She gave me that look.
As if to say, what are you doing?
At that moment my hands were elbow deep in the kitchen sink. Washing up.
And she and her husband were visiting. As part of a house inspection.
And clearly she disapproved me carrying out so-called “women’s work”.
My first thought was, “It isn’t women’s work.” But I stayed silent. I had a house to sell.
My second and much angrier thought was, “What if you were sick? Would your husband bring in the mother-in-law to help? Or wouldn’t be so much easier if he could do the washing up himself?”
And I could clearly see that her culture clearly has women subservient to men. But cups and plates, pots, and pans, even cutlery have neither gender, religion nor culture.
It’s all the same work to me although I didn’t realise why.
And yet each year there’s yet another article detailing the housework gender divide. How men still don’t do most of the housework leaving the rest to women.
Enter my mother. It’s late Sunday night. She has covered the dining table with a blanket and sheet. She’s in demonstration mode: ironing a single shirt and then another trouser. Next, she instructs first me and then my brother how to iron all our shirts and trousers.
Why? Tomorrow he and I are moving out. This is the last chore we need to know before we can live by ourselves. She never did our washing or ironing ever again. And rightly so.
To this day, I still hate and detest ironing. What I do love is that I get to choose the soundtrack.
And it wasn’t until that look I received at the house inspection that I realised what my mother had done. I’d heard of the household tensions male workmates experience because their partner (also working) was doing most, if not all the housework. But that was removed from my experience: even as a husband and father.
But I didn’t know why. It was their upbringing. And mine.
Because it never occurred to me not to contribute. And while listening to men who believe and argue that working full time and/or doing yard work entitles them to extra and complete idleness, I’m so struck just how much hard work it takes not to learn and contribute.
Because as I found with ironing it takes less effort to learn and contribute. And impart that role model to your children.