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Sharing the Burden - The Ongoing Task of Raising One's Consciousness

April 05, 1987|JACK SMITH

Now that the women's movement is winding down in heat and intensity, I have an idea that many married or cohabiting couples have slipped back into their old sexist ways.

I sometimes wonder how many married women who hold jobs outside the home still do all the cooking and housekeeping. I have an idea it would be about 66%.

Of course, as a result of the movement, many sorts of accommodations have been worked out toward equality, as they have in our house.

Perhaps you have seen "L.A. Law," the TV series about a Los Angeles law firm and its loves, liaisons and, incidentally, lawsuits. In an early sequence we saw a man and a woman member of the firm leave a cocktail party and go to his place to make love. Considering that she is a tall, slender knockout and he is short and plump, though cute enough, to my mind their affair lacked plausibility.

Then I read in People magazine that this unlikely pair are actually married, in real life. She is 5-foot, 8-inch Jill Eikenberry; he is 5-foot, 5-inch Michael Tucker. What is pertinent here is a note on their "equal" living arrangements.

"We tend to slip back and forth into traditional roles," the magazine quotes Eikenberry as saying, "even though I consider myself a feminist."

Interjects Tucker: "So do I!"

Tucker does most of the cooking in the marriage, the magazine says, while Eikenberry leaves the dishes for the maid.

Now I consider that an absolutely ideal sharing of the burden. The husband does the cooking; the wife leaves the dishes for the maid.

What could be more equitable?

I read it to my wife.

She said, "So what?"

I said: "Why couldn't we do that? You do the cooking and I leave the dishes for the maid."

"You forget," she said, "I'm the maid."

We do have a cleaning woman, but she comes in only once a week, on Saturday morning, and changes the bed linen, mops the kitchen and bathroom floors, and vacuums the carpets.

That leaves a lot of work undone, which my wife and I try to share. Despite the concessions that we have made to liberation, there are a few things she still does by herself because she does them so much better than I do, and there would be no point in denying us both the quality of her work just to lighten her load.

I usually get my own breakfast and my own lunch, or I eat out; but she usually gets dinner after she comes home from work, which is not before 6:30 or 7 o'clock because of the freeway traffic.

That may seem unfair. But put yourself in her position. She either eats my cooking or she does the cooking herself.

Since we don't have a maid, she washes the dishes. When we were first married she wanted a dishwasher, but it was years before she got one. Now that she has one, I think it would be a shame to deny her the luxury of using it.

One thing I do, I put my breakfast and luncheon dishes in the washer to save her that trouble, but I don't actually operate it. I think that if you develop skill in the other person's field, it makes her feel less unique and useful. It's threatening. One of the main responsibilities of a spouse is to reinforce the other person's self-esteem.

For example, she washes my dress shirts. I complain constantly that I don't want her doing that, that she ought to send them out with the rest of the laundry. But she takes pride in turning out a well-finished shirt. How can I fight that?

You may wonder how she has prospered from liberation. For one thing, she used to make all three meals, and wash my underwear and socks and my dress shirts as well.

I used to give her money to run the house. Now she has all the money, which means, of course, that she gets to keep the books. All I do is ask her for some cash now and then, mostly to buy breakfast and lunch with, so she won't have to wash my dishes.

She also feeds the dogs and cats, but that's only fair, since they are all strays and she took them in. Of course I have nothing to do with her birds.

Meanwhile, I'm responsible for keeping my shoes and socks off the living room floor and for keeping the magazines in neat stacks. That's no easy job. We must get 30 magazines a month.

What I'm trying to say is that the feminist revolution hasn't entirely missed us, and I'm still trying to raise my consciousness even more.

But she resists it. I offer to cook. The freezer is stuffed with frozen dinners that I could easily pop into the microwave. She insists on doing it herself.

Recently I thought I had made some progress. I got her to send my dress shirts to the laundry. The collars came back terribly wrinkled.

"That's the last time I ever do that," she said.

Maybe we should get a maid. A maid wouldn't be threatening; and I could leave the dishes for her.

It would give me one more thing to do.

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