On gender roles and rolling pins…

Posted on November 24, 2008. Filed under: reality | Tags: |


I never really considered gender roles in my first marriage.  Okay, that’s a lie. I did, but only briefly as I patted myself on the back for escaping the limits of traditional roles.  My ex-husband cooked, cleaned, and took care of the pets.  He made sure that our house was stocked with the necessities, that the lawn was presentable, and that our guests didn’t die of starvation.  We had a rolling pin, a fancy schmancy silicone one in a masculine blue that he picked out and used.

I supervised (and paid the bills).  I secretly believed that I was incapable of doing what he did, so I didn’t even try, but it didn’t matter.  In this day and age, it was something to be proud of, that my husband was such a fabulous “wife.”*

Fast forward.  In the past few years, I have learned to cook out of necessity.  (I like to eat, so it follows that I’d like to cook.)  I am stunned to find myself as “the clean one” in our relationship, always picking up and straightening up and complaining about the rubble.  And the pets?  Let’s just say that even though we try to share responsibility, the buck has to stop somewhere, and that’s generally with me.  When the puppy’s nipping and needs some extra training, when the cat’s coughing and needs a medication adjustment, when somecat pukes and somedog tries to eat it… yup, those all land in my lap.

And my favorite man?  He’s the designated plumbing-fixer, trash-thrower, and chainsaw-wielder.  He mows the lawns (two houses, remember?), deals with clogged drains and does, um, something with the fallen trees that litter our property.  Need something done with heavy machinery?  He’s your man!  Build a fire in the fireplace when all of our wood is wet?  He figures it out!  Starving and in need of a home-cooked meal?  Not so much.

All of this is fine in theory.  The amount of stuff that we feel responsible for is roughly equal, and we definitely help each other out (don’t get me started on the ugly things that laying tile does to a woman’s hands).

But I struggle with it.  I sometimes assume that I’m stuck doing something because I’m the chick, and he’s the dude. When the house is trashed, I wonder why he doesn’t feel the same frustration when he sees it.  WHY do I have to ask for help in cleaning up a mess we jointly created (or, at the very least, jointly benefited from)?  When he innocently asks me, “What are we having for dinner?” when we’re both covered in the rubble from our latest home improvement project, I want to growl in frustration**.  When he calmly suggests that I might train the dog not to jump on people (as opposed to what, teaching him that on purpose?), I have to hold my breath to not respond.  And when a neighbor complements him on having a partner who bakes pies, homemade oreos***, and can throw together a mean spaghetti sauce, I cringe just a little bit.

Who am I, Betty Crocker?

It’s all fine.  I know it’s fine.  I know that this is just who we are as people and humans and how our lives get divided up.  I know that being at peace with the various aspects of myself, be they Betty Crocker or Rosie the Riveter, is part of growing up.  I know that when we have kids, we are likely to go deeper into traditional roles than we are now, and I know that all of this is harder because my role in my first marriage was so not traditional and because growing up, my mom did it all****.  I know that his willingness to trust me with most of the responsibility for our pets, our meals, and our money is a big deal, and that I would have a really hard time doing the same.

So when I start to freak out about being stuck doing things because I’m the woman, I try to sit quietly for a moment and ask myself: Am I doing this because I have to, or because I want to? (Cooking, for instance, which I usually choose to do.) Are there other alternatives that would work for both of us?  (Perhaps we can hire someone to clean up.)  Am I fixating on how it should be rather than what is? (Just ask him to help clean the kitchen.  He will.)  Do we divide things up this way because of our genders, or for other reasons? (Frankly, the chainsaw is too heavy for me to use safely.)  Instead of getting poopy about it, should I be proud? (I do make pretty rocking homemade oreos.)

And I finally bought a rolling pin, after a year of using well-cleaned cans of veggies to roll out cookie dough.  I call that progress.

I’d like to hear from you.  Are you struggling to adjust to your role with your partner?  If you’ve been married before, is the division of labor in this relationship different than before?  Or, have you always been comfortable with the more traditional parts of your role?  Do tell!

*His words.

**What, you don’t growl when you’re frustrated?

***Because I heart you, here’s the recipe for homemade oreos.  Make sure to use dutch-processed cocoa.  Enjoy!

****My parents were divorced so my mom handled everything because she had to.  In terms of “modeling behavior,” that explains why I assume that I have to do it all myself, too, and why I sometimes assume that ANY division of labor is gender-based.


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    I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and divorce papers) to prove it. Here I am again, pledging my life to my (new) love with eyes wide open (and heart racing) knowing full well how emotionally traumatic this can end… and doing it anyway.


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