10 May 2010

On domesticated men and handy women

 It was Mother's Day, I entered my mother-in-law's kitchen, to behold a sight I would rather not see:

Mother-in-law and sister-in-law cutting up fruit and sausages and cheese and things for consumption by the brothers and husbands in the living room. 

If my husband was there, he would not be sitting down. (He was at a soccer referee training day). 
I asked them about this curiosity, especially considering it was Mother's Day - my brother-in laws are not inconsiderate people - they were acting this way by habit, in fact everyone was acting in habit. 

Like the habit of saying this in response to my question ( I think I have been asking this for years) offered up by both mother-in-law and sister-in-law:

"We would have to explain too much to them, so its just easier to do it ourselves."


Indeed. If you have a husband or brothers or sons that never get in the kitchen because it is too difficult to explain how to do stuff, then you have created your own problem, it seems, to me. Someone took the time to explain stuff to you  - and my mother-in-law did not find it frustrating to explain this to her did my mother....hmmm. Is it the idea that men are not naturally capable? How come there are so many male Chefs, sous, pastry and other? How come there are so many men capable of running their own households laundry, cooking and all? Are they freaks of nature? I think not.

I will be bold and say, flat out that men are not naturally incapable in the kitchen - it has nothing to do with nature  - and everything to do with nurture and socializing - everything to do with whether they are given the keys to the kitchen...or not. If they haven't, it is not too late. Start small, appeal to them on mother's day - of all days, I think this is one day even the most gendered of men would feel an obligation to help out if asked. 

goodness, is it 1957 ?

If you want to teach them how to do stuff, teach in a conducive environment and start with small successes that build on eachother - And don't be too picky about artful placement on a plate, just be glad the fruit is washed and cut in nice pieces, artful arrangement is a lesson further down the road, I'd say. Before you know it - voila, your man is making crepes for breakfast !

My theory is that its all about getting men (like these specimens in this particular living room)  to do stuff in little bits they can feel comfortable with, and keep asking them to do that, and then a wee little bit more - with more experience in the kitchen, they become more open to doing more because they are getting used to being partners in the kitchen. 

This is just like my exposure to the preparation of a room for painting (TSPing, sanding, filling in cracks and holes with plaster and or wood filler...more sanding...priming, then painting). It took a few exposures, but now I can do it all myself if I have to - this takes the load off my husband. My husband had to have some uber patience, I will admit, but it paid off :) Misplacing his tools is another thing...

Cutting up things, like the fruit, cheese and meat in my mother-in-law's kitchen is not gender specific - men can't use knives to cut fruit but can use knives to carve turkey?

If your husband/partner can't even cut basic things in the kitchen, I think there is something going someone holding too tightly onto the keys of the kitchen and maybe even to the idea of gender separation.  Maybe some people like it that way and all the resulting gender drama that ensues...?

Women who hold on too tightly to these keys, loose out on some freedom, and, I will boldly state that they cannot complain about their useless husbands or laugh at them with their girlfriends, because they had a hand in making them that way.

 My husband's family say that my husband is the most "domesticated" of the brothers and brother-in-laws - said perhaps with a bit of jealousy (?) and I think maybe an accusation that I, with my studies and such have forced the poor man to be hen pecked into the kitchen...I am not bothered by this - my husband and I are more of a partnership in the end - its useful to learn how to do stuff from eachother - useful for both of us.

I can paint/prep for painting, refinish furniture, sand, design and garden and haul things and can build Ikea furniture - I can use basic tools...and he, this life-partner of mine,  can make crepes, cook eggs and bacon, make a square meal, and with directions can make more complicated things, he vacuums, does laundry and can go grocery shopping without getting lost in aisle 3. 

We don't genderize tasks he and I - though I am far better at cooking and baking and grocery shopping, and he is far better at renovating and building - no doubt - and this is from all the experience we had in these areas before meeting eachother - our exposure to these things - and our gendered training. It is what it is. If I was exposed to building right from the start, I know I would be an ace at it by now - its not rocket science. Neither is baking or laundry. Only inexperience makes it so.

To maintain a NON-domesticated husband - is it that one wants to keep control of the domestic that gendered lines can maintain? Perhaps a status as the master of all things domestic? Maybe, perhaps...

I now have to give up my status as highly regarded crepe master, as husband has cracked the code this mother's day, and with practice, will only refine his skills...I can no longer lay claim to being the master.

Neither of us will be masters of all, but at least we can feel comfortable in the margins of these things that used to be in one gendered domain. We can provide helpful, useful support when needed - partners rather than gendered opposites.

Venus and Mars you say? People can actually create and or perpetuate that planetary divide by not trying out new skills from the "other side".

So if you want to be Venus and Mars, you can, because its your choice - it is not inevitable, it is not natural, it is made, woman/man made. 

I wonder how many limitations are placed on people's gifts or interests by this maintained and regulated gendered line? Yep, regulated. 

If it was natural, it wouldn't need to be regulated would it? 

Because it would naturally occur on its own. But because it is not natural, we need to have social pressure put in place to "Be a man" or "act like a girl" or there is shame...interesting huh?

How do you perceive the gendered divide?


  1. I enjoyed reading this post. You pose a good question. It made me think of a time when I was in grade school and I had to choose a book to read from the class library for a book report. I chose The Old Man and the Sea. My teacher tried to talk me out of it. She said it was a boy book. I read it anyway and lots of Hemingway when I was older.

  2. My husband does a lot of cooking(although he is italian)...he likes cooking...I do fix things like IKEA puzzle furnitures and stuff like that.
    But I hear a lot of friends complaining about husbands "messing up the kitchen" therefore they prefer "a woman's hand"...

    I think you really have a point here...
    We are supposed to be life-partners not in gender competition.

  3. Sabine - interesting that your teacher said that it was a boy book when most books were about male protagonists, we had fewer female protagonists, fewer female examples of being human, being the hero, the focus of attention in a book - usually women/girls were side-kicks, men's toys/playthings/helpmates, not people with voices of their own. As you know, girls now have so much more to choose from! - and Hemingway is just one of many options - how was that book by the way? I never read it...

  4. Marijke - glad your Italian husband is allowed in the kitchen! thats quite a feat! :)
    (We live in a corner of the neighborhood where there are a lot of Italians - gendered lines are maintained - women in aprons... but you know, they are happy and have a good life, I don't doubt that, but their sons, so used to mama's cooking and picking up after them well into their late twenties, even thirties - they will suffer a bit in the real world...

  5. Please dont get me started on this topic! My husband chooses not to... so he says! I now have a basket that has his belongings and once a week I place it on his chair.... If it does not get emptied then in the trash it goes!

  6. wow, harsh- but obviously necessary - sounds like his mother/parents contributed to his inability long before you got there!! My sympathies :)

  7. My dh loves the kitchen, and is quite comfortable and very capable with household tasks. He actually says that he's looking forward to being the one who's employed part time so he can "man" the house - interesting choice of words! When we're home together he sometimes tells me how best to do things, which is a bit irritating.
    And I love the cordless drill, and can install curtain rods, paint rooms, refinish furniture, etc. Next up is getting comfortable with dh's power tools. It's just about what we're committed to learning and doing. No job is gender-specific.
    INteresting post, love the blog and all your ponderings!

  8. Hey Theresa! nice to hear about your continuing familiarity with powertools :) - d is um, a middle name of that man of your's?
    lol on his instructions on domestic tasks - heehee - yes, that can be irritating!

    you should sign up as a follower on my blog to, well, make me happy - your benifit is that I will love you more

  9. Sure! I am a bloglines follower, I have a whole slew of beloved blogs I read daily. Of course not while at work...
    dh is "dear husband".
    Lee Valley offers a "Women and Power Tools" course or I could learn from dh himself. We're building a deck together in July. Good time to learn more.

  10. Ha ha I can almost see the sceen on Mothers day. Interesting. In our house the man is very keen on the household tasks. He lived by himself for some time so he learned to take care of himself. We do a lot of things together as well so thats good.

  11. you should write in your own blog so we can hear about your progress with deck :)

    We are building a deck starting this weekend - it will probably go into late June as we have to make concrete pavers as well as do the cedar part - dismantling old deck starts this wknd...

    Maybe if you take the Woman and Power tools course you'd learn some things DH doesn't know

  12. Swedish yogini - congrats on having a keen domestic man - They're kind of nice to have around :)

  13. Please post about deck progress! (We need some inspiration and encouragement here). Hopefully we can get along during the project - I get frustrated with Tony's careful (ie SLOW) & thorough attention to detail. I hope you are allowing/MAKING those energetic younger men in the house help out.

  14. THIS is the best post I have read in a very long time. When I was married to my wife, I constantly felt like I wasn't living up to what society expected me to that I am married to a man, it is so nice because we each just do what we're good at, or what we enjoy. It is such a relief.

    This Mother's Day scene would have made my head spin, though. Mothers should not do the work on Mother's Day!

  15. Jason - i guess it makes a lot of sense that being in a male-male partnership, you are free from having to act your gendered roles - you just do what you're good at - I am sure there are many more hetero couples now, more than ever, who do just that, but they often have to shed a lot of gender training...:) first - as did you before you could be who you are today - cheers Jason!

  16. Theresa - yep - we will have a phtographer on hand to archive the frustration, record the swearing, and maybe take nice shots of helpful, skilled, happy moments...

  17. I don't remember much of the plot of The Old Man and the Sea, but it has a distinct mood that I have never forgotten. I won't spoil it for you, but would totally recommend reading it. It's a real quick read.

  18. Aha! Someone good at cooking talking about allowing men into the kitchen!! That is something. Really. I am a half-baked cook & I am learning to let go only now. :)

  19. Re: replacing old deck - might this be the deck I helped you build in '98 or '99? Glad to hear you are open to using power tools. I like the blog. Say "Hi" to your "dh" and family for me.

  20. "Women who hold on too tightly to these keys, loose out on some freedom"

    I have recently learned this lesson and can breathe again.