Something happened to me recently which got me thinking. A friend of mine came over for a catch up, and as we sat (discussing the breakdown of Johnny Depp’s marriage, if you must know) I took the opportunity to sew a patch into my husband’s work trousers. Each time I looked up from my stitching, I found her looking at me, bemused. At first I thought she was just interested in what I was doing but the longer it went on, the more flustered she became until (as I picked up a sock that needed darning) she blurted out,
“..and you call yourself a feminist?”
I was struck dumb, but must have conveyed my confusion through my raised eyebrows because she added,
“Make him fix his own clothes. You don’t have to do that!”
Now, there are several things wrong here and I’ll tackle them one by one. Firstly, no – I will not make him fix his own trousers because he can’t sew. In the same way that my husband (a carpenter) would not leave me to build my own extension on our house. I do the sewing because I’m good at it.
Secondly, (and this is a major one) I like to sew. I find it relaxing. I like the fact that, given a couple of hours, I can make myself a dress or change the length of a skirt. I also love being able to fix things – when my buttons fall off, or hems come down or seams come apart I don’t have to pay anyone to mend them (or, worse, throw the items away). No! I can simply put them back together again. Saving money, recycling and giving my self a nice sense of accomplishment to boot. Brilliant.
Lastly, (and this is the kicker) no-one is making me do anything. It’s 2012, not 1952 – my marriage is a partnership. I do not have to have dinner on the table when my husband comes home. I do not spend hours slaving over the laundry. My friend had reacted as if I’d whipped out a mangle and sobbed “he won’t let me use the washing machine because I need to learn my place!” (In truth, he wandered into the house with his pants showing through the rip in his trousers and said “bum flap!”). I hadn’t implied that it was a chore or that I was annoyed to be doing it.
I wondered whether she would have had the same reaction to other household tasks – would sweeping the kitchen floor have resulted in a lecture? Or hanging out the washing? Or fixing my own socks? I think not. What had bothered her was the idea that I was doing housework for my husband. And yet, would she have reacted as negatively had she seen him putting my clothes away? Or shining my shoes? Or darning my socks? No – that would have been seen as kind, caring – as ‘making an effort’. Why does this double-standard still exist?
The problem seems to be that the term ‘feminism’ is widely misunderstood; many people associating it with a fight for female superiority rather than for a world in which women and men have equal rights and freedoms. The confusion is understandable. Looking at the negative aspects of womanhood is always going to involve comparison with the positive aspects of being a man. The issue becomes a battle of the sexes – which, by its nature, implies that there will be a winner. Any idea of equality falls by the wayside.
In ‘How to be a Woman’, Caitlin Moran succinctly explains that her idea of feminism is “neither pro-women nor anti-men [but rather] thumbs up for the six billion”. We’re aiming for a system within which we all have a fair deal – not a world in which one sex lords it over the other. What’s not to like? I can darn socks if I want to and so can my husband – equality. If we don’t want to do it we can buy new socks. Brilliant. Of course, I’m simplifying a much bigger issue but the fact remains that for many people my action of sitting mending my husband’s clothes would’ve prompted a similar response.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know – but here’s what I did. I explained everything I’ve said here to my friend as I finished darning the socks, I gave her my copy of ‘How to be a Woman’ and then I wrote this article. It’s not easy to lecture friends but it is sometimes necessary. Why? because if more of us spread the word then hopefully the need for rants like this will disappear and we can get back to the important task of making things fairer. Simple.
Alis writes a wonderful blog here – www.alphabetteringmyself.com – based on bettering herself each week via the alphabet. Go check it out and you will understand – it’s very cool. You can also find her work on the HuffPo. She tweets as @tedmcwhirter.