Once the dust settles over bottle vs. breast, cloth vs disposable, co-sleep vs crib, you sail into a whole other realm of parenting one-upsmanship, battles, guilt, and judging. Videogames or no? How much tv? Toy guns, yes no? But around here, there’s one battle which seems to simply not be fought, and yet it is the one- the single one- that I have the biggest internal struggle and monologue about.
There was a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday, which boiled down several female writers and scholars, from varying points of view and background, answering the question of how the hell could Ruth, Silda, and Jennifer not have known? Betsey Stevenson, of UPenn, wrote:
Our partnership is best described by what we have called “hedonic” or “consumption” marriages in our research: couples who are matched on shared desires on how to live their daily lives. In these marriages, spouses typically share the daily jobs of running a household, with both employed in paying jobs and both contributing equally to home production.
This in contrast to the production marriage mold of old, where dad worked outside of the home and mom ran it and raised the kids- and leaving aside the troubling line of Professor Stevenson’s article (“This specialization makes these marriages more efficient and thus everyone is better off in the marriage. “) she goes on to make the point it’s a hell of a lot easier to not have shared values and hide shit in the old style rather than the new. None of the authors in the article tackle any sort of societal gender norm issue, which is (of course) what I’m hashing through in my brain on a near daily basis. To be utterly fair and blunt, there are moments when I am violently aware that I have been placed completely in the woman running the domestic sphere mold and the expectation is that as mom I am the one expected to have the pediatrician’s phone number memorized, the school vacation schedule at my fingertips, know where the Tylenol is, etc etc. I chalk this up not to any great Evil Patriarchal Scheme by, say, the lad, and more to a combination of things: society expects it much as I chafe and fight against it and so there is outside expectation (eg: the teachers at school knowing I was out of town based on how Sean was dressed), I have always been the hyper-organized mom type (see: trash bags sunscreen balanced meal blankets bug spray flashlights organized bags at the 3rd of July fireworks picnics in Chicago), and the Lad was BORN to be the absent-minded professor and so his utter inability at the old school to remember what time they closed had nothing to do with my expecting him to do pickup once in a while to be a great imposition upon his concept of manly work/parent sphere boundaries and everything to do with his giant mekon brain being too goddamn full to remember such trivialities in a timely fashion but boy howdy once that thought was lodged in there nothing will get it out no honey last ditch pickup at the ‘new’ school is DIFFERENT.
There’s very little I can do to unstuff the Lad’s brain, other than patiently keep hammering home schedule changes and the like, nor am I at this point likely to wholly dislodge my core competencies (portals, strudels, it’s what I do). Which leaves me fighting the Gender Wars in how we raise our child and engage with the world. We’re not like that couple in Europe who have given their child a gender neutral name and do not tell anyone if it’s a boy or a girl, and in fact cycle through boy/girl haircuts and the like in an effort to raise them as ‘unpressured’ by gender expectations as possible. And I admit readily that I thank God every stinking time we encounter a herd of little girls that Sean is a boy because fighting the good fight against princess culture would likely drive me to drinking more than I do and also probably lobbying Gloria Steinem to license a kids’ version of Ms ala the young kid version of National Geographic. And I say this as a woman privileged to know some of the most kick ass little girls out there, as the friend of several women with little girls (smart, independent, well educated, take no shit from no body women, I might add), and yet each and every one of these little girls has awoken one fine morning and suddenly turned from the rough-and-tumble path and turned into a glitter and sequin obsessed princess worshipper and goddamn did Disney launch a freakin mind control satellite or something? Because it is seriously, seriously insane, and this whole ‘learned helplessness’ thing, this expectation that a prince will save you if you are pretty and nice and sweet and good enough, it drives me fucking batshit. No, no I don’t think it’s innocent, harmless, or unimportant: I think it’s happening at a point in life when kids should be learning they can do anything they put their minds to, and it’s harmful to boys to view girls in this manner and be able to dismiss them as being ‘only into princesses’ as it is to girls to be immersed in this with no room for creativity, growth, anything. The princess culture is different now than when I was a girl- hell yeah I was into dress up and pretty and glitter, but it wasn’t prepack, it wasn’t predetermined, the story and the role was not made for me, and it is so bloody pervasive now it infests everything- even game day at school this year found itself divided along princess lines: the girls brought in princess versions of everything the boys brought in (disney princess ‘let’s go fishing’? Really? Hook a hottie? Who thought this was a good idea?)
So I am perhaps a little oversensitive on the topic. I am perhaps a little hyperaware of the examples we set for Sean. Dad does clean. Mom cooks- but we emphasize it’s because I love it. Mom does not wear pink. We both game. We share chores. There’s no chore described as a ‘boy thing’ or a ‘girl thing’, but rather in terms of ‘dad’s better at it than mom’ or vice versa. We are, as we are with racism and religious intolerance, honest. That some people believe. That it used to not be legal. That it used to be okay to be mean, pay less, fire. And that it’s important we all work hard to be equal and fair. But goddamn, goddamn it is hard, so very hard, to maintain that calm, rational attitude in the face of “So what did you guys do at camp today?”
“The boys played football. The girls got their hair done.”
The Lad and I will be taking turns mopping the floors, in a fair and balanced share of the workload, as both of our brains have exploded.