Authentic Choices

I hate doing something when someone expects me to do it. That’s why I have so many issues arising where my feminism and my personal choices collide.  

If I learned something is expected from a woman with regards to how she operates in her marriage, or when someone dies, or when its assumed she is something just because she is a woman or a feminist or a southerner, part of me revolts. It doesn’t mean I don’t do it, but that I just have some aversion when dealing with those things.

But here’s what I have learned lately- forget feminism. Forget anything that TELLS me I must operate in a certain way in order to fit the mold. I CHOOSE what works for me in that certain situation. 

Don’t get me wrong- I love me some feminist theory. I love me some feminist reality. Most often, feminist questioning has served me well. But when it gets to a point where these terms negate finding the way that feels the most legitimate to me, then they shouldn’t apply. I must remember my self. I must remember to listen to my heart and soul and not another dogmatic proposition. 

This is hard for some of us. We like the security and quickness of having absolutes. Then we don’t hang in suspense. Having dictates reduces our level of responsibility in the situation too. Much simpler.

I think we all do this time to time- we use our parents, our alma mater, our religion, our location to serve as guiding points instead of our heads and our hearts. And we are supported in doing so – Look at the repercussions of doing otherwise – a falling out with parents, a questioning of your loyalty to your college or team, a challenging of your faith, a dubious regard of your southern manners perhaps.  We are all fully aware of the external price we pay for the wavering we experience. 

Yet, some of us forge ahead. We forgo the weighing of angel/demon, the heaviness of external judgement, the incessant intellectualizing and sometimes we listen to what is authentic arising in ourselves. I love it when this actually happens to me! 

There are so many times I have complained to M about doing the dishes. I do not want to work the “second-shift” and be responsible for the caregiving and house cleaning all the time. This is a big one for me. We know that most mothers still do the housework even after a long day of working outside the home. But work is work – regardless if done in an office or working as a parent all day.  Don’t we deserve the payoff of marriage too- that is not always having to choose between cleaning or a good book? Isn’t part of marriage reducing the workload while increasing the happiness??

While it’s getting better, the division of labor is still a big complaint for many women:

On an average day, 20 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning or doing laundry–compared with 48 percent of women. Thirty-nine percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 65 percent of women.

Parenting is a full-time job, and the family responsibilities should be worked out as each family deemed so. But because it is constantly assumed the title stay-at-home mother includes ALL house cleaning BOTHERS ME. Thus, my soul revolts. How can I find peace with this?

From the commercials that relate women only care about dish soap from the toys we women had to choose from as a child, most of us women have been socialized to ACCEPT high cleanliness standards and to believe it is our job to always do it. I know it bothers me when the kitchen is dirty for days. I have gotten better about letting it pile up and be mindful this is life after children, but it is still an issue for me.  A clean, orderly kitchen means I have some control over my chaotic, toddler-filled world. 

So, of course, I would let M know. I would plead, I would be passive aggressive, I would let it sit, hoping he would notice. Many times he notices and  does it. And I feel better…temporarily.  

And I am grateful for the times he helps with the family responsibilities, but I still I think about all these gender rules and socialization processes, and simply become resentful. But I don’t want to live that way. 

Yes, all those feminist questions and tenets I have come to understand utterly apply in the second-shift situation. But I also want the warring to cease. So I had to do some deep soul work. 

The answer that keeps reverberating is this: If I were single, would I keep the kitchen clean? YES. If I were a man, would I keep the kitchen clean? YES. 

And there you have it – this line of questioning works for me. It illustrates these are my authentic choices regardless if I am a feminist or not. I am a clean freak. I like the kitchen clean. And just because I am married, just because I am a woman, should not change my personality trait of orderliness. I shouldn’t get angry at M because he doesn’t always have the same personality as me. But I shouldn’t always be expected as a woman it’s my realm- my problem only. In the end, I have to take personal responsibility and realize I can’t change another person – only my feelings about the situation.

It doesn’t come down to a gender thing now. While questioning gender rules has informed my choice, it doesn’t define it. 

If I wipe all the identifiers off my self, and put back what matters, then I shall have a sparkling kitchen! And I’m ok with that now that I worked it out with myself. 

As long as M recognizes my reality – that I deserve to have free time and a clean kitchen and I don’t have to choose between the two all the time– then I’m good. My feminist sensibilities have served me well. They have taught me to assert my right to question my reality, find commonalities among other women, and remind myself my peace of mind is ultimately my responsibility – not my husband’s. 

Sometimes I have felt doomed to regulating the world’s gender relations. But no more.  The way I see it now is to find my own unique solution, which leaves me feeling empowered and free from gender gatekeeping. 

This new insight has helped me in other circumstances as well. 

Recently, a friend of ours watched a good friend pass away. Most of the men brought whisky to help him cope. Of course, most women brought food. I was stuck- I didn’t want to be a “typical” woman and just make him a meal. (Remember I’m not saying doing typical women things are wrong- but when it becomes the EXPECTATION – I rebel!) 

Booze just didn’t appeal to me either. It may sound silly that I even have an issue with all these interactions when dealing with the death of a loved one, but I do. These are the small situations that I feel like women get judged upon if we don’t do the “right” gender-coded thing. 

But I let all that fade. I let all those rules and stipulations of rebellion and dogma swirl around my shoulders to be set free. I don’t need all those external demands to make my decisions. I simply need me.  

So I cooked for him. I like cooking. I know food can be a hassle to make when one’s mind is elsewhere and a comfort when in pain. So I lovingly cooked my favorite recipe and gladly delivered it to his door. 

This whole mess of if I’m a feminist or a traditionalist, or a republican or democrat, or a believer or an agnostic, or a east coast or west coast girl, shouldn’t always be our guiding force.

We should always question our motives, making sure these definitions don’t rule over our hearts and souls. 

Authenticity (if it truly exists) is found in our quiet, inside selves, where we haven’t built demarcations that limit our actions, where we haven’t had to think, “Well, I’m a feminist so I should believe this way.”

I’m starting to question why we value so much conviction. Why do we have to constantly prove our choices were right for us and campaign our beliefs on our lapel? Isn’t believing and trusting in ourselves enough? 

Part of me wonders if this characteristic informs our sense of self negatively. If we believe it is the perfect choice for us, then why do I need a term, a proclamation of rules, or a list of things I must do as a feminist or traditionalist, liberal or conservative, northerner or southerner? 

For me, these terms that I may have clung to for the better part of my life are now maybe getting in the way of my personal peace. They are becoming divisions instead of connectors. 

I am bringing down the walls of these terms and simply just being. If something works for me and makes me feel good, then it works for me and makes me feel good. I no longer need the lexiconal security that they may have provided in the past. 

Maybe we should strive to move beyond perception of a problem from the stance of identity labels and simply allow our authenticity to offer solutions for us. Work from the inside out instead of outside in. My marriage, my parenting, my life choices mean more to me than a identifier. I don’t want to get these switched up any more. 

 

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