Yesterday I noted the gender discrepancies in household work I witness when I visit the Dude’s family (my parents are divorced, so this doesn’t arise when we visit my family). I suppose it seems so apparent to me because when we visit, we all try to squeeze in as much “family time” as possible, so there are frequent gatherings, and multiple communal meals–for 6 or 8 or 10 or more–which involve a lot of domestic labor for Mama Dude, since it is at her home that these gatherings almost always take place.
I’m accustomed to working in the kitchen as a group—at the holidays, for example, I might make the pies and bread, my brother would do the stuffing and veg dishes, and my mom would be in charge of the turkey or whatever and of keeping us on track, offering her advice/experience, making sure we did things in such a way that everything would be ready at roughly the same time (that’s still the hardest part for me). Partners were eventually folded into the mix. “Many hands make light work,” Mom would say. We’d eat, sit and talk, and then get up and clear the table and put away leftovers and such. All together. Not everything was completely equitable at every moment, and Mom was still doing a lot of work, but doing housework was a part of our family-ness.
That happened to some degree á chez Dude among les femmes Dudes. They had their kitchen rituals and unspoken but understood specialties. Now, less so. Largely because Grandma Dude (the devilish, twinkly one) is in failing health. She’s had a number of strokes in the last two years that have left her somewhat aphasic and physically weakened, and so, in addition to all her other jobs, Mama Dude, who has always been a very dutiful daughter, has become even more of a caretaker for her 80+ year old parents. With Grandma Dude unable to continue in her domestic roles, more than ever is falling on Mama, and she takes it on unquestioningly.
While visiting, I–out of habit and a sense of family as much as politeness–offer to help in the kitchen, but learning those rituals, those recipes, takes time, and we can’t visit as often as we’d like (that’s really the only thing I hate about living in NYC). So I try to help, but I can’t do as much as I’d like. And yet I also worry that by helping, I’m digging those women-in-the-kitchen biases even deeper for those already inclined to believe them. Whatever help I offer may be a relief to Mama Dude, but it’s confirming that chromosomes and crotches determine social roles for Papa Dude.
Classic patriarchal mindfuck, that.
I feel like helping another person, especially another woman who I can see is taxed, is more important that “making my point” by sacking out for a post-prandial snooze in a recliner, especially since I can’t be sure what point will be made (PhDork is lazy, an uppity woman, a rude guest, etc.), but I struggle with it nonetheless. In many ways, I can see how much Papa Dude cares for his wife, and I’ll admit I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors / when I’m not there, but sometimes I just wanna yell “get off your ass and help!” at him.
So, my readers, my teachers: what can I do? What do you do?