I am currently visiting my family in Utah. I love my family, but the gender dynamics in their household have really got me down. My stepmom works a full time job, then comes home to cook dinner, water the garden, and clean up after my dad and brother. My dad and brother both work full time, but that shouldn’t excuse them from contributing to the household chores. It’s easy to dismiss the dynamics as being part of the Mormon culture, but that is simply unacceptable in my opinion.
I was really angry about this last week, but I decided not to run my mouth about the patriarchy. I have found that my family members just roll their eyes when I say things in anger. But this week I’ve spoken up. I’ve asked my dad to give my stepmom a night off from doing the dishes. I’ve suggested that my brother should be responsible for his share of the household work. And I’ve offered to help teach the men folk how to cook a simple meal so that my stepmom doesn’t have to cook on Sundays. All of this has fallen on deaf ears.
How do you change oppressive gender dynamics in your own family? It’s far easier to petition voters to protect reproductive rights than it is to talk about the patriarchy within our daily interactions with family members. Part of that is that familiarity breeds contempt. If a stranger slams the door in my face when I ask them to vote for a pro-choice candidate, it doesn’t hurt as much as a family member telling me that I’m “just a feminazi” when I ask them to pick their shit up off the floor. I don’t think that my dad or brother intend to be sexist. But they just assume that it is women’s work to clean the house and cook the meals. Boy wouldn’t they be surprised if my stepmom ever decided to go on strike?
My partner and I divide up the housework. I cook, so he does the dishes. We take turns with the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and mopping the floor. I hate cat poop, so he generously cleans the litter box every day. There’s no fairness in the division of poop scoop labor, but what can I say? I’m spoiled.
When my partner and I decided to move in together, we had a very frank conversation about how we would divide up the housework, and we also talked about our finances. We sit down and balance the checkbook together every week. It’s not the responsibility of either one of us – it is a shared responsibility. He makes more money than I do, but he has never lorded that over me. I feel like we have a very egalitarian relationship. And it just amazes me that we do, since I obviously have a very uneven blueprint in my own family.
What has your experience with patriarchy been like? Does your family have an antiquated gender dynamic, like mine does? Or do your parents and siblings embrace a feminist ethic of housework? Did your family’s division of labor influence your decision to call yourself a feminist? How have you been able to influence the gender dynamics in your family? I’d love to hear from you.