A Russian girlfriend of mine, Lena, is officially The Best Housewife in the World. She hoovers twice a day and, at night, after her baby goes to sleep, she peels carrots and then slices them into handy finger-food-sized portions and freezes them. In the freezer.
After my baby goes to bed, I don’t go near a carrot. Ever.
But then, Lena is the kind of girl who could send in useful tips for saving time, money and energy to women’s magazines. Do you know the kind of tips I mean? I mean stuff like, “When cleaning your doorknobs, polish them with lemon juice in order to make them extra, extra shiny.”
In fact, I go to see her one day and she reads the tips of the week out to me. I sit there, listening to her in silence, mesmerised, wondering, how did these people find this stuff out in the first place? What happened? Were they just really bored one day or something? Or perhaps they were, like, totally traumatised by the sudden, unexpected death of a very close relative. Desperate to do anything, anything at all, to distract themselves from the cold, dark pain, they started smearing the contents of their fridge onto household appliances, for example, mustard on the radiators, salad cream on the taps, and, of course, lemon juice on the doorknobs. Then, when normality returned, they went around the house and wiped all the stuff off – and suddenly noticed how extra, extra shiny their doorknobs were.
Lena, in comparison, is getting really agitated and going, “These stupid women! Lemon juice! Hey, Jacinta? They haven’t got a clue! Everyone knows you have to use apple-wine vinegar on your doorknobs in order to get them extra, extra shiny! Huh! I would like to see this woman’s doorknobs, I would! Lemon juice! Hey, Jacinta?”
I start to think about what tips I could send in. Probably, if I set my mind to it, I could save a lot of women a lot of time, money and energy. For example, skip dinner as often as possible. You’ll get thin, for starters. Give the baby a jar of ‘baby-goo’. But don’t heat it up, you’ll save on gas. Make him feed it to himself directly out of the jar with a disposable spoon. As soon as he’s finished, place the spoon inside the jar and throw the jar away. Someone’s not doing any washing-up tonight!
Or: if, when you get to the bottom of the linen basket, you discover that some of the clothes are mouldy, rotting and stuck together, then place these clothes in a plastic bag and throw them in the rubbish bin. But don’t tell anyone. Just pretend to yourself like they never existed in the first place.
Or, and this is the best one: when you discover you are pregnant, go and have a bloody abortion as quickly as bloody possible.
No, I’m only joking.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem