Two sentences. Eight sneaky words.
I don’t know how. You’re better at it
This is how a lot of men get out of emotional labour. This is how I’ve let a lot of men get out of emotional labour.
I don’t know how to cook. I don’t see the mess. You’re good at this. You care more.
These are the ways we let traditional gender roles and patriarchal bullshit into our relationships.
Not because we necessarily believe it (though I do seem to care a lot more about mess. And I’m a way better cook…), but because, eventually, it gets easier. It is easier to do the thing than to spend all day arguing about the thing, feeling disrespected and vaguely devastated by how much work someone who cares about you is willing to put in in order to do less work than you.
I read this article today, A Single Dad Learns to Cook and felt my eyes in danger of falling out from rolling so hard several times:
I was wrong, of course; their mother loved them in a million different ways, but she could also cook — oh, how could she cook. Once in a while she’d consult a recipe, but mostly she was instinctually brilliant in a kitchen. I’d eaten so well for 10 years, the kids for five of those.
You know how you develop that instinctual brilliance? By putting food on the table three times a day for your entire adult life–and likely starting in your teens. By needing to feed yourself because you know no one else will. This is not a fundamental lady instinct borne of whatever magic makes girls (I’ve heard sugar and spice but am awaiting confirmation).
And baking? The woman could bake anything. On Sunday evenings, I’d drop the kids off, my heart full and void, imagining what it would be like to yet again kiss them goodbye, yet again let myself out, yet again drive away, alone … but before all this, I’d check the ceramic jar by the toaster oven in case she’d baked. When she had, the jar would be teeming with chocolate cakes and ginger snaps and other desserts too delicious to believe. I’d steal one, or more than one, filling my pockets with the only food I could swallow, and then I’d kiss them and head out, away from them, away.
Even mid-divorce she’s expected to nurture and nourish. Good god.
Cooking had always seemed like a horrible chore, to me, but then I was a guy, and we find most things that happen in houses (besides sex) to be almost unbearably chore-like. Vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom, paying bills, washing up, knowing the size of our kids’ shoes … chore, chore, chore. Cooking was the one chore, though, that one could most easily get out of, because if, like me, you were bad at it — or, probably bad at it — then who wants to eat ill-cooked food? Especially when one’s ex is Julia Child come back to life?
But this is what I’m really writing about. “Cooking had always seemed like a horrible chore, to me.”
See, he’s a guy, right. And guys find most things that happen in houses (say it with me, folks, we call that ish EMOTIONAL LABOUR) chore-like. We just have to accept that fact. All of those things that keep you fed and clean and nourished? Chore, chore, chore.
But then, he’s a guy.
See, as a guy, he finds these things dreadfully boring. As a guy. The implication being that women a) don’t find it boring (because they’re not guys!), and b) do it because they enjoy it. (The gender essentialism and binary thinking of this raise so many questions! If you’re neither a man nor a woman, can you cook? Is it a chore? If you’re a trans person did you magically lose or gain the cooking instinct? So many questions!)
Not only do women enjoy it, but we’re naturally good at it. Much better than him, a guy. So, really, we should just do all of it. Since, as he says, if you’re bad at cooking who wants to eat it? Isn’t that a nice little trick.
Be bad enough at something for long enough that someone else takes on the burden. Be bad enough at all the things that you find boring and beneath you that you can offload it onto someone else. Be bad enough at things and subconsciously (or consciously, who knows) view an entire gender as just far enough beneath you that they should do all the chores you hate with a smile on. Be bad enough at boring chores and convince yourself that someone else enjoys boring chores.
And then receive cookies and congratulations for writing about learning a basic life skill you deemed beneath you.