Over the holidays, I made the mistake of bringing up laundry at the dinner table at Sean’s parents’ house. Sean may not have grown up in the evangelical homeschool world of Christian Patriarchy that I did, but his mother doesn’t work outside of the home and his parents have always embraced fairly traditional gender roles, so I really should have known better. Anyway, I simply wanted to know if Sean had started the load of laundry he had said he would, and to let him know that he would have to finish it the next morning because I was going to be out of the house with his sister.
“I’ve never done laundry in my life!” Sean’s father announced, leaning back and smiling as if his comment were funny.
The atmosphere in the room tipped and I felt the brunt of everything that was going unsaid. I was being typed as the overbearing and selfish woman who forced her emasculated husband to do “womanly” tasks like laundry. Sean was being typed as a man tied to his wife’s apron strings, unable to stand up for himself against his wife’s tyrannical demands. My blood began to boil.
I make more money than he does.
The room suddenly went silent. Had I simply thought that or had I actually said it?
“I make more money than he does,” I repeated. My voice held an air of confidence that only anger could inspire, and my chin was set against the criticism. “If we’re sharing the money making, it only makes sense that we would share household tasks like laundry and childcare. That’s just commonsense. It’s not trying to be mean about it or anything, but I really do make more money than he does.” There were sparks in my eyes. I was mad.
I told Sean later that I was sorry if my comments at the table had embarrassed him in front of his parents. He said it was fine – I honestly think he enjoys watching the sparks that fly when I come up against his father. The truth is, Sean is proud of me. He’s proud that I am as successful as I am, he’s proud of my ability to hold my own in a conversation, and he’s proud of my passion. He did tell me that his father spend the rest of the evening making fun of him for making less money than his wife – all in good fun, of course. But he also told me that it honestly doesn’t bother him that I make more money than he does.
All I can think is, what kind of world do we live in that men who earn less than their wives are made fun of and women who work full time are still expected to do all of their family’s laundry? How can anyone think this is good for either women or men? I’d like to imagine that things will be different for my preschool daughter Sally and my infant son Bobby when they grow up, but I’m starting to wonder if we as a society will ever find a way to end these patterns. In the meantime, I suppose, I’ll just have to go on scandalizing Sean’s dad.