When I was a younger, small(er) person, I helped my father hang French doors in the doorway leading from the foyer to the living room. For years we had had a ramshackle system of homemade gates designed to keep kids and dogs out of the living room and away from the musical instruments and breakables. Finally, we installed real doors, which had the advantage of keeping humidity out (instruments no likey humidity), letting light in, and sealing dogs out (instruments no likey dogs). My father handed me a hammer, a chisel, and a small ladder, and showed me where to carve into the virgin doorframe. Obligingly, and with utmost care to detail, I carved 4 perfect mortises (you come to this blog to learn vocabulary, right? A mortise is the rectangular inset in a doorframe where the hinge is attached, so as to make it flush with the wood. And now you know.) for the doors. I was called “The Mortician” for longer than was funny. I was 14, or 12, or 10. The age goes down with each retelling, the point being that I had accomplished this most difficult and adult task while merely a young child.

And a girl at that. The latter point being one of my own making, I was brought up without regard to “boy tasks” or “girl tasks”, and believed I could do anything presented to me, in spite of the model my parents set in their traditional roles. Mommie cooked, and Daddie took out the trash. Mommie sewed the clothing, and Daddie changed the oil in the cars. Daddie mowed the lawn, and Mommie picked out the wall color. Mommie stayed home with the kids while working part-time, but Daddie’s paycheck kept us in our home.

Yet I grew up learning and doing without regard to gender roles. As often as I’d raid my mother’s fabric scrap heap to sew quilts and clothing for my dolls, I’d raid my father’s supply of scrap wood to find boards to cut jigsaw puzzles from. I loved mowing our huge lawn, because that was a $10 chore; nothing else compared. I was even given my very own jigsaw as a birthday present. While my brother was perched on the counter baking cookies with my mother, I was in the basement with my father hot-gluing shingles onto a dollhouse. I seemed to feel equally at home doing both mommie and daddie things.

Even into adulthood, I see my parents’ view of me as one without gender roles. My house-warming gifts from them have included a Black & Decker power screwdriver, a sewing machine, a circular saw, and an ironing board. I feel as though they instilled in me a sense that I could do anything, that Girls were not limited to pink or dolls or the kitchen.

Now, though, I struggle internally as I see, again and again, the girls slink off to their corner to let the boys do “man stuff”. When it’s time to build a set, or take one down after a play, I see the boys leap into action, grabbing screw-guns and tool belts, and the girls retire to organize the costume racks, to inventory barrettes, and to wash stinky tights. As girls, and even teens, we struggled to appear competent and willing to pitch in for any activity. In college, as upperclassmen, we shared the burden of moving over-packed freshmen into their dorms with Suburbans full of stuff. And now, these same women, of my generation (they who wielded hand-trucks in the quad), gravitate towards costumes, make-up, and cleaning and stacking chairs while the men grab screwdrivers, don work gloves, and load up the trucks.

Am I now at a stage of life – wizened as I am at 28 – that I have nothing more to prove in this matter? I know that I can help out as willingly as any man, but do I care if anyone else thinks I can? I guess I can choose now not to. I now have excuses, if I choose to use them: my wrist has tendonitis which is aggravated by heavy lifting, my left hand never quite recovered its stamina after my brain surgery, so I lose my grip, and my acid reflux flares up when I strain to move scenery or furniture. I don’t use those, though. I need to be content that it’s my choice, not my ability, that has me scrupulously categorizing foundation and eyeliner during a set strike.

At home, we help each other with everything, Mr. Apron and I. We don’t share all home tasks 50-50, because things don’t work out that way. He likes playing in the sink, so he does the lion’s share of the washing up. I prefer to guard my delicates against the mean face of the dryer, so I do more laundry. I hate fueling up my car, so Mr. Apron helps me out when he can. Tonight, we were on the way back from rehearsal, and he made a point of stopping for gas, just because he knows I will need it in the week to come. Neither of us vacuum until we’re disgusted with the state of our rugs; it’s very balanced, you see.

I think this all relates back to feminism. You can call it post-feminism, you can say that feminism is simply refusing to be treated like a doormat, you can say my husband has a bridge-brain. Whatever. My brand of feminism, or whatever it’s called, means that I know how to check my oil, and add a quart. I know how to change a flat tire single-handedly, and I own my own air compressor. I can tell a ball peen from a claw hammer from a mallet. But…I’m just as happy to let Mr. Apron check my oil, call for roadside assistance if it’s 40 below, and let my mechanic top of the fluids in my car. I’d rather bake brownies to thank the man who fixed our lopsided bed. I’d rather bake brownies, period.

If you think that means I’m still not liberated from the shackles to the stove, I don’t believe you. It still pisses me off to watch women skulk back to their defined 1950s roles when the power tools come out, but I suspect there’s a good deal of social loafing going on. Or maybe they’re just exercising their preferences. Regardless of what we women choose to be doing, I just hope we’re all secure the knowledge of what we could do.

Advertisements