I bought the baby a toy vacuum. They love it, as they are much in love with our robot vacuum. Always touching it, sneaking up to it while it cleans.
As I was putting it into the shopping cart, I had a flashback to when my daughter was a baby. There was no way I would have bought her a vacuum. Ever. There are too many gender roles wrapped up in that. I couldn’t bring myself to see her “play house” with toys that women were supposed to use to “keep home.”
You’d think that my work to eliminate the gender role stereotypes may have had impact. They have. And they have not. Even without a toy vacuum, she still sees me as the keeper of the house, the one who cooks, the one who serves her. She sometimes pushes back when I ask her to pick something up, or to clean up after herself. She asks me to do things for her all the time, like hand her the remote when it’s actually closer to her. Some days, I feel like I am someone’s assistant. Being asked to follow orders.
I see small moments where this has come to be. My partner asks her to do little things all of the time. Like hand him the remote. She models his behavior, but asks me instead of him. I asked him once why he made requests like that, asking her to get things for him when he didn’t need someone to. He said to teach her about helping out. I get the point of the message, but I also can’t help but to feel the interwoven sexism that comes in all of this. And so, she plays out the same routine with me. I’m the person who “helps out” for her.
In society, motherhood is seen as the all encompassing role. We must do and manage it all. I am the manager of this house. I set up the appointments, pay the bills, pay attention to the little things like the dog’s monthly medicine, due dates, car inspections, doctor’s appointments, etc. I am the person that the daycare calls, the school calls, for anything and everything. And, I didn’t even sign up for that. They just do it, their own system woven into today’s rampant sexism that is downplayed when they talk about how empowered women are to do it all.
In this moment, I do not do conventional work, but I do work. And it’s my work that is interrupted as a parent when the teacher emails about after-school activities, or the school calls about a sick kid. Plus, I mother 24/7. On paper, my partner also goes to work and parents 24/7. But when he’s at work, no one asks him to parent except me. This is no fault of his own, as we have not been explicit to ask for an alternative option in the system. But there is a realness in how his life functions differently than mine. How his mind focuses compared to my own.
He doesn’t see or remember things the same way I do. The world jokes and will say “oh, men!” But in reality, this is his upbringing in this society, what the world has handed to him, what was handed to his parents. He knows this. He sits in a world where his whole life he has seen how women manage their homes while men go to work and occasionally fix things. And he has seen over and over how we teach girls they can be anything they want to be, while we teach boys to just be.
He is working to break through this all of the time, and I’m grateful. But it’s a hard unlearning for him, and it’s taxing for me. Mostly because I have to help in this learning. I have to teach most of the time because there isn’t much around to teach him otherwise. I just googled “how to not be sexist in your own home.” Instead of finding something real, the first item is “5 seemingly harmless things that are actually sexist.” Only 5. Seemingly harmless. That have always been sexist.
Then, there are several articles on politics. Plus one on how feminists are sexist. As you can see, he doesn’t have much help out there. Men aren’t out there writing about how to be better to their partners. And doing so by being specific – like don’t put your clothes on the floor and unconsciously assume that someone will just pick them up for you. And to then not say thank you, because you’ve done it so much that it’s not even a thing to notice anymore.
Socks are a thing for me, I even wrote a poem about them…
Point being, that trying to not teach stereotypical gender roles is really hard. What I can say is that I have a daughter who in no way role plays being a home keeper. Instead, she does play out oppression by treating me like one. Even when we play “house” or “family”, she makes me the mom. She never wants to be the mom and I don’t know what to do with that.
We’re working on this day by day. And my partner is a key to our success. He talks to her about it, and is paying attention to his own behaviors. He listens deeply when I tell him what comes up for me. I know it’s hard, to hear from the person that you love, that sometimes the way you act can hurt them. It’s hard not to feel blame. I blame myself for the way things play out sometimes. I blame myself for not being more explicit with my daughter about sexism. If I had just paid attention to the whole story instead of pushing her to live outside of the box, she’d understand the box more and see how others can be trapped inside. I’m worried that one day she’ll just step back in – to see how lonely it is out of the box sometimes. I’m also worried that instead she might keep others in the box to keep herself out.
So I bought the baby a vacuum.
Note: I feel compelled to acknowledge something very important, and not in spite of my feelings. I have a loving, willing partner working every day to be the best human I could ask to share this life with. One who has learned to pick up his socks. And everyone else’s.