Navigating her new role as a wife, feminist Ashley Lauren Samsa finally figured out that cleaning your house doesn’t automatically make you June Cleaver.
The personal is political. As a feminist, this has been my mantra for years, so when I decided to get married, I wanted my marriage to reflect what an equal partnership should look like. We would share all of the housework equally. We would always be in love with each other so that any onlooker could plainly see that we were meant to be together. We would have date nights and go on awesome vacations and take our time before having kids and we would both allow the other to follow their dreams, no matter what.
Well, that was the fantasy, anyway.
Some of my marital dreams came true. I kept my last name when we got married. We were definitely in love, too, even though we spent most of the first year of our marriage awkwardly adjusting to sharing our lives together. We went on date nights, or tried despite our busy schedules. Almost two years later, we still don’t have kids (by choice).
Then, there was the housework. Now, I’m no stranger to housework. Before moving in with my husband, I had an apartment of my own, which was pristine. During my two years there, I learned how to clean things I never even knew needed cleaning. Did you know, for example, that you have to clean the inside of your dishwasher? My logic told me that appliances that clean things would not get dirty themselves, but apparently they do. When I moved in with my husband, though, I wanted him to share in the cleaning duties. Sharing the chores with him was about setting the tone for the relationship; I wanted to be equal in every sense of the word, and I wanted that to start right away.
We did start sharing chore duties right away. We moved into a nice, little apartment in the summer just before our wedding, so there was no outside work for us to do, and splitting up the inside work was easy. He cleaned the bathroom and kitchen while I dusted, vacuumed, and did the laundry. I cooked, and he did the dishes. We are both teachers, so the summers off afforded us plenty of time to keep the apartment spotless. It was a match made in Heaven.
However, there was still something nagging at me. Every time I donned an apron to cook dinner, every time I sat folding laundry, every time I dusted a knickknack on the dresser, I hated myself for fulfilling exactly what society told me a wife should be. If I put on a string of pearls and high-heels, I’d be June Cleaver. And I hated myself for it.
You see, when I lived by myself and kept my apartment clean, it was a source of pride. I could do this all on my own, it said. When I lived with my husband, however, it was just another thing society tells women they should do.
I’d pick fights with him when I got really frustrated. After I’d balled my last sock, I’d find something that wasn’t done and I’d whine and complain about how he never did anything around the house (even though he did) or how he just expected me to be his little wife, taking care of his every need (even though he didn’t). I was picking fights with him, but in reality, I was fighting with myself. I didn’t believe that I should have to be doing my wifely duties just because society said so.
One day, after one of these fights, I was reading through some feminist blogs to calm myself down and I came upon a post about making feminist choices. It outlined all the ways feminists can make choices that are unfeminist: changing your last name when you get married, having lots of children, being a stay-at-home mom, doing housework, etc. Feeling validated, I continued reading on to the comments, where one comment stuck out. It said, “You think that just because you’re a feminist, things don’t get dusty? No. Feminist or not, dusty stuff needs to get dusted.”
Why had I not thought of this before? I’m no June Cleaver just for cleaning my house. I’m just a human being. Even feminists need to clean, or else live in filth! It’s not unfeminist to clean. It’s unfeminist to take on all of the housework duties while your husband sits on the couch with a beer.
Shifting my outlook on chores gave me a sense of freedom in my relationship—and in my home—and helped me realize that life is life, whether or not you’re a feminist.
Ashley Lauren is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago. She is currently splitting up chores with her husband in their brand new house, where they live with their dog, Penny. She keeps her own blog about feminism, relationships, and teaching at Small Strokes (http://smallstrokesbigoaks.com), and she also writes for Care2 (http://www.care2.com/causes/author/ashleys) about the same topics. You can follow her on Twitter @samsanator.