I don't write about my personal life a lot on this blog but today I will because I have an important point to make. Namely, that patriarchal ways of thinking are so deeply ingrained that even the most progressive of us need to be on the lookout for the patriarchal woman within. She is there, people, always ready to rear her ugly head and devour all of our feminist achievements. My goal in life has never been to service anybody's needs or to make anybody happy. Except, of course, mine and myself. My number one priority in life is not relationships (as I'm told it should be by pop psychology swill). It's my intellectual growth. Sacrificing my needs to please men is completely alien to my way of being. Or so I thought until the patriarchal woman within showed me how easy it is for women to succumb to patriarchal conditioning.
So here is the story. From the day N. and I started living together (which was on our second date), we have had the following distribution of household duties: I cook and he cleans and does the dishes. (If it seems to you that his duties are heavier, it's because you never tried my food. False modesty aside, I'm a fantastic cook.) This system worked great for us for years, and we never had a single discussion - let alone an argument - about household stuff.
Last Saturday, though, I had this very bizarre experience. Maybe it happened because I was exhausted. Or maybe I had a mini-stroke. Or maybe it was a temporary bout of insanity, I don't know. But I heard this weird voice in my head that said, "Oh, poor N. He has such an important project he needs to finish. Why don't I do the dishes to help him out?" Get it? HE has an important project. Because, obviously, I don't. The three projects I'm working on at the moment (a literary translation of a novel, a talk for a conference in November, and an article on Galdos's Lo prohibido) pale in comparison with the really important stuff my husband is doing.
So believe it or not, I proceeded to do the dishes. Then, I did the laundry. And then - oh, horror - I folded it. Folding the laundry is weird on two counts. One is that I never fold my own laundry and consider the habit to be a weird waste of time. The other one is that in all of my marriages and relationships I'd never had an occasion to touch male socks. Until now. And I can't really say that it did a lot to enrich my existence. Just the opposite. Our heretofore perfectly balanced and beautifully feminist co-existence suffered a blow.
First of all, N. wasn't all that happy that I did this stuff for him. Turns out he likes doing the dishes and folding the laundry because it's a way for him to take a break from the above-mentioned important project. Since on that day he didn't get an opportunity to take his little breaks, he was cranky and curmudgeony for the rest of the evening. And on the next day even weirder things started happening. First, he said he was tired and suggested I do the dishes again. And then, he went off on a strange discussion of. . . gender differences.
Now, what you have to know about N. is that he is extremely feminist. Obviously, I wouldn't even be with him if he were any other way. Jessica Valenti's Yes Means Yes is one of his favorite books. When we were discussing what would make each of us consider a divorce, I said cheating while he said that he would consider divorcing me if I turn out to be not a true feminist. (I then asked him whether this means he would be fine with me cheating, to which he responded that cheating would be un-feminist. Which is, of course, very true.) So for him to discuss gender differences like they actually exist is equal to me saying that I hate reading and books are evil. To say I was flabbergasted at this turn of events doesn't even begin to describe it.
Of course, since then we re-established the balance of the relationship but this situation made me think about how easily women slide into patriarchal subjection without even noticing it. In this country, women still do most of the housework, which drains their energy, undermines their careers, and gets in the way of their personal and intellectual growth. For the most part, women choose this household slavery without any prompting from men. I'm sure there are male ogres who refuse to clean their own shit and do their own laundry, but why enter into a relationship with such a prehistoric creature to begin with? Most men have no problem with taking care of themselves and doing things around the house. Women choose to infantilize men because it offers them a certain degree of empowerment they can't find in other spheres of their lives. We all hear these nasty little voices in our heads, from time to time, telling us to postpone activities that would enrich us professionally, intellectually and spiritually and go take care of some guy instead. And this state of affairs will not change until we start changing it.
So, dear female reader, please step away from that laundry hamper, that dishwasher, and that pile of stuff spread all over the living room. Take the baby, put her in her father's hands, and leave the room. Go read a book, take a nap, call your friends and go out drinking and dancing until the closing hours. If you are just embarking on a new relationship, enter into an agreement about how the household duties will be distributed and, no matter what happens in the future, never do more than your share. If you start having those images of the house going to seed, the husband starving, and the kids running around dirty and famished, remember: this is patriarchy speaking to you, trying to scare you into subjection.