Two times in my life I was told to do the dishes because I was a girl. The first time it happened I was 12. After what seemed like months of doing the dishes I asked why I was stuck doing them every night while my male cousin went out to play. I was told it was because I was being trained to be a good wife and mother. I quickly took all the dishes and threw them in the garbage. I ended up getting the spanking of my life, but it was worth it.
The second time it happened I was newly married and living with my mother in law. One night after dinner, as my husband mosied to his recliner, my mother in law looked at me and said it was my turn (again) to do the dishes. I thought it was strange that my husband, and any other male who happened to dine with us, never washed a dish. My mother in law did them, my sister in law did them, and I had even done them. So, I asked, “ When is my husband’s turn?” She replied, “Men don’t do dishes. It’s women’s work.” I waddled my pregnant self to the couch, sat down, and spewed out phrases like, “What kind of god forsaken hick town did you move me to Scott?” and “If this baby is a girl, dishes will be the last thing on her to do list” and “If I end up having a son there’s no way in hell he’ll believe anything is women’s work.” To protest further, I ate out the next evening, and the evening after that, and the evening after that and continued to do so until my husband and I moved out of her house a year later. I believe that I do not have to tolerate or subscribe to the notion that housework is gender specific and if I want things to change, I must not let people pigeonhole me in to a traditional gender role. I have washed dishes out of need and out of love for my family, but I have never washed a dish because I felt it was women’s work.
My protests did not change the world. In fact, the opinions of my Aunt and my ex-mother-in-law remain unchanged. However, I have changed the next generation – one member anyway. I lost my job this week and my 17 year old son, raised to believe housework is a necessary evil, to be divided proportionally based on time spent working outside the home, asked me (yes, asked me) if I would consider taking on more chores since I now have more free time. I told him I would and then I took him out to dinner.