When I was in college and even through most of grad school, I was all about feminism. Being a good student was important to me, so I devoured anything I could get my hands on about the subject. Though I never hated men, I was pretty angry at the world. I went to rallies against rape; I played open mikes in coffee houses and talked about being a woman in the music business; I talked about politics and feminism all the time. I was a young, gay woman in the male-dominated fields of academia and music; I had plenty of fuel for my fire.
In a way, I’ve moved on since then. I don’t feel very angry, though I am still very much interested in social justice. My mantra now is love—not anger. If someone brings up politics, I don’t participate. And my days of reading fist-clenching polemics are over; I am back to novels. I feel like I have matured beyond that phase, and can’t really go there anymore, but I don’t ever want to deny that experience to younger women if that’s what they want. It got me to where I was today.
I thought of something the other day, and I wanted to throw this out there for other women to think about.
When I was in college, my whole family went to my aunt and uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. I was in rare form that day. Before I went to visit them, in my Women and Sociology class, we had been talking about women’s roles and holidays. I went there on a mission. I was going to stand up against the patriarchal society and refuse to be relegated to my “natural” place as a woman—the kitchen.
So, here’s what I did—nothing. I didn’t help cook; I didn’t help serve; I didn’t help clean. I did exactly what the men were doing—nothing. I lay on the couch and watched football. I was very vocal about what I was doing. They were used to it anyway; I always spoke my mind a bit too loud for my traditional southern family.
In my mind, I was making a BIG DEAL out of this. Surely, my performance would draw some response. Maybe I would get a discussion going. Maybe the women in my family would rally around me and rip off their aprons in sisterhood. Maybe the men in my family would get off their butts and do something for once.
So, what happened? Nothing. My mom rolled her eyes. My more progressive uncle patted me on my shoulder while the rest of the men ignored me. And then the kicker came when I watched my ninety-year-old grandma start to do dishes. I was torn—I mean, I had a heart. I could not watch my grandma do dishes while I sat around doing nothing.
Everything just carried on as normal. My inner conflict raged on in my chest and I was unable to do a thing about it. What was I supposed to do? Watch her work while I waged my ideological war on deaf ears? Was I supposed to give up my protest and jump in so my grandma could go sit down? It was agonizing.
You know what I did, in the end. I helped. I told my grandma to sit down and I told all the men they should be ashamed of themselves, though half of them were already asleep. I took my place in the kitchen, with all the other women, and did my part.
So now I am wondering. Do we end up reinforcing roles ourselves? How do we make a statement—especially in our families? Is it wrong to ignore our hearts when pursuing our politics? Is that even possible for women? Is our natural habitat the kitchen?