Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What Does the Husband of a Feminist Domestic Goddess Do?

There was recently a post at my favorite unapologetic-feminist blog I Blame the Patriarchy in which Twisty and commenters addressed the question of the structural oppression of marriage as an institution, including the unequal division of household drudgery. In comments, the solution of hiring someone to do those chores was raised, then dismissed as also being patriarchal because (for one thing) the person thus hired is invariably female.

Here at the Flossie Homestead, we briefly hired a service to clean when we were going through an especially busy patch at work/school. It made me feel weird, because my home had suddenly become a place of alienated labor that replicated outside class, gender, and national divisions. Liberal guilt prevailed, and we went back to doing it ourselves.

However, since Mr. Flossie is what Twisty dubs a "Nigel," a housework-doing, patriarchy-aware male who makes us smug types claim that not all marriages are horrible and have to be crushed in the revolution (as voiced in the objection "But my Nigel is different!"), he does a variety of tasks around the house, including clearing the table, filling and unloading the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, and cooking dinner every other night.

I take out the recycling and garbage, scoop the cat litter, cook dinner the other nights, and keep the plants watered. We each do our own laundry, and we alternate cleaning floors and bathrooms. We try to play to our strengths. Me saying "How'd you like to water the garden with me?" sounds as appealing to him as it would to me if he said "How'd you like to sit here and help me figure out why the hard drive isn't working?"

He doesn't have the big investment I have in domesticity, and so I don't mind obsessing over dish cloths and tomato plants alone (or going to the froufrou specialty soap store, a place I love and he finds distressing in direct proportion to how much he loves, and I find distressing, going to Best Buy). This difference doesn't seem anti-feminist to me, as domesticity, I would argue, does not have a one-to-one correlation with drudgery; it involves a range of often-pleasurable activities that make one's home a place where one enjoys being.*

*As for drudgery, though, we have an advantage in that we don't have kids, so there is less of it to do. If we ever join the ranks of breeders/adopters, I wonder how things will change. As Twisty writes, "Everyone knows a few intellectuals or hippies whose curiously enduring child-free marriages seem to be mostly about companionship and health insurance." But these are the minority, she points out; the nuclear family and wife-and-mother role show the institution's true colors. Though I fully expect my Nigel would continue to be different, I'm honing my skill at saying things like, "I've done X chore; could you do Y?"

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