyone happy until it's goals were fully achieved. Right now, it's a war. And fuck, right now I just feel willing to make compromises for a peace treaty already and hope that the next generation can pick up where I left off.

*quote from The Wire


  1. I used to be pretty much of an active activist years ago, but in the end, I got so tired of being angry all the time, and fighting, that I passed the torch on.

    But I do remember at an equality workshop I was giving (in a Catholic school, for the teachers), the women asked about division of domestic labour, and I wearily said that frankly, I'd given up struggling. There's an ideal out there of equality, and it's up to each individual to decide just how much energy they want to put into achieving it. I'm not perfect in any area of my life, and I'm certainly not going to turn feminism, which has been so important to me, into yet another big stick to beat myself or others with.

    From their looks of relief, I think I did more with that comment to make feminism acceptable to them than anything else we talked about all weekend. Feminism/feminists shouldn't be there to make us feel guilty about not being textbook examples of equality in our personal lives, it/they should be there to support us when we make a move we're comfortable with towards that ideal.

    Yeah. I do all the housework in this relationship, too.

  2. When I think of feminism, I just automatically go to the "equal pay for equal work" end of the spectrum. I don't know if that battle has been won in Europe, but I think its pretty much the case here in the states.

    But if feminism means I'm the one under my car changing the oil, no thanks. If it means I have to eat one of his strange rice concotions for dinner, no thanks. I cook. He does most of the laundry. We both take out the garbage. We both mow the grass. But my husband wasn't raised in Europe and his mother was probably ahead of her time in feminist thinking in the 60s and 70s when she was raising her four sons.

    My younger sister and I laugh at our disorganized selves. Our older sister is compulsive about filing and paperwork and organization and having the perfect shade of whateverthefuck is the paint of the moment on her walls. Last year's "must haves" are today's landfill. I too used to have a yardstick comparing myself to her. But I broke over my knee years ago.

  3. Cat, I've never really felt like other feminists have made me feel guilty. It's more of an internal thing. I guess what I'm struggling with is growing up being told that I'm equal to find that in them most intimate place I've ever been in my life, with the person I love, I'm really not. It's just a blow of disappointment I'm still not over. But that's just it, I'm done being angry all the time and need peace for my own sake.

    the Elder - things are definitely different here. I can't speak for Europe, but I can speak for Spain. From what I saw growing up in the states, children and both parents participated in labor in the house. People here that are my age grew up with a stay at home mom living in flats; in the states many of us grew up in single parent homes, or in houses with yards that require a lot more labor than a flat does. One woman couldn't possibly take care of the lawn, cook, clean and deal with the car in the garage all at once: here the woman has done EVERYTHING in the home.

  4. When it comes to housework, I look at it like this, it's a game of chicken women will almost always lose because our threshold for mess is typically lower than that of men.

    On the flip side, women win in the game of chicken with regard to sex. Like I tell my husband, of course I want to have sex with him, but I can live without it easier.

    I totally understand the points you make Blue, that's in part why I was so excited about this space, because when women tell the truth, it's easier to see that we face so many of the same issues. Although my husband and I are equals, we have split up household stuff largely along the typical sex roles. I spent a good time being resentful on one hand that I had to do the "bitch work" but also appreciating that he shouldered the brunt of responsibility for our income. Then we solved the whole problem and got a cleaning lady. I am far less resentful when husband or kids mess up the clean house if I wasn't the one who did the work. But again, it's a bourgeoise solution because not everyone has the luxury of passing on unpleasant household drudgery.

    The reality is, for 98% of the couples I know, women just do more.

  5. For the longest time in our relationship, I was a really poor partner in terms of housework. It actually caused lots of problems for us, quite frankly.

    Now that I've finally stepped up to the plate, though, and am taking a more active role in keeping house, guess what? He's a total slacker. He does keep up the yard, though, so I pick my battles. Which I guess is what you really have to do, feminist or not: Pick your battles.

  6. Oh God, oh God, you sing the mourning song of my soul...I, too, have fallen into role of house wife, estate manager and short order cook. I always say I have ovaries therefore I cook. I grouch through the grocery store repeating mediative phrases like 'I am grateful I can pay for groceries' and 'it's an honor to feed the people I love' and yet I am simmering both the dinner and my mood...

    I have lost the grip on who my feminist self some regards it is a wonderful thing to let go and not be afraid to enjoy a good supportive bra and a lip gloss. To embrace the womanly arts of handwork, he'll, I knit like a fiend. I used to keep such hearth and home tasks a secret. I am happy to embrace those.

    But when did I get to be the matriarch that provides all the services and meals? Generally that sucks ass. People in my family are ungrateful for what I do. I think they assume Robin knits and has ovaries thereefore she enjoys cleaning up after to me and feeding me.

    I get it. You give up so you have the fucking energy to clean the sink.