A Man's Work is Never ...
Have you ever had the experience of being
completely taken aback by something that one of your children said?
Of hearing words come out that make you think that this kid must have
been living with somebody else for all those years?
This happened to me just this morning. We had
finished our breakfast, and were in the middle of that general chaos
that prevails at that time of day, the kids scrambling to get their
school satchels filled with the proper selection of books and their
hair fixed in the currently 'in' style, while I try to put our house
'back together' after the activities of the previous twenty-four
hours. It is really only once a day that our place could be described
as 'clean'. Once the kids are off to school, I am free to finish up
the dishes, the laundry and vacuuming, to wipe the floors, air the
bedding, feed the fish, give my workroom the once-over, and generally
restore order before settling down to the day's work.
This morning, Himi-chan, my 12-year old, finished
her personal 'toilet' a bit earlier than usual (a very rare event
indeed), and stood in the kitchen watching me as I washed the
breakfast dishes. (Actually, to be honest, it wasn't just breakfast
dishes, but let's leave me a little pride ...) I don't really mind so
much doing this particular job. The warm soapy water feels good, and
as long as there isn't a vast pile of dirty plates waiting, or a lot
of very greasy ones, or the sound of people enjoying their
'after-dinner' time coming from another room while one works alone,
it's a pleasant chore. So I wasn't in a bad mood, but was just
quietly working my way down the pile. Himi watched for a while, and
then delivered the line that hit me hard. 'Yappari, otoko no shigoto
janai ... ne'. 'This really isn't a man's job, is it!'
When I queried her a bit about what she meant, she
said that she didn't intend to imply that I was doing it badly, but
just that it looked so totally wrong for a man to be standing there
at the sink with his hands in the water. A minute or so later, she
was off to school, so I didn't have a chance to talk to her further
about this, but all day today as I worked away at my printmaking, I
mulled over the ramifications of her comment.
Can you see why I was so affected by this? Here is
a man who has been living with his two daughters for more than twelve
years now (the last four of them 'alone' as the only parent in a
three member family), and all during this time he has tried to
provide them with as much of a non-sexist background as he possibly
can. While I certainly do not claim to be a card-carrying supporter
of modern feminism, I have tried, right from the day of the birth of
my first child (and even before), to show that I believe that 'family
work' (I like that term better than 'housework') is not woman's work,
but rather something to be shared by all members of the family unit,
to whatever extent each is able to do so.
And here was my own daughter telling me that all
my efforts to this end have been wasted. Telling me that she fully
expected one day to step into the kitchen, tie on the apron, and get
to work ... washing dishes. What a shock - to hear from a twelve year
old girl, just at the beginning of her life, that instead of seeing
herself as someone who could go anywhere, and do anything, and be
anything, she rather accepts the traditional patterns ... She has
accepted the equation: housework = female work. She sees herself as a
In one sense, would it perhaps have been better if
my kids had been boys? What good is it to show girls that a man is
capable of cooking and cleaning? That is just going to lead them to
expect too much from their future partners! (Especially if such
partners grew up in here in Japan!) If my kids had been male though, wouldn't
they perhaps have grown up with a more reasonable attitude towards
this kind of work? But after hearing Himi's comment, I'm not so sure
about any of this anymore. If after all these years of seeing her
father working in the kitchen and laundry space, she still believes
that this is woman's work, what hope is there for her of establishing
a balanced relationship with a future partner? Is the influence from
the society around us, where men get on the train and disappear each
morning, while the women clean the houses, so strong? Stronger than
her own family's example?
It seems like that might be the case, and that is
why I am so depressed at what she said. Because of course, just like
anybody, I don't really like doing housework. But in my case, one of
the main things sustaining me through it, has been the thought that I
was really doing something important for my children - providing them
with a living example of how family life should be organized. An
example not of how things usually are done, but how they could be
done ... and should be done.
And now that feeling has disappeared. With one
flippant comment, my daughter destroyed it. For me now, housework is
again just drudgery.
Was I just kidding myself all this time? Perhaps
it really is a hopeless cause trying to instill a young girl with
these ideas ... hopeless, because maybe she is right ... maybe
housework really is woman's work! What do you think?