You know me – I believe life is not a race – so I think you’ll forgive me for posting my Marriage Monday reflection on Tuesday. I’m so determined start a dialogue about marriage that I’m committed to attempting a weekly post about it.
I just….haven’t been able to do it regularly yet.
This week, I’ve been reading Flux, by Peggy Orenstein and I came upon a paragraph that mirrors feelings I’ve had about my husband that I hadn’t been able to put into words. The emphases are mine.
As I turned back to my computer screen, Steven came in, bearing a bowl of udon, a kind of Japanese noodle soup, for my lunch. He set it down beside me, then quietly left the room. It was a small gesture, but I realized that in our relationship, those gestures were usually his. He was the one who worked the garden, who cooked, who found special things to display on the walls. He had made our home a sanctuary. It occurred to me that he was the kind of person I wished I were: the kind who could be accomplished in the outside world yet create a cozy environment at home without either role threatening the other. He had found the balance that I lacked. The longer I was married to Steven, the more I appreciated what he brought to our relationship. Ironically some of his strengths are those most associated with women. Through him I was slowly learning that I could have connection without submission, domesticity without a betrayal of self. Those lessons did not come easily to a woman whose feminism was built on the primacy of autonomy and achievement, who saw any step toward traditional spheres of femininity as backsliding. I write about women, but it took a man to teach me this.
Wow! This blew me away. I feel so fortunate to have met a man who is as unconventional as I am. Just as I’ve not been overly comfortable discussing certain “women’s topics” such as purses and shoes, he’s never been really comfortable talking sports. I remember him telling me in the beginning that he didn’t believe in traditional gender stereotypes (Boy, did I score when I met him!) and I’ve been well aware that knowing him has changed me, but I didn’t realize that his nurturing actions could have so profound an effect on my perception of myself as a woman.
Like Peggy, I grew up thinking that “any step toward traditional spheres of femininity as backsliding.” For much of my life I saw taking too much of an interest in such things as cooking and sewing as moving away from my opportunity to reach my potential. I grew up with the belief that I could and should “do anything” (that is, anything that wasn’t traditionally “women’s work”). I rejected the idea that I should sacrifice myself for a husband and children.
I think I’ve developed this blog as a way to address my ambiguity about these issues. I’m obsessed with the idea of the housewife – how I’ve never wanted to be one – how I’m beginning to question what it actually means to be one in the 21st century, now that women are no longer stuck “inside,” but are always connected to the rest of the world through the internet, continually networking and creating new definitions of “work.”
My husband’s generosity and care for me reminds me that caring for a family and making my home a sanctuary from the outside world is pretty much what gives my life meaning. Work is important in my life, and it has brought feelings of accomplishment and confidence that nothing else has, but it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive of settling into domestic life with my life partner and future children.
The fact that my husband – a very accomplished man – can cook, buy plants for the house, be the one who remembers to water said plants, garden, and get excited about buying a vintage rug for the living room, proves that I can do such things without giving another thought to what it says about my gender or my potential to be “successful” in this world. Cooking for my husband (and myself) or packing his lunch, does not undermine my autonomy or my or my ability to “be accomplished” outside the home.