This entry is inspired by the first chapter of The Bitch in the House, entitled “Excuse Me While I Explode: My Mother, Myself, My Anger” by E.S. Maduro. She was 24 years old when she wrote it, and it captures the situation so perfectly. Her experience and feelings are so similar to my own that I hope I’m not plagiarizing just by writing about my own situation.
This “bitchiness” is the curse of the 20-something female generation, most of whose parents fulfilled the typical gender roles in the home and most of whose moms began to work full-time while continuing to do the vast majority of domestic tasks and child rearing.
My mother worked full time, in addition to doing all of the cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, ironing, and grocery shopping. As a child, I took this for granted and did not notice, although I do remember one time when my Dad made toast for me. Somehow this was very significant to me, my Dad making toast that came out so nicely brown and he spread it with butter that melted into it. I ate it with a sense of awe. It even tasted differently. I think I really wanted to frame this piece of toast to put on the wall, this motherly act of my father.
Anyway, by the time I reached high school I began to notice how much my Mom did around the house and how she never asked for any help with it. I was filled with righteous fury. Numerous times, I told my parents with determination and resolve, with opinionated confidence and boldness that I had about very few other things in my teenage life, that when I married, my husband and I would split the household chores equally. Everything would be perfectly balanced. I told my parents that when my future boyfriend proposed to me, the first thing I would say, before saying yes or no, would be “Will you do the cooking and cleaning and laundry?” If he said he would, then I would marry him. My god, this balance would happen or I would die trying.
Eventually, near the end of high school, my Dad took on the task of doing all the dishes after dinner. Maybe it was partly to get me to shut up a bit.
Steve and I have been living together for four years. Most of the time our house is pretty messy. This irks me all the time, I cannot truly relax when my place is cluttered. However, I refuse to spend significant amounts of time cleaning and straightening up. Once I do that, I’m done for. I’ve fallen into the trap, into the doomed line of drudgery that has befallen every woman before me.
Then, finally I can’t take the mess anymore and I am overcome with manic resolve and energy. I go around the entire house and do everything in a day long marathon until it is clean. All the while, I am quiet. I am grim. The counter, the household chore abacus of my brain, is clicking away. I can give you a very accurate estimate of exactly how many times, in four years, Steve has gone to the grocery store, exactly how many times he has made the bed, how many times he has put his clothes in the hamper, how many times he has vacuumed or done the laundry. The counter counts and the resentment builds. I try to even things out. When I do the laundry, I fold Steve’s clothes and put them all on the bed or the floor and he has to put them away.
I allow the sheets to stay on the bed longer than they rightfully should, and feel the flicker of annoyance each time I get under the covers over their due date. I override my instinctive domesticity daily, all the while annoyed that I have to do so.
Then I start doing passive aggressive things. I make veiled little comments about the state of the house and whether or not Steve has done anything about it. Steve starts to quietly fume, he ignores me. I go about my monthly cleaning marathon and then when everything is spic and span, I go find Steve and manage some sort of more pointed, barbed comment. Then we argue about something stupid and irrelevant and I still feel frustrated because there is no satisfactory outlet for this anger. Finally one day we had an out and out fight and Steve accused me of my passive aggressiveness, of my insinuations that attempt to make him feel guilty.
“Why don’t you just ask me to do it?” he says. He says that he will do it gladly, whatever I need done. I just need to be mature about it.
And it is true. Steve has never expressed unwillingness to help out. He always demonstrated understanding of my determination to have things be balanced. He is not sexist or demanding.
I have difficulty explaining why I cannot ask. Somehow it doesn’t feel right. I feel guilty. “I feel like I’m nagging,” I tell Steve.
Besides, I don’t want to have to ask, godammit.
As E.S. Madura wrote, I would be asking for something my mother never asked of my father. It doesn’t feel right. Which is just plain wrong.
Then finally I couldn’t take it anymore and approached Steve with a proposal. I decided that things weren’t getting done around the house because nothing was assigned and each person kept thinking that the other will take care of it. Because I have classes a lot of nights, I told Steve that if he would do all the dishes every day and generally straighten up, I would do all the laundry and bigger cleaning tasks on weekends. We would still alternate cooking.
Still, somehow, nothing changed. I could not be at peace. Everything piles up and I am overwhelmed. It’s neverending, but if I give in and do it all, I will be too infuriated.
A lot of the time the abacus of my mind and the inner running commentary on the state of the house and who has done what and who is responsible for what has become automatic, subconscious. Not until Steve goes away and it falls silent do I realize how ongoing it is. I don’t want to have an ongoing tally. I don’t want to feel mad everytime I see the clutter around me. The junk mail, oh god, the junk mail will never go away and leave me alone.
E.S. Madura writes:
So there it is. In trying to avoid a life of an overworked housewife that I see my mother as having occupied for more than thirty years now, in choosing a boyfriend partly for his willingness and readiness to share the “woman’s work,” I am freely walking closer and closer to everything I had wanted to escape, enraged with every step I take. Somehow, some part of this cycle seems unavoidable, unchangeable. Paul will read what I’ve written here and ask me, so earnestly, “What can we do to solve this problem?” and already I know that I will shrug him off. “It’s just me,” I’ll respond, “this is something I need to deal with.”
Rather than trying to impart to him some of the domestic knowledge and sense of responsibility that I have, I will, I fear, go on being angry that he wasn’t given it to begin with; angry that, unlike me, he was not closely observing, for his future, his own mother during the many hours she spent taking care of everyone in the family, and therefore now doesn’t have the voice in his head telling him he should be constantly aware of tasks that need to be done, of meeting everyone else’s needs before his own.
I will, I fear, go on doing as much as I can, caught between pride and anger. At twenty four, living in this day and age, I still have years to figure things out; to try to learn how to feel pride and even power without running myself ragged; to be with a man without being angry for the rest of my life. I hope I can”
(p 11-12, The Bitch in the House edited by Cathi Hanauer, 2002).
Apr 14th 2004Uncategorized