One morning last week, I dropped my kids off at school, not realizing a glass jar had rolled into the floorboard beneath a seat. Needless to say, I was mortified when my son accidentally kicked it out in the rush to get to school. It shattered in the car line, blocked traffic, and resulted in the assistance of multiple teachers and the principal with a broom. I cried all the way to my next appointment, embarrassed and angry with myself. I have deep fears of being judged for the physical appearance of my vehicle and my home. Many of those fears are my evergreens, the products of real events with genuine criticisms and concerns about my abilities to parent and provide a safe home for my children. They never stop growing, these fears, and I can always count on them to return. They thrive on little accidents like broken jars. This morning, heading to the car line, I gently asked my son to be careful to look where his feet were. He was anxious that I was mad at him for the accident. I sighed, fully aware that my desperation last week probably did look like anger to him. I apologized and told him no, I wasn’t mad, it was an accident, and not his fault. I did tell him I was embarrassed and I probably responded with more exasperation than the situation warranted. He and his brother both asked, “Why Mom? Why embarrassed?”, and the unfairness of their question was brutal. They don’t live in a world where they’re expected to be clean and tidy. They live in a world where people might get annoyed and irritated with their clutter and disorganization, but usually and eventually, excuse it. Understandably, they would believe me to have had that same experience. I was honest with them. I told them that their dad and I share a home, but he has never been ridiculed for our home, despite being fully part of making the messes inside it. My youngest immediately said something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, it’s better than it used to be for girls, like better than in my history books, but it’s still not fair and that’s not good.”
My husband and I share our vehicles. We share our children and the consequential chaos that results. He is not expected by society to come home from a full day of work and cook for four people, wash dishes, make sure everyone has clothes, make sure folders are checked and back-packs packed, and feed the dog. Because each new generation of men is trying to do better than those that came before them, they’re labeled “good dads” for changing diapers and putting kids to bed, merely because this isn’t what many fathers did in years prior. On the other hand, women are expected to be grateful for these changes, because it could be worse, because it could still be like it was. My husband has experienced the expectation that he should work and provide for his family. No one can see his work to analyze him, other than the people he works with. The work that is expected of me, the unpaid labor of hundreds of hours of being a caregiver and housekeeper on top of my own paid work, is widely visible. I have felt more cruelty from others since becoming a mother, because people believed they had a right to tell me what I was and wasn’t doing correctly as soon as I began to show with my first pregnancy. People stopped asking me about my work and asked me about my maternity clothes and how I was decorating. Meanwhile, my husband was still asked about his job. When our house had been in a particularly bad state during a terrible bout of postpartum depression, people talked to my spouse like he was a saint for tolerating our house instead of confronting him about his need to do more than work and provide for his family. So, when a mason jar breaks in the line at school, I feel like the worst mother and wife. The bitterness and hurt I feel about the inequality streaking throughout my life…. I don’t know where to go with it. At this point, there is nowhere that it hasn’t rooted, because there is nowhere that that inequality hasn’t reached. If a jar broke in the line at school, my husband would have been mildly annoyed by the inconvenience, but he would not have felt that he was at fault or somehow deeply flawed. No one taught him that his worth was in a clean house, well-dressed and well-behaved children, and a pretty smile. For those of you who believe I’m exaggerating, you need only look at Saturdays in the fall here in Georgia to see that the continued effects of misogyny cause harm. Why else is my husband assumed to be watching football? We have young children. Who is caring for them if he is watching football? Obviously, me. If I need to explain to you why this inequality, this expectation that I provide childcare while he plays, is a serious problem, then you are part of the problem and complicit in the misogyny harming me and others. Please stop expecting me to smile.
2 thoughts on “You need to smile more.”
Beka, you are a GREAT Mom who takes time with your boys and creates traditions that they will cherish all their lives. I know you as a friend and in a professional capacity and could care less what your house looks like! I understand what you’re saying, though. Men have a lot of built-in free passes and breaks. I remember growing up in a traditional household where my dad worked and my mom tended the homestead. I remembered thinking as a small child that it’s not fair that my mom and her friends had to do all the work on days off and holidays. Christmas was way more fun and relaxing for the kids and men than for the women, that’s for sure.
I appreciate the encouragement! It hasn’t been easy recently, explaining to my kids, why some things aren’t the same for me as they are for their dad. Likewise, trying to help my kids lessen inequality is unbelievably challenging when many other adults don’t realize the negative patterns they’re continuing. I already see the frustration in the faces of their friends who are girls, because people expect them to be learning recipes and kitchen skills. They don’t get the kind of praise my boys get for the same work.