I’m still reading the Vampire Academy books by Richelle Mead. And I’m feeling called to comment on her observations about the dichotomy of individuals–mostly female–who seem to fall into two categories: warrior women and domestic goddesses. The heroine of these novels, Rose Hathaway, my girl crush from last week, clearly falls into the first category. But one of the interesting aspects of these books is that Ms. Mead expresses–through Rose–some longing for the ability and inclination to be more oriented to the home and the family. And one element of this theme that runs subtly through the series is the implicit notion that these ways of being are essentially mutually exclusive.
Being a warrior precludes domesticity, maybe especially for women, at least according to Richelle Mead. And I need to give this serious thought. Because I really don’t want to believe that this is true, but, unfortunately, I suspect that it is. So, for today, the question is, can the same person be happy and fulfilled out in the world kicking ass and taking names while also enjoying pursuits closer to home, including cooking, cleaning, gardening, child care, and general homemaking?
When I married my husband, I felt I was very clear about my position on traditionally-dictated gender roles. I was opposed. With prejudice. He says I misled him during our courtship with protestations of delight in exercising my culinary skills, limited as they were. He claims, and I’m not commenting on his veracity, that as soon as we got married, I ceased spending time in the kitchen. I came back with the observation that I still enjoy spending time in the bedroom, so he should be quiet and grateful.
He encouraged me to take a gardening class (the fact that I needed a class should have been his first clue that perhaps my thumb was less than chartreuse). We had a conversation about cleaning bathrooms, where I had to point out that the bathroom belonged to both of us, and therefore it was not my job to clean it, but rather ours. Just as childcare was also a shared responsibility. I get so angry when a father refers to caring for his children as “babysitting.” When a parent cares for a child it’s called “parenting” and should not be considered a cause for expecting a medal. My husband doesn’t do that, just for the record.
Over time, my husband came to understand that I had no more affinity for domestic activities than he did, and that, as a result, we needed to share these responsibilities so as to balance the burden equitably. But the truth is there are people out there, mostly but not exclusively female, who enjoy these sorts of activities. Lots of folks like to cook, don’t mind cleaning, and delight in playing peek-a-boo with a toddler 100,000 times in a row. Not to mention those who feel that kneeling all day in the dirt under a hot sun is the height of relaxation and fulfillment.
I am absolutely not one of these people. And part of me really wishes I were. But the part that wishes I didn’t feel so wretchedly bored and put upon by domestic chores is at odds with the part that believes, like Rose and her creator, that if I enjoyed homemaking, then I might not enjoy my pursuits outside the home as much as I do, nor would I be as motivated to do them as I am.
Is this a false dichotomy? Perhaps. Can women bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan? Undoubtedly. Does that mean we have to enjoy both? Probably not. Now, I know that such people exist; women, especially single mothers, who do it all and do it well. And I also know there are women who claim to enjoy both work and home activities.
But these women, at least from my vantage point, are warriors on hold. It’s possible that before the house and the kids they were fierce and intense in their purpose, as Rose is. But domesticity is domesticating, no doubt about that. What makes us good at nesting undermines what makes us good at risk taking, a necessary component of the warrior mentality. And we can argue about whether it is the nature of the attachments that encourages risk aversion or the distraction of the tasks themselves. For me, it’s the dilution of focus that compromises my ability to kick ass and take names effectively.
Being a warrior isn’t just about war and physical fighting, although that is certainly true for Rose. Being a warrior is the ability to achieve difficult goals. It requires the capacity to focus on complex relationships and the patterns of many moving parts. From my perspective, domestic goddesses are able to focus their attention on many things at once, to keep many balls in the air at the same time and to juggle them all with grace and efficacy.
All I know is that I wish I gotten me some of that genetic code. I wish I could be happier in my kitchen and my backyard. I wish I were the type of mother who relished making Halloween costumes for my kids and cupcakes from scratch. Instead, I was the kind of mother who dressed up as Princess Leia for our Halloween party, wielding a light saber (and yes, I am aware that she didn’t have one in the movies) and leading the charge of 15 eight-year-old boys into battle against a drone army armed with laser guns. It was ok, though. One of the other mothers brought the cupcakes.