I’ve been thinking about stereotypes lately. Of course everybody knows the librarian stereotype–uptight, socially awkward, bespectacled, “older” woman, gray hair in a bun, fingers pressed to her lips in a giant “shush”. They are out there, this I know, but not so much anymore.
There’s a stereotype for almost any “type” of person you can think of, or institution, or profession, but what I’ve been thinking about lately are stereotypes in marriage, specifically that certain tasks are designed either for men or for women. Take laundry for example. I did most of the laundry for 24 out of the 26 years of our marriage. When I was in grad school for two years while working full time, my husband took over the laundry to free up more of my time for school. In truth, aside from cooking and grocery shopping, he took over almost every domestic task during that time (thank you, thank you, thank you). After I graduated, he continued doing it (laundry) because a) he seemed to enjoy it, and b) he not-so-secretly thought he was better at it than me, which I vehemently denied. Well, when the weather began to get warm and the outside needed attention, and since I don’t do the lawn tractor (we have a very steep hill of grass and I would likely crash and burn) or the weed whacker (stereotype!), I knew the only fair thing to do was to resume my role as chief laundress. And guess what? He was right–he is better at it than me. Not in the actual washing, which I seem to pay more attention to, but in the aftermath–the folding, the putting away, the distributing, which I don’t do. He had a system down whereby all of the clothes were sorted by person in the house, folded in immaculate piles and distributed to the appropriate room in the house for the owner to put away. Of course our kids loved this (“Mom, maybe Dad should do the laundry again?”), who wouldn’t? I loved it, too, since half the time he put my clothes away. I should point out, too, that our daughters do their own laundry much of the time, but not our son, not yet anyway (stereotype!).
I get as far as taking the clothes off the clothesline and piling them in baskets, which all end up in our bedroom and eventually end up spilling out onto the floor as everyone goes digging about for their own clothing. I am not systematic. This also holds true for dishwasher loading, cleaning, cooking (I’m a good cook, but a messy cook), and just about any other household task you can think of. Although I am organized with regard to our calendar, events, my thoughts (sometimes), work, to-do lists, and scheduling, I am not organized with things, nor am I efficient in the way I go about dealing with them. My husband, on the other hand, while not particularly organized, is systematic and efficient, which is why he can do almost anything around the house better than me. There. I said it.
I often hear women complaining that their husbands don’t even know how to use a washing machine, sort clothes, use fabric softener, etc., and it makes me wonder if they have ever been given the chance. Same holds true for grilling, although in reverse. Why do most men grill? Why do women cook more and men grill more? Is it more manly to roast meat over a flame than to broil fish in the oven?
My husband and I have always operated well as a team, sharing almost any task or at least shifting the burden back and forth over the years as circumstances warranted. Even when I was a stay-at-home mom and he was running a business, he still did more than his fair share of household stuff because in our view my job was to attend to our children not to our house, although he certainly attended to them, too (none of this Dad as “babysitter” concept in our house). I’ve never felt a sense of ownership about any certain chore and never felt reluctant about relinquishing control. Even when it comes to cooking, my passion. My husband can cook, as can my kids (my older daughter cooks entrees; my younger daughter bakes; and my son makes salad dressing and sauces), so I’m thrilled when someone else makes the meal. But not too often because it’s something I enjoy. And everyone pretty much takes care of their own breakfast and lunch. I like to focus on providing a nice dinner more nights than not.
I kind of see this happening in the library world–a reluctance to relinquish control of tasks that libraries and librarians see themselves as doing better than anyone else. But circumstances do change and maybe we need to reevaluate and figure out exactly what it is that we do best and what others can now do better than us and adapt accordingly. Just because we’re passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean that we can claim ownership. And just because someone or something can do something better doesn’t mean that we don’t still do it well, or with more heart, or with a different spin. I think it’s about finding your strengths, acknowledging your weaknesses, and letting someone else do the laundry if they do it better than you (although I won’t be giving it up anytime soon). Letting go of traditional roles means having more time to excel at the things you do well and try the things you’ve never done before.
Now that I think about it, the entire premise of this post is a stereotype or will likely be in the near future, I predict–the stereotype that marriage consists of a man and a woman. Although that’s not the focus of this post, it is food for thought no matter which side of the debate you favor.
What can’t my husband do better than me? Shop. I am the buyer-in-chief for gifts, clothes, food, and all the stuff a family needs. Actually, I am not particularly organized, efficient or systematic about that either, but I could make my way through the grocery store while blindfolded, and I can bag groceries faster and more effectively than any grocery store employee on the East coast. And I can detect a shoe sale miles away. That won’t be changing anytime soon, either.