The feminist mystique

My sweetheart and I have been together for eleven years, since we were 18 and 19, so we’ve become adults together. Because I was immersed in hardcore feminist theory throughout college and went to work at a hardcore “second-wave” lesbiany feminist restaurant after college, it’s of course been important to me that my  relationship takes into account the basic tenants of feminism 101 – if I cook, you will do the dishes, etc.

Happily, I am lucky (or entitled!) enough not to really have to worry about these things – my sweetheart was brought up by a truly fierce mother and two fiery sisters, and this combined with his innate sense of fairness has meant that there is nothing I can teach him about women being true equals of men in every way. Even more happily, he still lifts the heavy stuff. And, though he sometimes laughs about the fact that his thumb and pinkie can encircle my wrist with room leftover, he doesn’t respect me any less because of my pencil arms. We’ve struck a good balance.

Still, though. Every heterosexual raging feminist woman has those moments where she doesn’t know if the fact that her partner* never wipes down the sink after brushing his teeth is because of patriarchy, his DNA, or a combination of the two, and moreover, should it even matter?

At what point does our household transition from a “patriarchy is ingrained thus I will never wash your laundry, even when I’m doing a half load of my clothes and you’re going on tour tomorrow and have no clean underwear” point of view to a “I just realized that we’ve been together eleven years and I’ve never cleaned the cat boxes – does this mean that the feminist revolution is complete?” kind of a thing?

Or wait, was that the same thing? I guess what I’m saying is that it took me a little while to not feel weird when I found myself washing my partner’s clothes and such. He has absolutely no problem washing my clothes if I am running out of time and going away the next day and he has free time, so why should I feel weird when things are reversed? Of course, the answer is patriarchy. It’s OK to feel weird, and to think about it, but it’s important to me that I don’t look at my relationship as “heterosexual relationship – be on constant patriarchy alert!!” and instead see it as “Lagusta and Jacob, living their lives together, helping each other out all that they can.” Two people who decide for themselves what is fair, and fun, and what makes sense.

And though in my particular relationship I have to admit that I am both cleaner and tidier than my sweetheart for the most part (the exception being that he can’t leave the house without making the bed, and I have never made a bed in my life), I know many relationships in which this is not the case – I seem to know a strangely large number of painfully, painstakingly clean men.

All of the above facts make the very strange experience I had last week even stranger. Said sweetheart and I took a quickie vacation to Nova Scotia, where his mother recently bought an old house she is fixing up as a vacation home. After dinner the first night (made by me), I noticed that the dishes (done by him) in the dish drainer were greasy.

“Hey, what’s up with the dishes?” I said.

“Oh, I couldn’t find the dish soap. But there was enough soap on the sponge to wash them.”

“Hmm. That’s weird. The dishes are totes oily, yo.”

“AHHHHHH!!! DON’T SAY TOTES!!!!” (Jacob absolutely hates “totes,” which is why it slips out around him constantly.)

“So, did you look for dish soap?”

“Yep, I couldn’t find any.”

Now. Jacob’s mother has several weird kitchen-related weirdnesses (not eating salt being one, subsisting on nothing but lentils and tempeh and olive oil for the past thirty years being another) but I doubted that washing dishes without soap was one of them. Puzzled, I opened the cabinet under the sink – i.e., the place where everyone in the world keeps their dish soap if they don’t keep it on the counter. There was a big bottle of all-natural dish soap sitting right there.


This little tableau took place about a week ago, but it is safe to say that I have not stopped thinking about it since.  Here are the facts of the case:

1) The dishes were totes still oily. “There was enough soap on the sponge to wash them”? What is that about?

2) We keep our dish soap under the sink at home!!

3) When presented with the above two facts, instead of slapping his forehead and saying “What was wrong with me last night? How weird!” Jacob simply said “Ah. There it is.”

What does this mean? It’s wrapping my mind into a pretzel! My beloved feministy sweetheart, my pairbond, my helpmate, my best friend, my mind reader – in the episode of the oily dishes you are a completely foreign person to me, someone whose moves and motives and thought processes are so completely alien I can do nothing but stare at you in open-mouthed wonder. Were you tired from a long day of relaxing by the sea? Did the salty clean Canadian air cloud your mind? Is it because the tomatoes in the pasta sauce we had for dinner were not organic?

These moments are the weird ones in the standard feminist relationship – the ones where you see that though your sweetheart knows better than you do when your period is due, there is a centuries-long backlog of synapses and brain waves hidden in our brains that will sometimes pop out unbidden, utterly blowing our modern minds. It’s those hidden, half-buried impulses that led to the oily dishes, and it’s my latent, unacknowledged housewifey impulses that led to me being so amazed by it.

I don’t want to say that I know no woman who would leave the dishes oily and wouldn’t think to look under the sink, but let’s just say that I know many more women who would share my open-mouthed wonder at this little episode than would have not found the soap.

Phew. I’m glad I wrote about it so I can stop thinking about it.

Do you know what’s dorky, Jacob? Wearing the t-shirt of the band you tour with. Do you know what’s dorky, Lagusta? Wearing the t-shirt of a band you’ve publicly made fun of. My god.

*Yes, we are those dorks who introduce each other as “partner” – that’s what we are! Life partners, although “life partner” is too dorky even for us. My friend Selma thinks we should call each other what bird mates are called – pairbonds. It’s cute, but a bit nonsensical, no? My problem is that I can’t bring myself to say “boyfriend.” To me, a boyfriend is someone you share a milkshake with two straws with while looking into each other’s eyes, not the person with whom you trade two lawn mows for two cat box cleanings.

3 Responses to “The feminist mystique”

  1. Katy

    This to me is the one of the great oddities of the male/female brain – I’d love to do some sort of fMRI of a man looking for an object that he should KNOW to exist in his immediate proximity, versus a woman. Why has this aspect of our brains evolved so differently? I know for a fact that woman have more connections between the two hemispheres and so really are better at looking at “big picture” sorts of things, and that men are better at focusing on one thing and sticking with that one thing (of course, individual variations are expected, but as a group, these structural differences have been firmly established). In a crude example, one exercise put girls inside a giant snowglobe sort of thing that was swirling dollar bills. In the one minute time frame, the girls averaged catching exactly one bill – their focus kept shifting to the one in front of them, rather than the boys strategy of picking one and sticking to it, whether it was scattering high or low or whatever. Result – boys averaged 5 catches. So what the hell does this have to do with the dish soap? No idea, but I feel ya. I do.

  2. Katy

    Oh yeah, and this:

    “To me, a boyfriend is someone you share a milkshake with two straws with while looking into each other’s eyes, not the person with whom you trade two lawn mows for two cat box cleanings.”

    is beauty. :D


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