Occasionally, I see angry, defiant, prickly attitudes masquerading as a form of feminism; rebelliousness without much consideration, that might just be an excuse for: ‘every man and woman for his or her self’. The feminism of, ‘Why should I make you a cup of tea, you, you…. man! Make it yourself.’ Somewhere within it, there is righteous feminism, but the only thing this approach demonstrates is spiteful petulance. It espouses the idea that a woman is demeaned by doing pretty much any housework; particularly those in servitude to a man. I saw it in action the other morning when I was with a mixed group and the women ended up preparing breakfast, then, realising they’d fallen into old-fashioned societal norms, downed spatulas and bread knives, not wanting to be seen to wait on the men. It’s a place of confusion and imbalance; working out that space between reasonable help for each other and becoming caught in the creel, unable to escape playing out obsolete, out-dated models of what constitutes ‘woman’s work’. No, it is not demeaning to make a cup of tea for a man, as long as he makes tea for you too. One demeans oneself by falling into expected roles, unquestioned. We start to wade through quicksand when there is an expectation that making the tea is her job and putting out the bins is his (poor Theresa May, will she ever live it down?). Women do ourselves and those we seek to care for (men, often children) a huge disservice, by letting them sit like a taxidermist’s stuffed cadaver, inert, useless whilst we cluck around, trying to anticipate their every whim in a way that would make the most stereotypical Irish mammy blush.
My friend made me roar with laughter when she told me about her and her husband taking a holiday not long after they were married. It was second time around for her; she’d reared a family and ploughed a long and successful furrow for many years on her own. It was his first marriage. She had packed a large, bulging bag. “Are we all ready?”he asked, assuming by the distended luggage that it contained enough for two. “Yes” she confirmed, guileless, supposing the use of the royal ‘we’. Whereupon he asked if there was anything specific he ought to bring. “Maybe a tie, if we go for a nice meal” she suggested. He threw in a tie. Red. (I love how he still remembers the colour.) One flight and four and a half-hours later the misunderstanding was discovered as the case contents were decanted into hotel wardrobes. Each was incredulous at the other’s assumption. There were no recriminations and much laughter, but it was a quick, costly and effective lesson in shared responsibilities. Generally we find a place of equilibrium with whomever we decide to spend our lives, but it’s coming back to the family home where grown men and women (of my generation and above) often revert to type; a type we thought we had long ago abandoned. E.’s catchphrase of ‘wee cuppa tea?’ doesn’t bother me at all as he’ll be the first one to make me a perfect cup of coffee. C’s a bit different though; slower to cotton onto reciprocity. “Black coffee, crispy bacon, a soft egg and a wee bit of toasted wheaten. Oh, and could you find me some clean socks?” Years ago I learned to say, “OK, I’m on it” and then go for a walk, or into another room to read the papers, or write some poetry. Hours later, guaranteed, he’ll wander through the house in bare feet wondering why he’s still hungry, asking me in a bewildered voice, “what happened me breakfast?”
‘I Stop Writing The Poem’, by Tess Gallagher
‘I stop writing the poem
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
In my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.