I'm reading a book called Getting in Touch With Your Inner Bitch - yes, I know some of you think I could have written it. But seriously - it has frequent references to "Toxic Niceness," which, believe it or not, was my mantra for a little while.
My adoring dad has always said that if I had been born in another century, I would have been Joan of Arc. Maybe not - but I was born with a personality that probably would have gotten me burned as a witch. I came out of the womb opinionated, I think, and my parents tell me that I talked and talked and made my opinions quite clear even before I learned words. And I talked in complete sentences before age 2.
That said, there was a short period of time when I was a bit of a mouse, a bit of a doormat - and it got me in trouble. This lasted from about age 6, when my parents got divorced, to around my sophomore year in high school, when I learned to say, "Fuck you!" and mean it. This was in 1991. I read Susan Faludi. I got excited about Hillary Clinton. I got my personality back. I have been a full-fledged fighter of sexism ever since.
To come back to the point, I was fortunate to be raised in a household with a feminist father and parents (divorced) who both told me that I could do anything I wanted to do. I never heard about gender limitations because my parents didn't believe in them.
Before the Bitch book (which I highly recommend, by the way), I read another book about bitching, The Bitch in the House, which was a collection of women sharing thoughts (and, yes, sometimes, bitching) about home, self, work, romantic partnerships, kids, etc. I had these two books on the brain when my grandmother e-mailed me a couple of nights ago.
My grandmother is still figuring out e-mail and the internet, and it's a help to her, as it is to me, when she gets bouts of insomnia. Her last e-mail was raving about my aunt's last visit to their cabin in Minnesota, while they were out, because my aunt "left it spotless and in good order, besides beautifully arranged what was left out. I can take lessons--K- would enjoy greatly the order."
"If K- enjoys order," I wrote back, "he should do some of the cleaning!"
She chided me in a reply that he does do some of the cleaning, which I think means he may have once killed a mosquito up there and wiped up the messy spot afterwards.
Seriously, both of my grandfathers - and most American men of that generation, I think - have been slaved over their entire lives: first by their mothers, and then by their wives.
My grandfather on my dad's side remarked a few months back that he'd like to move into an assisted living facility at some point. My grandmother snapped, "You dolt! You already have assisted living!"
It's true. Both of my grandmothers do all of the cooking, all of the cleaning (even the yardwork, in my paternal grandmother's case - I think the other side, which has more money and a firmer belief in the caste system, probably hires someone to do it)and they were both responsible for all of the child-rearing.
And they each had five!
I think about this and three things come to mind:
1. I'm absolutely baffled. How did they manage to do all of this and have enough time in the day to sleep? (Maybe they didn't all that much.)
2. I'm absolutely pissed. Why was this the norm? Why is it still the norm in their homes, and most of that generation?
3. How the hell did my parents, and my friends' parents, break out of those gender stereotypes and encourage us?
It's food for thought, anyway.
I have never even considered the possibility of not ending up with someone who would expect me to be a Stepford Wife, or even a Stepford Girlfriend. (Mr. Riot Kitty, by the way, just came in to tell me that he finished doing the dishes.)
Granted, I've experienced my share of sexism - at work (remember, I worked in newsrooms for several years) and out of work. But I am thankful to come home to a partner who is willing to share the suds, as well as the cuddles.
And I am thankful to have been raised by parents who taught me to expect nothing less than that.