Sunday, December 12, 2004

housework is political

Today I'm thinking about the labor of everyday life. About what it takes to create a happy family life, and how many minutes, hours of time are devoted to it. Tonight's a big family hanukah party. We will all enjoy it. And my husband's mother has been cooking and freezing and prepping all week. The holidays have begun, and that means dinners to plan and prepare, and family to host, not to mention presents to procure. Last saturday, with a long list in hand, I took my husband with me to the stores in Chestnut Hill. I wanted him to be part of the process. In as natural a way as possible, I wanted him to realize the time it takes to buy presents, the way your throat gets dry after sorting through too many stores, the way you get hot because your coat's on, the tedium that takes over (okay, I've never been much of a shopper....)

I wanted him to see it, to take part, because I've gotten into the habit of doing all the present-buying for his family, as well as for my own. That's me wracking my brain to figure out what all the tween and teen cousins might like. It's horrible to admit that. Horrible, because it's just so gendered, so predictible, that women end up doing so much of the labor that keeps families going. When my brother married, his new wife took on all the responsibilities of his relations with his family. She's wonderful, but shouldn't he take responsibility? So there I was, realizing that the responsibility for

We mothers do too much work. And we rarely count it. It becomes the white noise of our lives. A few years back, when my daughter started fullday school, I began working again, and hired a housekeeper to stop by once every other week. I hadn't been aware of how much time it took me to keep our house clean until I saw him working, till I counted the hours that he scrubbed and dusted and changed linens. Housework is political, feminists of the early 70's knew that, but it's one of their insights that we've lost.

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