Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On Domesticated men and Handy women

 It was Mother's Day, I entered my mother-in-law's kitchen, to behold a sight I would rather not see:

Mother-in-law and sister-in-law cutting up fruit and sausages and cheese and things for consumption by the brothers and husbands in the living room. 

If my husband was there, he would not be sitting down. (He was at a soccer referee training day). 
I asked them about this curiosity, especially considering it was Mother's Day - my brother-in laws are not inconsiderate people - they were acting this way by habit, in fact everyone was acting in habit. 

Like the habit of saying this in response to my question ( I think I have been asking this for years) offered up by both mother-in-law and sister-in-law:

"We would have to explain too much to them, so its just easier to do it ourselves."


Indeed. If you have a husband or brothers or sons that never get in the kitchen because it is too difficult to explain how to do stuff, then you have created your own problem, it seems, to me. Someone took the time to explain stuff to you  - and my mother-in-law did not find it frustrating to explain this to her daughters...as did my mother....hmmm. Is it the idea that men are not naturally capable? How come there are so many male Chefs, sous, pastry and other? How come there are so many men capable of running their own households laundry, cooking and all? Are they freaks of nature? I think not.

I will be bold and say, flat out that men are not naturally incapable in the kitchen - it has nothing to do with nature  - and everything to do with nurture and socializing - everything to do with whether they are given the keys to the kitchen...or not. If they haven't, it is not too late. Start small, appeal to them on mother's day - of all days, I think this is one day even the most gendered of men would feel an obligation to help out if asked. 

goodness, is it 1957 ?

If you want to teach them how to do stuff, teach in a conducive environment and start with small successes that build on eachother - And don't be too picky about artful placement on a plate, just be glad the fruit is washed and cut in nice pieces, artful arrangement is a lesson further down the road, I'd say. Before you know it - voila, your man is making crepes for breakfast !

My theory is that its all about getting late-blooming men (like these specimens in this particular living room)  to do stuff in little bits they can feel comfortable with, and keep asking them to do that, and then a wee little bit more - with more experience in the kitchen, they become more open to doing more because they are getting used to it, if starts to feel.......normal...

This is just like my exposure to the preparation of a room for painting (TSPing, sanding, filling in cracks and holes with plaster and or wood filler...more sanding...priming, then painting). It took a few exposures, but now I can do it all myself if I have to - this takes the load off my husband. My husband had to have some uber patience, I will admit, but it paid off :) Misplacing his tools is another thing...

Cutting up things, like the fruit, cheese and meat in my mother-in-law's kitchen is not gender specific - men can't use knives to cut fruit but can use knives to carve turkey?

If your husband/partner can't even cut basic things in the kitchen, I think there is something going on...like someone holding too tightly onto the keys of the kitchen and maybe even to the idea of gender separation.  Maybe some people like it that way and all the resulting gender drama that ensues...?

Women who hold on too tightly to these keys, loose out on some freedom, and, I will boldly state that they cannot complain about their useless husbands or laugh at them with their girlfriends, because they had a hand in making them that way.

 My husband's family say that my husband is the most "domesticated" of the brothers and brother-in-laws - said perhaps with a bit of jealousy (?) and I think maybe an accusation that I, with my studies and such have forced the poor man to be hen pecked into the kitchen...I am not bothered by this - my husband and I are more of a partnership in the end - its useful to learn how to do stuff from eachother - useful for both of us.

I can paint/prep for painting, refinish furniture, sand, design and garden and haul things and can build Ikea furniture - I can use basic tools...and he, this life-partner of mine,  can make crepes, cook eggs and bacon, make a square meal, and with directions can make more complicated things, he vacuums, does laundry and can go grocery shopping without getting lost in aisle 3. 

We don't genderize tasks he and I - though I am far better at cooking and baking and grocery shopping, and he is far better at renovating and building - no doubt - and this is from all the experience we had in these areas before meeting eachother - our exposure to these things - and our gendered training. It is what it is. If I was exposed to building right from the start, I know I would be an ace at it by now - its not rocket science. Neither is baking or laundry. Only inexperience makes it so.

To maintain a NON-domesticated husband - is it that one wants to keep control of the domestic that gendered lines can maintain? Perhaps a status as the master of all things domestic? Maybe, perhaps...

I now have to give up my status as highly regarded crepe master, as husband has cracked the code this mother's day, and with practice, will only refine his skills...I can no longer lay claim to being the master.

Neither of us will be masters of all, but at least we can feel comfortable in the margins of these things that used to be in one gendered domain. We can provide helpful, useful support when needed - partners rather than gendered opposites.

Venus and Mars you say? People can actually create and or perpetuate that planetary divide by not trying out new skills from the "other side".

So if you want to be Venus and Mars, you can, because its your choice - it is not inevitable, it is not natural, it is made, woman/man made. I wonder how many limitations are placed on people's gifts or interests by this maintained and regulated gendered line. Yep, regulated. 

If it was natural, it wouldn't need to be regulated would it? 

If it was natural, gendered lines would naturally occur on their own. But no, we need to have social pressure put in place to "Be a man" or "act like a girl"...or there will be shame.....interesting huh?

How do you perceive the gendered divide?


Heather Conroy said...

First of all excellent writing here. Your writing is crisp clear and to the point. (sorry if that sounds like a teacher comment- it's not-I'm just compelled to say it because I'm trying to improve my own writing). Second I perceive the gendered divide as something that is manufactured and has gained power in the home, intergenerationally and in broader society. That said it is not insurmountable and if parents are bringing up sons they have a responsibility to round them out so that they can look after themselves and their affairs. Ditto for daughters. You might be right about women hanging on to the bit of territory they have staked out for themselves, or had delineated by others in times gone by. I said to my son as I complimented him on a very well ironed shirt that he would make someone a good husband. He said what if I marry someone who wants to do everything for me? There are women like that who have married into my family-but they wear it like a badge of honour and see no harm in devoting themselves to their families. My twin brother tells me he is not allowed to lift a finger in the kitchen, or laundry. The only problem with that is that both parents work, so someone in that relationship is doing a lot of everything.

marci-me said...

hmm, interesting that your son can iron! Neither of us can teach that life skill I'm afraid - we'll have to send our sons to my mother-in-law who uses ironing as a form of domestic meditation :)

you are right - it is not insurmountable - but it can be hard - society still likes to maintain the gender lines for the most part and this has a trickle down effect to our kids!

thats s good way to put it - hanging on to territory - maybe because that makes up most of the territory/control they have?

marion said...

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Wendy said...

Excellent post - so very true and yes I think it was wonderfully written as well. Cheers, Wendy

claremacnaughton said...

Hi - I love this! I agree with you about investing the time in the journey to get the outcome. I have a domesticated husband but not by his choice but mine.

He is the military pilot and would prefer to be waited on. Wouldn't we all! It's a battle often. Especially when he destroys my favourite clothes by washing them with his black, cotton undies. But my mantra is this 'if he can fly a helicopter he can learn to separate darks and whites.' It's not that hard and so the battle rages on.

I have a son and a daughter. Now here's the thing because I am a raging feminist and I was determind to grow the emancipated man. My 2 year old daughter gravitates towards tidying, wiping, cleaning, organising, nurturing her babies. She found this without me I promise. I had to buy her dolls when I found her bottle feeding the Incredible Hulk. My son is chaos personified and his sole daily mission is 'what do I want today and how can I get it' His will to not do is often greater than mine to get him to do and the battle rages on.

So now I think we need to add in to the mix the gender and genetic gravitation towards segregated roles.

Becky said...

yes, it is a choice whether or not to conform, to notions of gender or otherwise. i like that you remind us of that.

it's interesting to hear you describe about the time it took for you to learn how to do certain things, and your husband still does them better. that's a bit of the sticking point in my relationship as regards cooking. i know slightly more than him, and by default end up doing it because of his limited time. he helps out if necessary, and i've told him i prefer if he can at least keep me company.

i used to get really upset, but have come to terms with the idea that he contributes more financially and this is the least i can do for him... sometimes i like that i can offer him something that i made.

Katherine Jenkins said...

Interesting post. My husband, who is Korean and comes from a society known for it's long lines of gender division, is an expert in the kitchen, LOVES to vacuum, does laundry, folds clothes, etc. WE both work and contribute equally and even have separate bank accounts. I think he's unique, or just doesn't identify himself with gender.... My brother-in-law is a FANTASTIC cook and loves to work in the kitchen and grow his own garden. And my cousin Keith in California is a chef. I remember going there for holidays and all the meals were prepared by him and he took such pride in that. So I think it really just depends. I didn't need to train my husband to do anything, he's a natural. We like to cook/garden together too!

Katherine Jenkins said...

Oh, and I'm totally laughing at Clare's comment about her daughter bottle-feeding the Incredible Hulk. When my sister and I were young, I had Barbie and she somehow ended up with Ken (whose anatomy wasn't there, by the way, and made for some confusion). My sister is very good at wiring and solving electrical issues and doing just about every house project under the sun and she is a recording engineer and computer genius. Wonder if it has anything to do with Ken's role in her life? ^_^!

marcime said...

haha! that is so funny about your sister and ken, and about Clare's daughter feeding the incredible hulk ! Possibly an an early formative type experience :)

From all these comments, What I love is the diversity of the human being despite societal constraints, or theories for or against gender typing - everyone is so individual - I observe it as everyone's unique negotiation between their individual selves and the communal cultures they are part of...
Cheers all! Come over to my blog!