Teju Cole writes,⠀⠀⠀⠀
For myself, I don’t like the easy out provided by spotlighting women’s work today. I want to be uncomfortable about how easy it is for a man to get through a world designed around the male ego. [… S]o much of the structure in which I dwell and move and prosper is constructed on the uncompensated labor of women and their exclusion from reward.
Whatever we men think we are doing is not nearly enough. (_tejucole)⠀⠀
I’ve been thinking about women’s work a lot lately. Mostly because I personally am so very frustrated with how my days often consist of finding time to do the things I am passionate about in the cracks between the pavement of my life of domestic work and childcare and making an income.
I had a conversation with my partner about this very frustration this weekend. Well mostly, it was a meltdown as I confronted both of us with the false public narrative that we have somehow constructed that tells the world he does all the heavy work in our lives leaving me footloose and fancy freeloading. This narrative is easy to slip into because its ingrained in our culture: the man works hard so the woman has to be available as respite.
The truth is he does work hard for our family both in the business and domestic spheres, of which I am grateful and society tells me he has gone above and beyond what he should do. The other truth is that I work hard for our family both in the business and domestic spheres, of which he is grateful and society tells me I am doing what is expected or not enough. The final truth is that somehow we have internalized what society says and that has become our story.
Another truth is that both of us structure our lives so that my partner is not essential to the family unit’s day to day because he travels for his job. Thus, there is a burden placed on me to be able assume the full burden of our family at a moment’s notice three to four times a month. I structure all I do so that my partner is free to pursue his dream career without him or our son suffering quality of life.
Because of this structuring, I have to send roots out between these constraints, find fertile soil for creativity that can be squeezed between my possibly having to cancel an entire day of work if there is a domestic emergency or if my partner has to leave town before he’s completed a task we had planned for him to do that I now have to complete.
This extreme flexibility is what women do all the time. We contort our lives, careers, creativity to fit the needs of those around us, often sacrificing the dreams and desires that are dear to ourselves. It’s amazing what you can live without.
This isn’t a sob story though I was sobbing at some point in the conversation about how very tired I am with the effort of growing in the cracks of our family unit. What this essay is is a cry to change the narrative. I don’t want a different life. I don’t want to work less hard. I don’t want to freeload. And I definitely don’t want people to erroneously see me as kept when I am working and fighting so very hard for what I have.
I want to be valued. Not just one day a year (or two, if you count Mothers’ Day). But every day. I want the assumption to not be that my time/dreams/job is the default sacrifice.
Grass may be limited to growing in the cracks for a time, but without active cutting back, it will reach across the stones, spreading green life over hard clay. What a lush and verdant world that will be.