So here’s the thing. I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I have never thought of myself as less than, or less deserving (or indeed more so) than any other person. My husband is very similar. He was once horrified at being called a sexist pig by a very well known feminist writer when he opened a door for her when she spoke at his college (He’d open a door for anyone if they were behind him, it’s polite. I open the door to people all the time, I’m just being nice).
But despite my beliefs, I have found myself doing something very peculiar. Several of my friends have commented that they do the same and it’s caused them quite an alarm. They’ve been horrified by the words leaving their lips, although it doesn’t stop them saying it repeatedly.
The thing is, whenever their partners do a domestic chore, they thank them for it. More specifically its “thanks for doing that for me.” What !!!?We all agree that the home is occupied by both parties and that neither person benefits from say taking the bins out more than the other.
I suspect that the reason for this is actually quite straightforward, and I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t happen for both sexes. Times have changed and the ambition of most women is thankfully not to bag a husband; that can be part of a picture but it’s not the central one. For most young women, and men, the goal is job, home, relationship, family…usually in that order. That means that people are typically living on their own before cohabiting with a partner. With increased difficulty getting on the housing market, very often cohabitation means that one person has to move into their partner’s home. This what happened with my partner and I. When he didn’t live with me, when he did something to help around my flat, I’d say thank you… as it was my flat. But when he moved in, it sort of stuck.
We have a relatively fair distribution of labour in our house, varying primarily due to unpredictable working patterns and travel. Sometimes I take up more slack. Sometimes my husband does. I’ve been so busy lately that my husband has been mainly responsible for the cooking… and changing the cat litter… and the vacuuming… and the washing up…and fair play he does all the ironing as well. Other times, I do the shopping and the cooking – the day to day stuff- but he’ll pick up on the more intermittent tasks. It’s a partnership which works… on the whole!
But now I’ve caught myself doing this I wonder if this subliminally sends out quite a different message, and could subconsciously promote bad behaviour. I wonder what any future children would think. I don’t even believe in “boys” and “girls” colours…. will they think that Dad would be doing Mum a great favour by making the bed? If we keep using language in this way, without the occasional check of our vocabulary we run the risk of enforcing stereotypes. So what behaviour are you going to try and keep in check? Do your words fit your actions?