[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. ~Pat Robertson
I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman. ~Anaïs Nin
Joni Mitchell is singing “Both Sides Now” on Pandora Radio and I am thinking of The Feminine Mystique and Gloria Steinem and protests and bra-burnings. We are cleaning the kitchen. I am wiping the table; Aaron is scrubbing the scum behind the kitchen faucet. Clara is pushing the turned-off mini Dirt Devil across the linoleum, trying fruitlessly but contentedly to suck up tufts of dog hair. I say, “I feel so free!” Aaron says, “You’ve been denied so much for so long.” I swat him, smile, and say, “Don’t satirize my liberation.”
Later that day, we’re in bed. I’m writing this blog and Aaron is reading two chapters from a book from school on discipline that has activities where you are instructed to inhale and say aloud the words “Breathe In Fun,” exhale “Breathe Out Niceness,” inhale “Breathe in Relaxation,” and exhale “Breathe Out Intelligence.” You can also, in order to feel ready for your day of teaching, pretend you are leaping over streams or climbing a high wall right before the children make their rowdy entrance. Laughing as he lists countless other baffling suggestions, I tell Aaron I’m writing, and he says, “But I can’t wait to talk to you.”
Earlier, I feel electricity running through our morning because it’s getting colder and it’s football season and because next week, Clara will be in three-quarter time child care. I will be, more or less, back to work full time, finishing a practicum at the high school, teaching four classes, and taking two more. Time will be compartmentalized once again, a la Ecclesiastes: a time to plan class, a time to field emails, a time to sing in the car loudly by myself, a time to pay total attention to Clara, a time to plan dinner. As I listen to Joni and then Patti Griffin and then Rickie Lee Jones, I feel a bouncy exuberance I haven’t felt in almost two years. I’m going back to work.
I love work. I love planning for class and I love the dynamism and energy I feel when I teach. I love proofreading my emails and listening to Brandi Carlisle while I enter grades. I love meetings and perfecting my Outlook account and trying to find a way to teach poetry, sentence structure, and media studies all in one three-hour writing seminar.
I also love giving my complete attention and fullest love to Clara, eating food with Aaron, and drinking wine and watching old seasons of Friday Night Lights with Aaron after Clara has gone to sleep. But I can’t do the latter (eat, play, watch) well without the former (plan, work, try). I think we all feel guilty about something. Some women might feel guilty that they would rather be full time at home than at work. I feel guilty that I like working so much.
Until I talk to Aaron. When we were considering forking out some extra money for more childcare so I could have some time to work without having to tell Clara “no pulling out the LAN cable” five times in a minute, he said, “Absolutely. We have to.” He even sold a saxophone to expedite the paying off of moving expenses from a year ago. He also says that we have to get another bun in the oven ASAP and get me back full-time so I can be a hotshot administrator and he can be my trophy husband. Or, he says, “You deserve time off to enjoy these few years with Clara.” Basically, he figures out what I want to hear and then starts talking.
He also does this early on a Sunday morning without being asked:
That’s right. After Aaron used the rest of the all-purpose flour and sugar in pancakes this morning, he washed the canisters.
He cleaned the bathroom sink.
After washing the Comet from his hands, he dresses Clara in her Sunday best.
Let me tell you about feminism. Feminism is vacuuming the house while your husband cleans the toilet. It’s singing along to the same songs. It’s the itchy, impatient, can’t wait desire to talk to the person laying next to you, and it’s a lot of “no, it’s my turn, you get the next one.” My female students love to qualify everything they say that’s remotely assertive with “I’m not a feminist or anything but . . .,” like they’re worried that no one could love a strong woman. But I don’t think the two can truly exist without each other. I think strength makes us love and love makes us strong, and together, they make us feel free.