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Day 22: Gender Roles and a Place for My Tiny Toilets

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Day 22:  Gender Roles and a Place for My Tiny Toilets

MY JULY GOALS:  

1.  Get settled into my new apartment

2.  Get settled into my new city of Seattle

3.  Get back into a writing routine ASAP!

*Check out this guest blog entry I wrote for Compose magazine!

It’s a little weird to be living with a boy after so many years of living alone, or with other females. When I lived in DC with my roommate, Kristin, I would leave salsa jars on the counter with post-it notes attached to them saying, “Kristin, I can’t open this, can you? See… this is why we need a man around.” Luckily, Kristin could usually open the jars, but there was at least one occasion when we had to wait for her boyfriend to come over so he could open a jar of pickles neither one of us could seem to manage.

Now that I live with Paul, I never have to worry about going without condiments again. In fact, it’s kind of amazing how quickly we’ve fallen into some common gender stereotypes. I’ve been doing most of the decorating, grocery shopping, and cooking. And Paul has been going to the hardware store to buy supplies for securing the wobbly bathroom cabinet and staining the unfinished dining room table.

So how do I feel about all this Suzy Homemaker stuff? Good, actually. I’ve been living in other people’s houses for a year, so I’ve been drooling at the thought of setting up my own apartment, cooking in my own kitchen, using my own organizational system. (“You don’t want to move into our apartment,” Paul teased me the other day. “You want to move into your apartment.”)

That’s not exactly true.  For years I’ve been looking forward to the day when I’d have a partner, someone to help and someone who would help me.  I’m glad that Paul and I have different things we’re good at, different things we enjoy doing.  I’m happy to do the grocery shopping and decorating (although Paul did request that none of my “gruesome death stuff” go in the bedroom.)  On the flip side, I’m glad he set up the Internet and did most of the heavy-lifting, because, let’s face it, I’m a weakling with a technology curse. This way, Paul gets to eat a more varied diet in a lovely home, and I can stop calling my brother every time I have a computer problem. It’s a win-win.

Our living room.  The candelabras and most of the books are Paul's.  The painting, couch, and Picasso print are mine.

Our living room. The candelabras and most of the books are Paul’s. The painting, couch, and Picasso print are mine.

The first time I visited Paul in Maryland, his apartment was neat and vacuumed, and he had stocked the refrigerator with all of my favorite foods. But as our relationship progressed, the condition of his apartment began to deteriorate. I would arrive for the weekend to see heaps of clean laundry that Paul had retrieved from the dryer days ago but had yet to fold. Sometimes I would open the refrigerator and see literally nothing but a bag of coffee and some bottles of sketchy home-brewed beer.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” Paul said one day, laughing nervously, “but I’m excited about us moving in together, because I think I need a woman around to help me with all the house stuff.”

I wasn’t offended.  I’d been thinking the exact same thing.

Our apartment building in Queen Anne in Seattle.  This city is made of steep, steep hills!

Our apartment building in Queen Anne in Seattle. This city is made of steep, steep hills!

I’m not really up to date with the latest in the world of feminism, but it seems like the newest mode of thinking goes something like this: men and women are different, and that’s OK, as long as society values both male and female strengths. There are things that men tend to be better at (i.e. physical strength, spatial awareness), and things that women tend to be better at (i.e. language, social awareness). That doesn’t mean there aren’t men who are great communicators, or women who are strong and spatially aware. It just means that, biologically, our bodies and brains have differences. We should recognize and embrace this.

This way of thinking makes sense to me. Men and women have different strengths, and that’s why they often partner together. (So that one of them can fix the Internet while the other one fixes dinner.) It doesn’t mean that women can’t partner with women, or men with men. It doesn’t mean that you can’t live alone and do it all by yourself, because you can. It just means that, in general, some of the stereotypes about men and women are  based in biology. (And yes, they are certainly enhanced by culture and society.)

The problem is that for pretty much all of history, male strengths have been valued over female strengths. If female strengths, such as communication and social relationships, were valued more, maybe we’d have less war, less crime. I don’t know.

It’s complicated. I can sit here and tell you I believe that men and women have different brain structure, but if you nod and say, “yeah, that’s why girls aren’t good at math,” I’ll probably rip your eyes out of their sockets and stuff them down your throat. The point is, this is a very touchy and difficult topic with no clear-cut answers.

The other night Paul and I walked 5 minutes (uphill) from our apartment, and this is what we saw!

The other night Paul and I walked 5 minutes (uphill) from our apartment, and this is what we saw!

The other day, Paul and I went to Ikea to buy some furniture with a gift certificate we received from my mother. I’m usually a thrift store furniture type of gal, so I’d never been to Ikea. I didn’t realize what a production it would be, but it was pretty exciting, and we left the store with a desk, a chair, some Swedish chocolate, and the unfinished dining room table.

Of course, everything (except the chocolate) needed to be assembled. Paul got to work on the table as soon as we got home. Then he started on the desk.

“I feel bad that you’re putting everything together,” I said, popping out from the bedroom where I was folding sheets and organizing them in the linen closet. “I can help.”

Not that I wanted to help. Putting together furniture holds very little interest for me, whereas Paul seemed to be enjoying himself. He laughed while reading the Ikea instructions and made comments like, “oh, I see how they’ve done it. That’s so clever!” After he finished the desk, he went swimming, then he came back and put together the chair. In one evening, he’d assembled all of our Ikea furniture. The next day, he put together my Target bookshelf. God, it was great to have a man around!

But I felt guilty. I could have put together that table, or the bookshelf. I could have even put together the desk, although it probably would have taken me five times as long as it took Paul. I started to question myself. Just because I have a man around now, does it mean I should stop trying to do things for myself? Am I going to start leaving salsa jars out on the counter for him to open without even attempting to open them myself?

Another thing we bought the other day was one of those over-the-toilet bathroom organizers. I needed a place for my tiny toilets and my hair products. Since Paul uses no hair products and has no bathroom collections needing to be displayed, I told him I’d buy and assemble the organizer myself – he didn’t need to be involved.

I opened the box and sorted through all the boards and the baggies of screws. I put the bottom part of the organizer together and screwed it in behind the toilet, but then I got to the part with the cabinets, and I couldn’t tell the difference between two of the types of screws.  Normally I would have just guessed and kept going, but now I have a man around. “Paul!” I yelled. “Will you come help me?”

A part of me had wanted to put the organizer together all by myself, just to prove that I could. And another part of me =was a little afraid of losing my independence. For so long, I’ve done everything on my own. The thing is, I’ve always wished I had someone to help me.

In the end, Paul took command of the cabinet assemblage, but unlike the Ikea furniture, I helped him. I helped tighten screws and hand him tools. I helped hold the cabinets in place while he attached them to the wall.  Turns out, the organizer assemblage required two people to be done properly.  Isn’t that what it’s all about? Two people coming together and offering their respective strengths for the greater good?

“I’m worried I’m not doing enough around the house,” Paul said the other day, after I’d made us some dinner and cleaned up before he had a chance to offer help.

“Of course you are,” I said.  We’ve both been contributing plenty, but in different ways.

My tiny toilet collection.

My tiny toilet collection.

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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