Monday, October 14, 2013

Mrs

Feminism often focuses on the overtly problematic aspect of gender relations: rape, domestic abuse, murder, prostitution, misogynistic pornography, etc. What I don't hear enough about is supposedly happily married couples where the woman does all the housework, has changed her name to that of her husband's, and does the majority of childcare. They claim they have a wonderful relationship and are held up as role models for the rest of us approval-seeking souls. They are on the other side of the spectrum when it comes to what keeps sexism deeply entrenched in modern societies. This model of female subjugation is regarded as the ideal undertaking, an agreement to withhold, subdue or erase one's agency in the service of social conventions. Women and men are equally guilty for endorsing each other's misery in the matter. If men demand that their partner change their name, do the cleaning and cooking and sacrifice their careers in order to bring up the kids, women are taking on these roles readily and without much complaint. If women expect that their male partner will earn more than them, hold a higher level of authority than them and their say is ultimately more powerful than theirs, it's because men live up to those expectations. It takes two to create inequality, and the majority of the population is busily replicating the injustices they can't sense they want to live without.

When I got married in the US (I am now divorced, but then we were never in love) I was surprised at how easy it would have been to change my name to his. All I would have had to do was tick a box, and just like that, my signifier would have been chopped in half and rearranged. The hubby would have liked me to appropriate his moniker, his enthusiasm for such an enterprise underneath his ostensibly neutral enquiry as to my wishes. I replied that I had changed my name to Epiphanie Bloom so that I wouldn't have to change it again, which was partially true, but not the entire story. I didn't want to change my name. Why should I suddenly be associated with a different lineage when I held my own in high regard?

My Mum claims that there is no need for feminism because women have already achieved equality, so I expect her to believe that her relationship with Dad is an equal one. But they don't divide the chores around the house - while Dad lies around on the couch and reads the news she is cleaning, tidying, scrubbing and creating edible dishes from the contents of the fridge. She sometimes complains bitterly about the amount of work she has to do, but no amount of nagging will motivate Dad to take on an equal share of the housework. It's sad, but it's normal - it's actually very rare that couples split up the responsibilities in half, and/or distribute tasks not based on gender but on who is better at solving each individual thing to be done as it arises.

We in 2013 are still invested in those ancient archetypal categories which associate women with nurturing. Even if fathers taking more leave from work is becoming more common, the typical Australian family still delegates the bulk of the childrearing to mothers, and the cruel double standard of the extra-filial community is that they're not happy if a woman is "just" a housewife, and neither are they pleased if she is focused on her career. Most try to find a balance between the two, find themselves juggling a million things, being permanently stressed out and it is expected of them to continue that pattern in the role of being good citizens.

I don't want to have kids myself, a decision which I once articulated on the Facebook pages on The Guardian and was called ugly by some random enraged moron on the internet. Opinions I've previously felt comfortable with occasionally are exposed as extremely objectionable once made public knowledge, which is why I'm careful about how I write about what I write about. I am no stranger to flaming and hate posts. Perhaps the worst abuse I've received is for being a feminist and postmodernist, two identities which I love. Anyway, back to wanting to remain childless: I simply don't feel that conditions on Earth will be good enough during my lifetime for me to bring up a healthy, balanced individual. There are too many causes for depression and other forms of mental illness, and since I am that way inclined it's likely that I'll pass on my conditioning to any offspring. What's more, I want to do a vast amount of travelling in my life, something that would be made a lot more difficult if I had to take care of a young one. Children cost money and require time and energy. At this point I'd prefer for the rest of the world to reproduce and leave me out of it, if they want little ones so badly. I have nothing against children or parenthood, I just don't think it's a choice I want to make for myself, and people should respect that. And if they don't that's their problem, not mine.

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