It only takes an episode or two of Mad Men to remind you how far women have come in carving out a place for themselves in the previously male-dominated landscape.
Today did not display that. And who am I kidding–men still dominate many spheres of life.
To celebrate their prodigal son’s (my brother) overnight stay at home, my parents decided to have a carne asada, or a barbecue. As if on cue, the men (my dad, brother and an uncle) sat down at the table while the women (my mom and aunt) got to work. The men watched a lousy fight on TV. The women sliced the ripe avocados. I, however, observed.
I don’t like watching fights, in person or via a screen, and I don’t like slicing things. I also don’t like shifting my behavior or my actions to take on pre-defined gender roles. Hence the intentional distancing of myself from this typical gender bender, this collision of expectations and inclinations.
I sat there taking mental notes. The women didn’t even eat with the men. They ate outside, where they were grilling the meat. The men stared at the TV. At one point, my brother asked the women “Why don’t you eat?” (He hadn’t noticed that they already had.) I, in my deliberately snarky way, answered “Why don’t you cook?” Nobody heard me. The TV was too loud.
It reminded me of when I came back home after my first year of college, and having taken a sociology class on race and gender and having learned what the “F” word meant to me, I was a changed woman and not afraid to stir things up a bit.
An opportunity quickly presented itself when my mom asked me to make my brother’s bed, in addition to mine. What, doesn’t he have hands? I thought. And then I voiced it. I told her that in instructing me to do so, she was further perpetuating these gender roles that we were conditioned to play since birth. I told her how she was a victim of it, and how I, because of her own ignorance of her situation (think Beauvoir’s La Femme Rompue, think Plato’s Allegory of the Cave), had been subjected to live up to these nonsensical expectations.
She was taken aback by my brazen explanation (most likely because it was a bit impassioned, which is common for me because my beliefs and emotions are inextricably linked). Since then she’s been much more aware of her own servile condition, the one her mom and most prominent women in her life taught her and the one her father, her husband and other important male figures only served to reinforce. Fortunately, because of this little incident, we’ve talked about it and debated it at length in a cliche girl-power type of way as well as with a more serious tone.
She’s no longer the naive 21-year-old she was when she got married. Yes, today she cooked and served the men present, but I must admit my mom LOVES cooking, so it’s not really a burden for her.
But she’s come a long way.