Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yellow Waxy Buildup

My mother was a brilliant, intelligent, talented woman, and she lived a traditional housewife lifestyle that almost killed her. It certainly killed her spirit. Everything she did was perfect -- she had a beautifully decorated home, a wonderful garden, she was a wonderful cook, the perfect mother -- and she was dying inside. She always had a far-away look in her eyes. As a child, I watched her and I felt her sadness, and I knew that that life would not be for me. I could not wait to shake the dust of the small town off my feet. I wanted to see the world; I wanted to experience things that I knew would never happen to me if I stayed in that town. I dreaded becoming a traditional "housewife". For some people, if that is the life they choose, and they're happy, that's okay. We all have to walk in our own shoes. It's just that that particular road was not for me.

When my daughter was growing up, I stressed the importance of her getting an education -- not just a university education, but an overall education. Experience everything there is to experience in life -- literature, art, music, travel, excitement, adventure -- especially adventure. We used to laugh at the TV advertisements of women with mops in their hands, the biggest problems in their lives being the yellow waxy buildup on their kitchen floors. Even today, TV advertisements are aimed at women, and always show women doing the "household chores". We all have to do day-to-day things to maintain our homes. Most of us like to live in comfortable surroundings. That's why God in Her wisdom created Swiffer products. Maintaining our homes is a necessary chore, but it is not a vocation or a career.

In the movie "Mona Lisa Smile", university professor Katherine Watson shows slides to her students, similar to the pictures here, and says,

"What will the future scholars see when they study us? A portrait of woman today? There you are ladies. The perfect likeness of a Welesley graduate, Magna Cum Laude doing exactly what she was trained to do. A Rhodes scholar. I wonder if she recited Chaucer while she presses her husband's shirts. Heh, now you physics major's can calculate the mass and volume of every meat loaf you ever make... The smartest women in the country... I didn't realize that by demanding excellence I would be challenging... what did it say? What did it say? um... the roles you were born to fill...?"

We've come a long way, baby...

Women are still stuck in these roles. I work with women doctors, lawyers, researchers -- brilliant women -- and they are still the ones who go home and cook and bake, and scrub the bathroom toilet, and scrub the yellow waxy buildup off their kitchen floors, because it's expected of them. If there are men out there who do those things, I applaud them, but I think they are still few and far between. This is the 21st Century, not the 1950s. It's time for those antiquated "traditional" roles to be laid to rest, once and for all. I'm not a feminist. I think women should be female -- women. But forcing them into the so-called traditional female roles does not make them any more feminine. Rather, it takes away from the exciting people they are meant to be. If the dishes don't get done or the bathroom doesn't get scrubbed for another week, (month, year), is anyone going to die? Probably not. If we fail to experience life, will the adventures still be out there waiting for us? Probably not.

Check out the way the women are portrayed in these Febreze commercials. They're practically orgasmic over fabric freshener.

Come on, ladies, you're smart, educated, funny, intelligent. The yellow waxy buildup can wait.


Jennifer D said...

Another fantastic post Jo. I am a lucky girl indeed, my hubby does just as many chores as I do, sometimes more. He never sees it as my job and I don't see it as his.

Nancy said...

Great post, Jo! I remember one time asking my father if I had been born with dish rags hanging from my hands because we were someplace where it was assumed I would do the dishes. He laughed. I guess because I was raised without a mother I was not indoctrinated to this way of thinking. I stayed home as a mother, and I have never regretted it, but I also went back to college and worked in my community. It's dangerous to believe we are only here to please. Like you said, we are so much more!

PurestGreen said...

Great post. My mother has been a housewife all her married life, but it is the role she seemed to be made to play. However when she and my father started their own business, my mother's self confidence grew and she became more forthright, which caused tension between her and my father. He wanted his old, meeker wife back. They have since adjusted.

I don't know if women will ever shed this feeling of expectation we have of ourselves to be the perfect caregivers of everyone. I think we are biologically wired to be caregivers, and in today's society that still spills over into wrapping a nice house around those we love.

Owen said...

Love it... your way of looking at life, I mean. And your sassy poster, which is brilliant ! You're absolutely right, the old, tired, female as household slave model should be put in the dustbin of history...

jojo said...

I saw the light go out in my mothers eyes way too soon and also decided that was not for me, nor my daughter. It was a hard transition in my time, the '70's, but fortunately less difficult for my girl. I am fortunate that all the household chores get done in a reasonable amount of time by both my hubs and myself.
I often wonder who my mother would have been if she had been set free of the 50's mantra.
great I have to go and check my yellow waxy build up.

kenju said...

My sentiments exactly! In the early years of my marriage, I thought I'd be shot (or abandoned) if there was a dust-bunny under the couch. Many years later, I see the light. My home is neat, but don't look in the corners if you don't like a bit of dirt. I have more important (and interesting) things to do!

ivan said...

Not just Daisy Bumstead. There was poor old Dagwood. The horrors of Mr.Dithers at the office. And the unpayable mortgage.

Suburban Man!
"Grass is getting a bit tall, isn't it Bumstead? How's your golf?"
Sort of brings a gesture of revulsion.

Bagman and Butler said...

My marriage is also pretty equal. We have our specialties. I do breakfast best, and almost all chores are shared. However, for some reason, cooking hamburgers on the grill is still a man-job. But I agree that Madison Avenue has not caught up. Women are still portrayed as being gaga over the latest spong mop. And men are portrayed as believing that beer attracts women.

greenpanda said...

I can cook. I can clea. I can iron - I feel all the household jobs should be shared amongst everyone. Simple, effective. I completely agree with everything you said.

the walking man said...

Sorry Jo you're about 60 years to late with this argument in my life, my mother was a professional who worked for a paycheck as soon as she graduated college 1944). My father did all the cooking and baking and cleaning was pretty much hit and miss. HE made sure we all knew how to work the washer and dryer and if we wanted clean clothes *shrug* we knew where the soap was.

white crow said...

ok ok, i will start learning doing chores...from tomorrow morning..:P

Alissa said...

I hate those sexist commercials. I don't usually talk back to my television, but when those traditional gender roles commercials come on I can't help myself.

Avril Fleur said...

In our household we have a reversal of traditional roles in many ways. My husband stays home and runs his business out of our house. He also does the majority of the housework such as laundry, cooking, vacuuming, dishes, and taking out the garbage. I, on the other hand, go to work nights in a factory. We have a cleaner who comes in once every two weeks to do the stuff we both hate, like floors, bathrooms, dusting etc. It's great! Also, I am the "fix it" person in our house. I grew up with a father who is a carpenter and from a rural/farming clan and I am the one who puts things together or takes them apart or fixes whatever needs fixing. My hubby's father is also a salesman, like him, and not all that handy around the house.

But just because I am a "Rosie the Riveter" type of girl, doesn't mean that I am not feminine. In other respects I am very much a "girly-girl" and love to dress to the nines and look hot and sexy! Oh yeah, you bet! And my husband appreciates it. A LOT! lol! :)

Amy said...

Good one Jo! My mother died when I was 14 and I'm convinced it wasn't just the brain tumor that caused her demise. It was her profound unhappiness as she was caught up in that 50's perfectionism and my father expected it. So I consciously made my way differently. When my girls were growing up we had a woman come to clean on a weekly basis - I'm grateful our business could afford me that luxury. Now I'm proud to say, that since my husband and I are retired, we share the household duties - he does all the vacuuming and is very possessive of the machine I must (happily) say! I still do the cooking but mostly because I enjoy it - and he is the best wood provider and manager that ever graced this planet!

We have come a long way and kudos to you for teaching your daughter those values. I've always believed that the most important education occurs outside of the academic setting.

That ad was unbelievably demeaning.
But I might have to add Swiffer to my shopping list!

Jo said...

Jennifer, you are very fortunate. I think more people are starting to think the way you do.

Nancy, I have a friend who is brilliant, but she has been married twice, and both times she felt it was her "job" to be subservient to her husband. It made me sad.

PurestGreen, yes, I do think women are the nurturers, but if both people work, it should be give and take. That's a wonderful story about your mother!

Owen, yes, I thought that old "role model" had been disposed of years ago, but I can see from looking around me that it has not - yet.

JoJo, I guess I am the sort of "between" generation, in my family. It was sad to see my mother so dissatisfied with her life.

Kenju, good for you! The dust bunnies will wait -- patiently -- while you live your life. :-)

Ivan, yes. Now the women have to deal with the horrors of Mr. Dithers at the office too. And there are a lot of them!

B&B, your wife is a lucky woman. I think you are quite rare. Percentage wise (statistically) the women still do most of the housework.

Stephen, yes! Good for you. And you are young so you're not learning bad examples.

Mark, :::applause::: I think your mom and dad were brilliant. All the younger generations should be taught that lesson. People are very capable!

White Crow, LOL. :-)

Alissa, yes, sexism seems to still be okay, doesn't it? And people buy it.

Avril, I love it...! You guys have obviously got it worked out, and you're both happy with the situation. I like to hear stories like yours. :-)

Amy, yes...! I am a firm believer in outside cleaning companies being hired to do the work, if people can afford it. In the 21st Century, when most people have to work, going home to clean a house can be exhausting. People need to have time for fun and time to rejuvenate.

The Bug said...

"That's why God in Her wisdom created Swiffer products." - Amen!

We have a fairly good division of duties, but we both have physical ailments that keep us from vacuuming. We'll look at the floor & go, eh - it can wait. Actually we could both stand to spend a LITTLE more time on household chores & not on Facebook!

Mean Mama said...

Jo, I love this post. I am a "housewife" but as you have read from my blog, I am not a "traditional" housewife. I have absolutely nothing in common with the women in our playgroups who discuss laundry for a solid hour. It makes me want to shake them and tell them to "Wake up!" They think that it is very strange that I am in college. My sociology class talks in depth about the very problem that you mention of professional women doing a "second shift" at home after work. My husband and I have agreed this will not happen to me. If I have the time, of course I do the housework, but when I am doing homework, he does the dishes, and the laundry. We agreed that that kind of stress is not good for me physically, and in turn not good for our children.

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

I think that house affairs don't have to do with independence and autonomy. For example I sweep my house and Iam not suggsetible. Well...You will say - 'You are a guy, not a woman!' I don't know why , but some times I think that women exaggerate when they want to measure themselves with men (!?). This is not a sexist comment...

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

But obviously i agrre with you when you said that women have to glimmer new horizonts, look for new experiences, have adventures, travel, meet new and interesting people, etc!

Whitney Lee said...

I am a stay at home mom and a housewife, and I absolutely love it. I do not, however, tackle all of the chores on my own. We have what I feel is a fair division of tasks. I cook, he washes dishes; I dust, he mops; I clean most of the bathroom, he scrubs the showers and tubs, etc. Just because my job is in the home doesn't mean that I am solely responsible for the home. I feel like I've got a great deal that works well for us both.
I loved that part of the movie because it's so very true. What a great post!

Book pusher said...

Jo great post. I know teenage girls who think feminism is a dirty word and that their role in life is to get the attention of males and please them, my daughter has a name for them; Barbies.
Mind you on the other side of the coin I constantly felt the need to apologise for staying home with my daughter when she was young, I still know people I went to uni with who deride that choice and yet I think it probably was the most important and most rewarding thing I did, the perfect house was never a great concern of mine though, as long as it was liveable, you know, new life forms wern't evolving in the shower or the fridge, we were pretty happy with that and the other half has always done his bit.
Fantastic post.

Jo said...

The Bug, I don't mind doing housework (sometimes) but for some reason I detest vaccuuming. I always put it off until the last possible moment. :-)

Mean Mama, as I have said before, you are my hero. I am in deep admiration of what you are doing with your life...!

Marcos, yes, women can sometimes put themselves into the stereotypical roles. I have noticed that quite a bit, actually.

Whitney, it sounds as if you and your husband have worked out a great system...! You're a great example. :-)

Book Pusher, yes, I think if you can work a system out with your spouse, that's the best way to live. I have friends who are still "the little woman", however, and they're smarter than their husbands. It makes me sad.

Marguerite said...

My Mom was the same way. I think that in their generation, that was pretty much the deal. But, of course, I was a rebel and was determined NOT to marry a guy who wouldn't split the chores with me, down the middle, regardless of whether I worked or stayed home, during the marriage. However, the thing that gets me, are "the holidays", especially Christmas! Even in 2009, most women are expected to decorate, write out the Christmas cards, bake the cookies for the mailman and school parties, shop for all of the gifts, entertain the house guests, cook the holiday meal, and the list goes on and on, irregardless if she works 60 hours a week or
not. Great post that evoked a few supressed emotions! Thanks, Jo!

Jo said...

Marguerite, oh gosh, yes! Isn't it the truth? Christmas can be very stressful for Moms. No one has any idea...!

susie said...

Right on Jo. I loved that scene in Mona Lisa Smile. What a waste of all those brains.

When I was growing up, my mom tried to teach me how to be a housewife. When it came to ironing my brothers' shirts while they were outside playing I pretty much objected. I was told that they would get married and their wives would iron their shirts. My response - Who's going to iron their shirts if they don't get married? I think she repeated that to my Dad, and before I knew it, my brothers were learning how to iron their own shirts.

In my house, the male does most of the cooking if they want to eat..I'm not particular and will eat cereal for dinner, or whatever, or nothing!

Jo said...

Susie ... Yay! You're my hero! My mother taught me to iron my father's shirts, and it came in handy when I was ironing my own blouses. Wherever did men get the idea that housework is "women's" work -- especially if both people have full-time jobs! Goodness.

Alicia said...

You know what has always bugged me? When women say, "Oh my husbands great! He helps around the house all the time." Pretty much you as the woman are laying claim to all housework and when hubby has time he "helps". Well isn't that nice of him?
Great post!

Mia said...

My mother taught us how to clean and sew but that school came first. Her mother taught us how to cook but school came first. My father taught us how to climb mountains but school came first.

Carol E. said...

You say you are not a feminist, but then go on to describe what you believe, and in my book, that equals feminist. I guess it's the negative or positive connotation you have in mind and I have in my mind. I'm a feminist and proud to be one... and I believe exactly what you just said! My son asked if I'm going to turn into a 1950s housewife when I retire. I said, "yes I'm going to wear a dress and an apron." haha! I have never been like that yet. What are the odds I will be like that in retirement?? P.S. My mom was like yours, except she stretched her mind and natural leadership abilities doing lots of volunteer work in the church. That's one place women were allowed to shine (to a point, anyway).

Land of shimp said...

One of the more interesting subjects I've studied in my life was the establishment of gender roles, from whence they came, and all that.

The template for a "housewife" was really about a fair distribution of labor, back in the day....way...back. Men would go and work the land, and it was back breaking labor, but so was running a household. Daily baking, etc. etc. Before the invention of labor saving devices the simple act of feeding and clothing a family was insanely laborious. I mean...really. When every stitch of clothing you put on was likely going to be made in the home, when every mouthful of bread that went into a mouth came from the labors of the woman running that household? The amount of work done was staggering.

Please don't mistake me, men worked like dogs at the time also, and for many of the same reasons -- threshing a field before the Industrial revolution and the invention of the combustion engine was also a staggering amount of work, and that's just one area of working the land. Pre-Industrial Revolution life required what we would consider labor beyond the telling of it for both genders.

It was just that whereas the advent of labor saving devices changed the role of men, the role of women did not keep pace. So instead of branching out, in the fifties (think about all the labor saving devices that became commonplace in a the average home during the 1950s) ...perfection became the goal. Projecting an image of prosperity became the goal.

Whereas the labors performed by men changed the scope of what they could do (if you were a farmer, for instance, you could till more land, produce larger crops)...the role of the woman in a home did not expand in the same manner. The focus was brought down to a ludicrous micro-vision, rather than "Now that you can feasibly work much less within your homes, the world is yours."

That's the vision that people have trouble letting go of, that's the thing that even men have not examined.

To undo unfair role definitions, we have to understand what made them, and what makes it possible to thoroughly unmake them.

If you are a woman, and believe part of your self worth is tied up in how your home presents to others? That's a lie sold to you by the nineteen fifties, to keep you in the home, forever working to perfect that which begins busily undoing itself upon completion. You're not even done cleaning before it is getting dirty again.

Anyway, anyway, sorry for the length, as usual Jo. Just saying, letting go of a (pardon my language) bullshit definition of femininity is much easier when you understand where it started.

There are great books about marriage and gender roles, read them, and if you're married? Consider giving your husband some for whatever holiday or occasion you celebrate.

It isn't just women who don't understand from where these ridiculous definitions came, many men don't either...and they don't realize that they are participating in a societal lie that doesn't benefit them, either (want a happy marriage? Don't treat your wife like a freaking house elf).

*leaps off one of my very favorite soapboxes* Thanks for the opportunity, Jo.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Oh, God, yes. Thank you for noticing.

I couldn't agree more. I think I will embroider your post into a cross stitch sampler and hang it on the wall, right where "God bless this home" and "Susan's kitchen" would be if my late mother had had her way.

So-called "women's work" has always been what nobody else, ie MEN, wanted to do. What a colossal waste of talent, intelligence and spirit.

Jo said...

Alicia, omigosh, yes! He "helps" around the house. Isn't it his house too? His bathroom? His laundry? Sheesh! *heh*

Mia, you come from a very wise family, and I can tell from your writing that school won out. You are brilliant...!

Carol, well, I have always thought of feminism as being rather "militant" and I am not militant. So in that regard I don't consider myself a feminist. It should not be "either/or". And yes, my Mom was a wonderful artist, so she was able to have that outlet too. But it was a bad time for her.

Alane, brilliant comment, as always. :-) And yes, times have changed so much especially now in the 21st Century when oftentimes the woman is the main bread winner of the family, and yet still has to go home and do the "housework". Things have to change and line up to today's standards, and not a standard that was set centuries ago.

Susan, "What a colossal waste of talent, intelligence and spirit." Amen...!!!!!

Paula Slade said...

Terrific post Jo! My heart goes out to women who still struggle in these dual rolls.