Although the women’s rights movement still has a long journey ahead, every now and then I look back at how things were not so very long ago, particularly if I catch a glimpse of an older TV show or movie. Men went to work and women stayed home. Women cooked, cleaned, washed, prepared, chauffeured, decorated, repaired, entertained, nursed, tutored, and organized. They handled everything as if behind the scenes, allowing the man to be the star of the show. They did all of this willingly, lovingly, energetically and happily.
I grew up this way. Dad was the ‘breadwinner’ so Mom did all of the housework. Some of it was obvious. Some of it was more subtle, like Dad getting the biggest/best serving at dinner, his choice of what we all watched on TV, or his choice of bathroom time. From the 1970s and onward, grown daughters have examined this aspect of their upbringing and realized they do not want to follow suit. In her poem Shrinking Women, Lily Myers says, “I have been taught accommodation” as she reflects upon the sexist environment in which she grew up.
In my second marriage, I became that woman – the one who took care of it all. Now I know it was a mistake to let it happen. It didn’t start out that way. For the first several years, we split chores almost evenly. Weekdays, because he arrived home first, he would start the dinner. And, he did the normal ‘man’ things like mowing the lawn, taking the garbage out as well as anything that involved construction or repair. He also kept a vegetable garden. We both had full-time jobs. Gradually, though, over the years, he did less and less while I did more and more. There was always a valid reason. He broke his foot and found mowing the lawn painful. I started working closer to home so I was home in time to cook dinner. He suffered from depression so didn’t have the initiative to take on projects. I did more and more. He did less and less. Sometimes it was just less complicated to do the task than to argue about it. Like many other women, I imagine, became ‘accommodating’.
Being accommodating all of the time is not healthy. In my case, it stemmed from a combination of aiming to please and wanting to avoid confrontation or possible conflict. Sure, it’s okay when you’re taking care of an elderly parent or someone who simply cannot do for themselves. I’m not talking about being a caregiver. I’m talking about the male/female spousal relationship where the man becomes the lord and master thus the woman becomes the servant. It is not okay when you’re constantly doing for a person who can do for themselves or a person who seldom or never reciprocates.
If you are continually serving a person, they are taking advantage of you. Talk to the person about it. Learn to say ‘no’. Set some boundaries.