When my 21-year-old son returned home from a dental appointment, he immediately informed me that I needed to get a new tire for my car. One of the rear tires had gone flat while he was on his way to the dentist. We discovered over the weekend that it had picked up not a nail but a bolt, and had a slow leak. Apparently, the bolt came out and the tire went flat quickly because of the size of the hole.
When I went in my bedroom to retrieve my cell phone, I noticed that there were 6 missed calls, all from my son. I asked him why he called so many times, and he said he wanted to tell me that the tire had gone flat and he had changed it. I looked at him a little confused. He continued, “I figured you were out playing in your garden.”
Aha! So it was the idea that I wasn’t readily available for his news because I was out “playing” in my garden that fueled so many calls. It was a perception that while he had diverted a catastrophe I had been playing around that seemed to cause him discomfort.
In actuality, I had left my cell phone in my bedroom because I spent two hours studying for and then another hour taking an online test for my summer course. I had been working hard and needed to focus. I am very glad that I didn’t have my cell phone on my desk while I was trying to study and certainly not during the test itself when I could not handle distractions.
This leads to the subject of this post: the language used to describe women and their activities.
What if I had been working in my garden? My garden is not a flower border filled with award-winning roses. It is filled with heirloom vegetable plants designed to feed our family because we have a miniscule food budget. I certainly don’t see what I do out there as “playing,” not one little bit. It is work. It is pleasurable for me to work with the soil and see something nourishing emerge from what had been a seed the size of a pinhead only two months earlier.
I love my garden. It is hard for me physically to work in the garden, but I love it so much that I have figured out how to do a little here and a little there with the result being a fairly successful undertaking. The boys certainly enjoy everything that I serve them that comes from that garden. Just yesterday, my 14-year-old son asked me if he could make a salad from my lettuce. I showed him how to harvest it, leaving an inch or so of stem so that it would regrow for a second harvest. He then ate his salad with a salad dressing he made from the homemade mayonnaise I had whipped up earlier that day — he merely added some herbs and spices. He wanted me to make him a vinaigrette but I refused so he made do.
As I thought about my older son’s comment and his frustration, I thought about all of the years when my estranged husband would tell me that he couldn’t call the insurance company or get a quote for a home repair during business hours “because I work.” I heard that for over 25 years. He works. I don’t.
Most women gain a semblance of satisfaction from keeping a home, caring for children, and keeping that stereotypically surly husband happy. There is a common frustration, however, with the perception that what we do at home isn’t real work.
I read an article the other day online (sorry, I couldn’t find it to share) about how Asian men in a certain country are left at home to care for the children while their wives immigrate to other countries. Apparently, the women can get better paying jobs than the men, so they end up being the breadwinner for the family. There is a cultural shift going on due to this phenomenon. Some men are responding by becoming very depressed, gambling and drinking while others are holding down the fort, doing all the jobs their wives used to handle (even when they worked full-time), until their wives get back whereby they will gladly return those duties to the women.
It was fascinating reading about how difficult and emotionally draining keeping home is for most of those men. I have news for everyone: it is equally difficult and emotionally draining for women, but we learned thousands of years ago not to complain too loudly. We just suck it up and do it.
I have often observed men talking about their wives’ activities in a denigrating fashion. It is not intentional. The words they use are words that their fathers used and their fathers before them: housework, women’s work, hobbies, crafting, playing, girlfriends, gaggle of hens, and so on. I do think men will acknowledge that scrubbing a floor is work, but those types of tasks take up little time due to time-saving technologies available to women. The perception is that women have become people who don’t work unless they have a well-paying job or a professional career.
I admit that I am thrilled with the emergence of modern egalitarian families where the husband and wife share duties equally, such as is the case with my oldest son and his wife. It is a beautiful dynamic filled with respect and love. Yes, it is challenging for men to deal with the hundreds of mundane tasks that make up running a home, but it is equally challenging for women who are parents to navigate a business world where families are not respected and there is still little flexibility that would make working so much easier for mothers.
While men, and many women, bristle at the insistence by feminists and women’s advocates on political correctness, it is necessary if we are to change the language used to describe women and their activities.