This post is late for a number of reasons. First and foremost, though: my laptop began to die on Friday. Of course, it’s 6 weeks out of warranty, which is annoying, but not unexpected. The fan had become so noisy that I couldn’t even work. But it’s a common problem with this kind of laptop, apparently, and the Handsome Sidekick was able to do some internet sleuthing and find a solution. Hooray! Only a couple of days later, I’m able to sit down and work again, albeit to the heady fumes of WD40 (never fear, I’m in a well-ventilated area).
During my recent computer-free time, I was thinking about how much I rely on the Handsome Sidekick for jobs like this. Last weekend, after a storm, he fixed the side gate which had broken its latch in the strong winds. A few weeks ago, he replaced the washer and tap in the laundry. Just the other day I asked him if he could fix one of the kitchen cupboard doors, and he nodded, saying that he’d noticed it was loose, too. Conversely, when it comes to food preparation, washing, and organising the children for school, bedtime, or social engagements, that’s my domain.
I know. What kind of feminist am I?!
What struck me, the other day when I was hanging out the washing, is that it’s very easy from an outsider’s perspective, to judge how emancipated you think someone is. We use our own experiences to decide whether someone else is doing ‘the right thing’ with regards to their own situations, and that’s not necessarily the best way at all. Take, for example, how women who identify as strongly religious, can sometimes have their opinions disregarded, because they don’t seem to challenge a traditional hierarchy.
Recently, a couple on a suburban Australian train were harassed by a fellow passenger. The couple was Muslim, and the woman was wearing a hijab. In the tirade, the passenger accused the man of oppressing the woman’s freedom by forcing her to wear the head covering. This scene was filmed by another woman, who stood up for the couple, arguing that it was a Muslim woman’s choice to decide to cover or not.
When the video first became public, the woman who had filmed the scene was praised as having had the courage to stand up for someone else, in effect, to stand up to a bully. Within days, though, there was criticism that she should have not said anything, because she was effectively stepping in and attempting to ‘protect’ the couple, rather than allowing them to stick up for themselves.
It’s this kind of back and forth which is part of the problem, not just with feminism, but with the way we address many social justice issues. The judgemental bigotry showed by the first passenger is disappointing and surprising — who does that? Just attacks people on a train for no apparent reason? And the judgemental holier-than-thou attitude of those who argue that a white woman shouldn’t be standing up for someone else who doesn’t speak English as a first language is the kind which leads to people being reluctant to step in, when someone else is being bullied.
Our lives can be complex. Situations are not always what they seem, when we’re looking from the outside. It would be easy to look at the roles of the Handsome Sidekick and me, and decide that I am a traditional mother and housewife (as long as you don’t look too closely at the cleanliness of the house), and that I require the Handsome Sidekick for all tasks requiring a spanner or a drill. But just because I ask him to do those things for me doesn’t mean I can’t do them myself. It’s just that I prefer not to. I understand how to change a washer. I know how the drill works, and have used it before. But frankly, I don’t enjoy those jobs. It’s not that I find them difficult, I just find them boring. I’d much rather be baking a cake or planting something in the garden.
And of course, there are also other jobs traditionally done by ‘the man of the house’ which I’m happy to do. I’m usually the one who mows the lawn; I received a whipper snipper for Christmas from my family, which I love using. I’m the one who checks the oil and water in the car, and I’m the one who does most of the driving. For the Handsome Sidekick’s part, he tends to clean the bathroom sink and do the vacuuming more regularly than I do.
In the end, we all have to share the responsibility of the work. As long as there is some discussion of that, and a respect for each other, then who cares whether the woman is changing the light bulbs or mopping the floor? We should play to our strengths, and not assume that every traditional role is in need of an overhaul. Absolutely, we can question our own decisions, and those of others. But we also have to realise that what happens in other relationships, behind closed doors, is not something we are privy to. Making judgements about what other women should or shouldn’t be doing is not the place of feminists or anyone else. Far better we should be strive to be content with what we do well, than imagine there is a one-size-fits-all approach to life, and to emancipation. That is a kind of feminism I can get behind.
[Note: I’ll link to a couple of articles about the story of the passengers on the train and the fallout later — I’m trying to avoid news today because I didn’t fancy getting up at 3am to watch the Eurovision finals, and we’re planning on watching it tonight. Similarly, the Week Links will be up later when I can go to my regular news sites and Twitter, without worrying about someone splashing the winning country’s name all over the place!]