A Man’s Job
I am most disagreeable in the face of gender assumptions.
For example, I am perfectly at ease using tools and would never forgo an outing to Bunnings. I used to be a silversmith and find I am very happy with a pair of pliers in my hand and would wrestle any man to tighten a faucet despite his brawny advantage. I am also fabulous at changing light bulbs and am adept at filling in my own tax return. And though I don’t know how to change a tire, I can drive a manual, a people-mover and would even be so bold as to grab the steering wheel of a lorry if I had to, say rush someone to hospital in an emergency.
I get annoyed at men who get fidgety in the face of female doctors or pilots as if hormonal fluctuations could interfere with brain surgery or a perfect take-off. If pushed, I would go the whole hog and say there is nothing men can do that women can’t, even though it would be churlish to deny the biological, emotional and psychological differences between us which have nudged us into habitual roles from which it can be difficult to break free.
There is, however, a fine line between an acceptance of these jobs as ‘natural’ and the slippery slope into boorish gender stereotypes in which I am invariably left unshod with a frilly apron at the kitchen sink. Whilst I can do anything if I wish to, I do believe there are certain tasks I, as a woman, am simply and without further explanation excused from. I don’t want to get into a conversation about it and I don’t want to fight about it.
The best way to keep on the right side of this distinction, where on the one hand I feel liberated and on the other, I feel totally oppressed, is to let me decide who does what job. That way a man can never make the mistake of patronizing me.
For example, driving is not entirely a man’s job and I resent the assumption that a man should always be the one behind the wheel on long car trips. For one thing, women can (it seems to be an intact part of the brain) ask for directions without having her womanhood called into question. It is, however a man’s job to take over the driving when the woman is tired. And to feed the kids while she is driving. Whilst women are marvelous multi-taskers, we still cannot be expected to keep hand on wheel, eye on road and to shell those eggs or open up the sandwiches. It’s not for want of wanting – it’s an appendage deficit.
I am not fond of non-negotiable gender roles, but as it turns out Nature is. I do what I can to compensate, but there was no bargaining when it came to who had the babies. I know when to concede defeat. When the babies came, my husband and I struck a deal: I, given the mammary advantage, was in charge of nutrition. That left him in charge of excretion. We each took control of one end of the deal. And this has worked well, on the whole.
This simple and equitable transaction has morphed into a larger unspoken societal contract that has designated us routines in the kitchen where I do all the catering, and he does all the cleaning. I certainly would never elbow a helpful fellow away from the oven were he offering for example, to cook me up a melanzane with buffalo mozzarella. But I know this: I’d rather slave over a hot stove than have to scour a pot or clear the scum off the sink. It’s the nails, you see.
I am not seeking asylum in the fainthearted excuses of ‘the fairer-sex.’ This is entirely a personal preference: if something smells bad, I don’t want to have to handle it. If it is maggoty, has been regurgitated, or comes out at the lower end, I claim immunity. Considering the way in which my nether regions have had to endure a certain indignity beyond all reasonable expectations at childbirth, I’ve bloody well earned it.
I also think it makes a kind of logical sense: I, as the handler of food, should never have to come in contact with excrement, barring the necessities of personal hygiene. If I were married to Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver, I would certainly be open to renegotiating these terms.
There is, of course one exception to this general rule. It is a man’s job to be in control of the barbeque at all times, even if the man in question cannot boil an egg or make a cup of tea. If it involves an outdoor cooking surface, tongs and smoke, it is not a woman’s job. My job in this instance is to be sipping on a martini and checking on the salad.
I have a friend whose husband does not barbeque. I think he has issues. He plays the ukulele.
Given the input/output demarcation (and for those of us not married to Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver), garbage is not, generally speaking, a woman’s job. Women are disposed to filling the garbage and men need to take it out when it is full. And just for the record, ‘taking the garbage out’ is a job that remains incomplete until a new fresh garbage bag has been put in its place.
That old nursery rhyme about girls being made of sugar and spice is a lie as Heather Mills has shown, and so it should never be taken literally. Neither are all men at ease with slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails – actually women make perfectly wonderful veterinarians. But when it comes to pets and dogs in particular, it is a woman’s job to feed it and take it to the vet for its’ annual check-up. But we don’t walk the dog and we most definitely do not scoop poop. Even if the woman is the one who wanted the dog in the first place.
As women, it is not our job to unblock toilets, remove the mauled bird from the cat’s mouth, bludgeon the cane toad, or clear the lawn of a month’s worth of dog’s doodles for the kid’s party. Do I really need to explain this further? Furthermore, it is a man’s job to put the toilet seat down, potty-train his son, and check out any funny noises in the house in the middle of the night.
We don’t catch things. Whether they are fish or balls or spiders. If something might pounce, draw blood or hurt on contact, we are excused from this interaction. We don’t hold things down or run after things. Things must come to us.
When things break, it is a man’s job to fix them, unless of course I am in the mood (as I’ve mentioned, I am very dexterous with a pair of pliers). I can and am able to assemble furniture from Ikea, but perhaps I’ll check on the dinner instead. If things need to be wired up, like computers, televisions and various other electronics, I find I get a small headache figuring out what goes where, so I guess, this too is a man’s job. If my email is not working or my computer is giving me the blue screen of death, I expect a man to be able to look at it and go, ‘oh that’s easy’ and to have it working in no time. It seems a natural progression from anatomy to technology than men should be able to sort out which wire goes where and what plugs into what.
But women, I concede can be our own worst enemies, reinforcing some of those ghastly stereotypes and unsettling the score about whose job is whose. For example, at the pharmacy last week, I did that female multi-tasking maneuver – whilst filling out a prescription for minor ailments, I remembered we had used our last condom just that morning. And I found, myself, quite involuntarily I might add, whispering, rather than speaking out loud and proud to the pharmacist, ‘Can you show me where the condoms are?’
‘Sure,’ he chuckled.
I followed him sheepishly, jibbering on about how I don’t really think it’s my job to buy the condoms, but while I’m here… ‘
‘At our age, darl, we’re lucky to be getting it at all,’ the pharmacist reassured me, at which I laughed, because that’s what women annoyingly do when we’re being polite but which I have to say, kind of depressed me.
Whilst I happily do all the grocery shopping, I do question whether condoms falls within the parameters of what one would commonly accept as ‘groceries.’ Just as I wouldn’t expect my husband to buy my tampons, I think condoms do qualify as ‘personal hygiene,’ items, the kind of thing you want to pick out personally and not leave to the vagaries of casual supermarket specials.
Besides, condoms are the prophylactic equivalent of those people who talk so loudly on their mobile phones so everyone within a five metre radius cannot avoid becoming a third party to the interaction. Buying condoms is a public broadcast to the cashier, the person in front of you and behind you in the queue: I have sex. Like it’s any big deal at my age. But being a woman, I am modest about such assertions. I prefer sensible little rows of coloured pills, or diaphragms which come in their own little plastic containers, bespeaking a responsible, family-planning consciousness towards sex as an act of procreation, befitting a woman with two small children who haven’t quite gotten their little heads around the whole mum-and-dad-have-sex caper.
In my case, I have, to use my doctor’s vocabulary, ‘completed my family.’ The only thing I’m likely to pick up these days from my husband is his dirty socks (which, mind you, is his job too).
‘Well, here they are,’ the pharmacist said pointing to the rows of ribbed, feather-light and ultimate pleasure.
‘What do you recommend?’ I asked. Honestly, anxiety is the laxative of conversation. Besides, this only reinforced my instincts that I should not have to find myself in a pharmacy, talking to a man in a white jacket about what sort of condoms I prefer.
When it comes to condoms, I have no preference. My preference is that my husband go for a vasectomy. His preference is that ‘it may hurt,’ ‘get infected,’ ‘someone he knows nearly lost their testicles,’ and ‘perhaps when next he goes for a hernia op…’ Since I am the one who was on the pill for eight years, endured six months of nausea in two pregnancies, got the unsightly stretch marks, the Caesarean scar, the saggy boobs from breastfeeding, I as the one who goes for annual pap-smears, consider I have borne more than my fair share of responsibility for the results of our nuptial bliss, (which by the way, still includes the laundry – that apparently is still my job). In a moment of reckless selflessness, my husband agreed to, conceded the need for, took on the burden, the mantle of The Condom.
Doesn’t taking responsibility include the inconvenience of remembering to replace them when they have all been used up? The indignity of having to ask for directions from people wearing name-tags? The decision about which will work best in the circumstances?
Look, I am a feminist. I believe in the equality of the sexes. I don’t have a problem with stay-home dads or mums who work all day. When it comes to condoms, I will endure them, the way they interrupt the flow of natural consummation, their horrible little rubbery smell, the way they can chaff at the more delicate bits, and even at the end of it all, their viscousy little air-bubble, which my husband has, on occasion, referred to as ‘a hell of a lot of child-support.’
But, and I am prepared to take the flak for this one – it is not my job to buy them.
And of course, it goes without saying that it is a man’s job to pleasure his woman with a back-rub, a hot bath or a bunch of ‘for-no-good-reason’ roses which infinitely increase his chances of actually getting to use those condoms.
First Published in Vogue, Australia, February 2009
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