Wednesday, July 26, 2006

cultured, refined, and shaped

You see, that's what annoys me nowadays. We are, basically, creatures of our particular culture. When we explain a "why" of it, we really don't have a reason, beyond "Well, that's the way things are/should be/have to be/ought to work."

I've been reading a lot of working mother magazines and websites, out of curiousity more than a geniune belief that they have anything helpful in their pages. This is what I have found:

Result 1. According to working mother magazines and websites, packing lunches is only a concern for one's children, who should have a specially packed lunchbox every day, preferably with a little note from mom telling the kid how much you love them. Many cute ideas are put forth for how to make every day special and interesting and appetizing.

If this makes you suddenly flash on Japanese bento box culture, then you're not alone. I'm suddenly reminded of all those Japanese women, getting up a couple hours before their kids do so they can cook a fresh, highly-decorative, and well-balanced meal to send to school with their kid. Heaven forfend if it isn't harmonious and cute. You lose face, seriously, if it looks bad. No Doritos and mini bags of Chips Ahoy there!

If you look at the silence regarding food otherwise in working women's magazines, working women themselves shouldn't worry about taking their lunches. I don't quite understand why-- is it assumed that, because you are working, you can afford to eat out every day for lunch? Is it assumed that you're just sticking a Lean Cuisine in the office refrigerator, ready for nuking? What, are they starving themselves? Because every other "lunch idea" that I have come across requires one to be at home to cook the lunch. No cold dishes are mentioned which don't require you to have an office microwave, no handy tips for making your veggies appetizing and cute, nothing.

As well, dads come into this discussion not at all. We could be charitable and think that they're just trying to keep the single moms from being depressed, but somehow I tend to think that it's more a case of assumptions. It's assumed that moms are in charge of lunches. That moms are in charge of nutrition. That, while you're stuffing down a sandwich at your desk, you're really concerned that little Emily or Jack is eating a cute and well-balanced meal.

Which is fairly ludicrous if you have actual children and have watched them at all. Children have no interest in eating balanced meals. Vegetables invariably return home, no matter how cute, usually much the worse for wear. What kids want is chips and cookies. And, if you watch the sales at major groceries and mega retailers, that's what people are buying, too. But the culture effort is there, being pushed forth by the magazines. And when the cultural expectations collide with what people are actually doing, the result is guilt.

Result 2. This one is backed by research. Men do less housework than women, even when both the man and woman have full-time jobs. That's all studied and quantified and summed up in a million places. There are, literally, a million cultural "reasons" for this, none of which actually make sense in the context of a modern family. It is, apparently, a major source of tension in a large number of American families. People are tense, frustrated, miserable, overworked, and carrying that tension over into the bedroom, with the result of a general decline in the quality of the marriage.

And once again, the assumptions come out. The first assumption is that it is the wife's job to "manage" this situation, that by choosing "jobs your husband will enjoy" and delegating those to him, he can be controlled. The assumption is that the woman needs to treat her husband much like an overgrown child who cannot regulate his own activities. There's also a subtle thread in the articles that the woman will, of course, be responsible for making sure that everything works, and if your husband decides that watching tv is more important than loading the dishwasher, well, you won't divorce his butt but be understanding and try again to solve the problem.

Of course, you go to the more housewifely websites, and the assumptions are a little more culturally honest. Doing everything around the house *is* the wife's job.

Which is where the culture and the practice really clash again, leading to more guilt. There are, I assure you, no men's magazines out there right now which tell a man to "relax" after the birth of his first child, that he simply won't be able to keep the house perfect while he works fulltime and tends to baby. But working women's magazines and websites repeat that like a mantra-- don't feel guilty! You can't do it all! Something is going to fall by the wayside!

. . . . do you see, here, how something "falling by the wayside" is still her fault?

It's frustrating, to me. It seems to make no logical sense whatever. Man works 40 hours. Woman works 40 hours. They come home, and she does nearly all of the child-care and assumes the managerial type duties of the home. He "helps."

Logically, I know that it is the result of subtle lifelong cues from our culture.

Idealistically, I still have this stubborn hope for my children that it will be different. That they will be able to cooperate with their spouses in a way that makes sense, that frees them from all this cultural baggage, that gives them a family life that is more satisfying, more sensible, and more happy all around.

The key, really, seems to be expectations. Men are expected to hand over the running of the household to their wives. Women are expected to hand over the importance of their work to their husbands. And everything from there is expected to dissolve into this "who did and who didn't" power struggle over whose turn it is to do the dishes and drive kids to soccer practice.

I don't see why we expect the power struggle, why we don't "expect" cooperation, sanity, and maturity instead. So many women throw out the excuse that "he's just not good with the children." Well, then, he's not a very good breeding prospect, is he? Listen-- God is a father. Why would He make fathers incapable of loving and caring for their children? That makes zero sense. Breastfeeding is a year or so of a child's life, and only one small aspect of it. There's 17 other years in childhood, where Dad can do anything Mom can do. All it takes is time and practice and . . . most importantly, perhaps, the desire to do it.

And honestly, if your husband doesn't want anything to do with kids, I don't see why you would want that guy to father your children.

This stuff should start from the start of the marriage. Cooperation, planning, and sharing in responsibility. My sons are taught how to cook and clean, right along with my daughters. They will have no reason why they can't come home from work and scrub a bathroom or mix up some spaghetti for their kids. And if they are so selfish of their time that they gripe if they have to do more than mow the lawn and take out the trash, then my husband and I have failed in teaching them what is really important in a home, which is sharing in all the duties, burdens, pleasures, and terrors.