Once upon a time on a dude ranch far away, the big boss man, tired of all the fussing and chest beating between the sexes, made the wranglers and cabin girls switch roles for a day. We girls wrangled the horses while the cowboys stayed at the lodge to do the dishes, serve the meals and make the beds. Of course we did everything perfectly—even if I did tie the wrong knot and let one horse out for a little joyride—only to come down the mountain and find that all of the beds had been made—twice. The wranglers had put new sheets on right over the old ones. Still, we had to grudgingly admit that the western Freaky Friday was a valuable lesson. We saw how the other half lived and began to appreciate them more for it.
Which is what has been happening around my house lately, if in a more long term, less organized way. While I’ve been working longer hours, my husband’s been picking up more of the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and childcare. A few weeks ago, after getting home from a particularly long day I found myself standing in the midst of a pile of half crocked art projects, found objects from the river and science experiments gone wrong. I tried not to hyperventilate. “Why isn’t my dinner on the table? Why is this house such a mess? What have you been DOING all day?” And then it hit me as I flashed on all of the stereotypical scenarios of the working dad berating the stay-at-home-mom. My God, I thought. It’s happened to me. I’ve become a female chauvinist pig!
Though I’ve always considered myself a progressive, modern woman—a feminist-- I’ve recently started to examine what’s really brewing beneath the surface of the buzz words I’ve dressed myself in. And what I’ve uncovered is at least as much cave woman as modern woman. “Me, Jane! Me want big man to kill buffalo, pay mortgage AND take care of kid!” Beneath my “let’s not stereotype according to our gender roles” façade, I secretly think my husband should be responsible for the lion’s share of the finances, all of the manual labor, a lot of the household chores and half of the childcare. In other words, not only do I want to have my cake and eat it too, I want to eat it with two scoops of honey vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and wet walnuts. Who doesn’t?
I love the tri-fold sense of empowerment, freedom and creativity I get from my work, but deep down part of me feels I should do it only because I want to—sort of for fun-- not because I have to. I should also get lots of room for me-time, self-exploration and mini vacations—while he pays the mortgage, does the dishes and checks over the homework. When and if I do choose to work, I should come home to a hot meal, a sparkling house and a foot massage. Not that I provided any of that for him when he worked all day. Oh, no. That’s when I pulled the feminism card. But thankfully, my husband is a feminist, too. He’d be just as happy to give me all of the responsibilities I’d like to give him. Which is why, in a sometimes civilized, sometimes barbaric way, we’re doing our best to work it out—so that we can both have it all—or at least a little tiny bit of each part of most of it. Without score sheets or time cards, we’re dividing up the work it takes to run a marriage, house and family in as egalitarian a way as possible.
To get a sense of the division of labor, at least in the childcare department, I recently asked an impartial judge for his opinion. Well,” said our son, “it’s 50-50. Actually, it’s 51-49.” I didn’t ask who got the extra 1% because of course, to keep everything in perfect balance, I still need to believe it’s me.