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    Entries in womanism (2)


    ay papi(s)

    I belong to a few discussion circles and online groups that are either parenthood-focused or in which the conversation often turns to parenting and family life. Every once in awhile, the topic of labor division comes up, and I'm always surprised at the abundance of mothers who face the same problem: how to do all the housework, tend to the kid(s), and find an iota of personal fulfillment while not resenting the spouse that insists he's off the hook for the whole shebang because he brings home a paycheck. They all hedge their complaints with admissions that "he is tired when he gets home" or "that's just how he was raised." 

    If this is you, and you like doing all the chores while you also do all the childrearing, then cool, but over and over again I hear about feeling dismissed, unappreciated, like a maid (respectable job, but -- ahem -- traditionally a for pay position), and always exhausted. Falling short. Because, you know why? These things add up to more than one full-time job. 

    I was lucky enough to find a partner who believes in the importance of present parenting, who values happy kids over a clean house, who understands the exhaustion that comes with the "always on" state of nurturing small children. Someone who gets that, after cooking, loading plates, clearing plates, cleaning tables, wiping faces, stripping off dirty clothes and putting on clean ones several times a day, I don't want to do dishes or laundry at night. Someone who crams in every minute of quality time he can from the moment he walks in the door after work until bedtime, and double on the weekends. 

    I'm grateful that there are so many papas in my life that hold it down on the fatherhood front. I love that my partner can serve as an example for those tired, stressed mamas that not every dad is unwilling to pitch in and, in fact, some defy their upbringing to show the mothers of their children they know exactly how valuable an investment in their family can be.

    Happy Fathers' Day to the guy that does the wash, changes the litter, takes out the garbage, slings the babies to sleep, plays soccer, plays the guitar, cleans up the barf, tends to night cries, starts the morning coffee and so much more, without suggesting that any of it is a favor. Go forth and multiply. The women of the internet need you. 



    (don't) smile: not your holla back kid

    I used to walk, ride my bike, or take the bus almost everywhere.

    Hey, give me a smile!

    That was before I had kids -- before I traded in urban life for a garden, a library with a nice children’s section, and a marginally reliable car.

    Aw, come on. You’re hurting my feelings!

    Men would often try to pry my gaze from my book or the scenes of the blurry city as I waited for my stop. Their lines were always the same: didactic, packaged in a toothy grin, with palms upturned as if to ask if I was really gonna leave ‘em hangin’. And I was. I did, every time.

    You’re being rude. Why are you being rude? All I asked for was a smile.

    My interest (or lack thereof) and my feelings were irrelevant. I was shirking what they considered my responsibility to be hospitable, entertaining, approachable, when I should’ve been thanking them for noticing me, putting on my most winsome smile and sitting, rapt, until they were finished with me. Instead, I refused their demands that I pretend to be happy to see them, flattered at their attention. The receiving end of the frequently ensuing ire is not pleasant, as anyone who’s met “let’s have a smile” with a stone-faced, simple “no” can attest. And so, when someone first let fly the above statements not at me, but at one of my children, I could feel the fight or flight response begin to bubble up.

    The smile-demander got to their accusations of rudeness before I had fully processed what was happening. My toddler was being accosted, made to feel guilty for not performing as requested, in the exact same way I’d experienced. A recognizable, affronted tone was peeking out from the previously jokey demeanor. That bridge of sub-humanity was not a place where I wanted, or expected, to meet my children, but there we were. And I realized that, to many people, children and women are primarily for show.

    “He doesn’t have to smile,” I said. “If he wanted to smile, he’d be smiling.” The smile-demander insisted that they were just playing around. Ah, I’d heard that one before.

    This isn’t the only line that’s used on kids and women. You’re just tired is bandied about a crying child just as often as it is their stressed mother, with no further delving. No questioning. Are you tired? How can I help? What’s bothering you? Of course, those are questions reserved for people we hold in higher esteem. People whose ability to reason we value, whose feelings we consider valid, not overwrought and silly.

    The systematic devaluing of women’s feelings serves to infantilize, which wouldn’t be such a bad gig if said infants didn’t have it even worse. Made out to be a burden, held to impossibly high standards, required to self soothe and obey without question often for fear of physical punishment, kids’ humanity doesn’t seem to be fully legitimized until they reach the age of majority, with several caveats for gender, race and sexual orientation. They aren't allowed to feel things we find unpleasant, act in ways that make us uncomfortable, or express emotions in ways we find unpalatable, much like their mothers, who by most of society's estimation aren't allowed to look unpolished, unwilling, or uninterested. Don't believe me? Enter a debate about leggings as pants and you'll hear fifty different ways that women owe it to the world at large to be attractive in a particular way, to put in some effort, to not embarrass themselves, to not gross out onlookers. 

    Thankfully, purposefully, I have surrounded my family with people who don’t participate in this craziness, which makes contrasts all the more stark when they happen. The odd sing-songy directive What do we say?, for example, is jarring, confusing to my children, and is met with my curt reply: “we” don’t encourage forced gratitude. I'm proud to say that I kept my wits about me when that smile demander accosted my kid. Though, as their joviality gave way to impatience, I could almost feel the stickiness of the old bus seat naugahyde against the backs of my knees, remembering the times I quickly stood to relocate as someone spat insults or insisted that I come back. I stood up for him the way I wish someone would have stood up for me, and I can rest a little easier in the knowledge that, on my watch, he won't be a smile demander, a you're-just-tired-er, a dismisser of women and children and people his culture deems dismissable.