One of the things I love about my husband is his awareness of my domestic shortcomings. I'm a terrible cook. I don't know how to bleach clothes. I'm loathe to scrub floors. It's not that I do nothing -- I do a lot of the laundry (while not using bleach), I clean the house weekly, I have learned how to use the lawn mower, I "cook" pretty often (tuna buns and mac & cheese, usually). My problem isn't that I'm too stupid to learn how to do these chores properly. My problem is that I just don't give a shit about knowing how to do them. I tried for a few years to care, and it failed, and then I started trying to write books and gave up completely on doing anything other than the bare minimum when it comes to domestic domination.
Which is why it's so hilarious that he gave me a tiny book for Christmas called Don'ts for Wives. It was written in 1913. From time to time, when I'm feeling particularly annoyed with society, I'll quote it. I've created a new category in my sidebar called Stupid Things People Think About Women in which I will store them. And I will tell you why I feel provoked on that particular day to go to the well.
Today's Stupid Things People Think About Women is inspired by two fine ladies' posts about the fact men often tell young women to smile and treat them as objects. Yes, they still do. I remember analyzing in my younger days why the hell any complete stranger would care whether I was smiling or not and then feeling weirdly guilty for having my choice of expression on my face in public, even right after my grandparents died.
I have heard people do it in stores to my daughter, who is not responsible for delighting you with her beautiful red hair and sunny smile. I have told her she does not have to smile on command. It's good form to thank someone for a compliment if it's meant sincerely, which she does to all the checkout ladies who ooh and aah over her hair. But it's a fine line, and after reading AV's post, I decided to explain the difference between a nice compliment and someone just telling you to behave like they want you to when they are not your parent or friend. She's just going to get prettier, I'm sure of it, and I don't want her to go thinking she is responsible for anyone else's viewing pleasure. It starts in tweendom. I am not overreacting. Have you seen the "I'm Hot" tshirts in size 6x?
I don't hate men. I don't hate women. I hate it when PEOPLE of either gender insist we live in a post-feminist society just because we're not aware we're still doing it. Most people don't think a thing of commenting endlessly on a little girl's appearance or dress and not a little boy's, thus convincing her that the one thing in life she will always be judged for first is her beauty or lack thereof. Not her actions, not her determination, not her intelligence, but her beauty. Listen to yourself -- aloud or not -- for a week as you move through the world, and see if you do it. I do it. We all do it. Because we've been raised that way. It's unconscious, and these posts are important because they can help you raise your level of awareness first and stop doing it second.
And so! Don'ts for Wives!
Don't grudge your husband his little luxuries -- his cigarette, or his pipes, or his books. Who has a better right to them than the man who earns them? (p. 19)
Don't refuse to entertain your husband's friends because it is a "bother." Nothing pains a man more than finding only a cold welcome when he brings home a chum. (p. 58)
Don't talk to your husband about anything of a worrying nature until he has finished his evening meal. (p. 50)
It seems silly now, not so much 100 years ago. I hope 100 years from now not every young woman who wants to be recognized for her singing or acting ability has to get half-naked on the cover of every magazine that my little girl sees when she stands in line for groceries. Post-feminist society, my ass.
UPDATED: 2:05 CT
I thought about some of the comments, and I think I wrote this too fast and didn't articulate myself very well. I probably should've left the comments about my daughter out of it because then the focus moved to her and whether or not her situation is unique. My argument is actually that we, as a culture, discuss women's appearance more often in casual conversation than we do men's. Even if it's a compliment, this constant focus on women's appearances reinforces the idea that women are something to be looked at and as such their appearance is appropriate for critical analysis.
I've noticed I do it myself. Maybe I grew up with women and girls more focused on appearance than my readers did -- that could totally be true. And the unwanted male attention has almost always come in anonymous settings -- strangers made shitty comments and people I knew just focused attention on it. And I did it to them. I found that when I really paid attention to my internal monologue, when I saw a young woman, I would think about how she looked in a different way than I do with young men. It's not a sexualized thing, either -- it's just that how a woman looks seems more important to us collectively than it does when we're talking about a man. I think we all like attractive people across the board, but what I'm talking about isn't even necessarily about attractiveness, but rather the idea that it is more important that a woman appear friendly and put-together than a man.
You may not fall prey to this thinking. I can think of a handful of people right now who I know are reading this and laughing -- and you know who you are. But watch a few TV shows and note whether the women and men are portrayed as putting the same amount of time and dialogue into their appearance. Read some celebrity gossip magazines and see where the focus is. Watch a female political candidate speak and then a man speak and see whose appearance is brought up more often (exception: Boehner and his spray tan -- but that is an extreme measure -- a woman just has to be, well, there). Listen to conversations in public places -- when women see each other, do they comment immediately on each other's appearance or not? Now listen to men. Do they talk about appearance or not? When you greet your friend's high-school-aged daughter, do you think about how she's dressed and whether or not she bites her nails? Now think of your friend's high-school-aged son. Do you check to see he's properly groomed?
If we were truly not unconsciously still holding women up to a higher appearance standard than men -- as though they shouldn't leave the house if they are not up to certain standards -- then we would see no difference in any of my above examples. I don't think we're there yet. What do you think?