Justin Dilley grew up thinking a man’s place was in the garage, but now that he has his own, he’s questioning if that’s where he belongs.
After years of living in the Northeast, I moved down to the south (Atlanta) and now I finally have a garage. I have arrived.
There is nothing flippant about that description—I truly felt like I had “made it” now having a garage. I suppose coming from the land of cramped apartments to a house where one can easily store stuff would make anyone want to break a bottle of champagne over the garage door. But I felt something just a little different—and it surprised the hell out of me.
Growing up in the Midwest, I look back over my childhood fondly; running in fields, playing with dogs, climbing trees. That freedom, which makes me smile even today, came with its own set of costs that I, as an adult, am just now realizing. While I wouldn’t trade one lesson on the farm or that knowledge of how to change the oil of a car, I’d love to stop thinking of the garage as masculine and the kitchen as feminine.
(Drops the microphone.)
Wow, did I really just write that? Did I just put that out there like that? I cringed when I wrote that, because of course I do not believe the kitchen is a woman’s domain and all guys should be handy in the garage. In fact, I do most of the baking in our home and my wife hasn’t complained about it once. But deep down underneath it all, I always felt a little “less than” when I didn’t have a garage space. Now, I have one: void filled.
It’s not like I’m out there every night—grease on my face, working on a car, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album. When I do go out to the garage, I clean it, sort things out, deal with the garbage, put things together, fix things, organize tools—fairly simple stuff. Honestly, I enjoy it (except all the spiders!). But I always ask myself, do I enjoy this simply because I do? Or do I enjoy this because I was raised to think that all men were supposed to be in the garage? Is this how I will raise my own son?
The tension between these two places—garage and kitchen—was something I was very aware of my whole life. At my mother’s request, I was required to aid in the kitchen from time to time. The kitchen would not be solely a woman’s domain on her watch, but I am not sure my parents were on the same page. Even if they were on the same page, we were surrounded by that model.
Dinner party at a family friend’s house? After dinner, women ended up in the kitchen and the men went to “look at that thing in the garage.” When you’re a kid, it doesn’t matter what group you go with—mostly you go off on your own—but once you hit the teens, or preteens, you might get a couple looks for being the 11-year-old boy helping out with the dishes.
The world I live in seems somewhat different today. These masculine and feminine environments are broken down daily—by the people we meet or the images and concepts we see. I have plenty of male friends who do the brunt of the cooking in their households. I know a couple of guys who have never worked with a lug nut. And I know a woman who prefers to do her own carpentry.
For us, I do my share of the kitchen work and my wife will fix something every now and then. She’ll even kill a bug if she has to. Yet this garage still exists, like some unknown siren, almost taunting me. “Have you changed that wheel on the mower?” “Do you know if your painting tools are clean or not?” “Will we have enough Allen wrenches in case of an emergency?” Time and time again, I answer that call and am never quite sure how it got to be 3:30pm on a Saturday and I’ve been in the garage for over three hours.
If I feel this way about a garage, perhaps the converse is true for some women out there. Perhaps there are women who might feel perplexed inside of a kitchen. Maybe we find ourselves in the middle of these genderized roles, enjoying it, but catching ourselves and asking; why do we enjoy it? As we reach for that spatula or that screwdriver, we subconsciously know our society has created millions of reasons for our gender to lead us to these domestic workspaces.
Some of us just accept it and others, well, are simply trying to figure out how to live in that place between the garage and the kitchen.
Justin Dilley is a theatre artist and educator whose work and study often encompasses rhetorical analysis of gender roles and feminist critiques. He is currently working on a book for the persuasive director and his latest endeavor is running the newly-founded Atlanta Theatre Lab. Information on this project and on Justin can be found at www.atlantatheatrelab.com