December 21, 2009
I have come to see why the value of a woman is her femininity. The ability to serve, please, and preside, without castrating the gents, is close to divine.
For instance: “Tis the week before Christmas, and a light snow is falling in London. This is my favorite season. I am about to head home to Switzerland, like I do every year. A magical spell with family, friends, and festivities awaits.
My mother and I love to dress our Christmas tree, give presents, and eat delicious food. My father and brother don”t care much for Christmas, which is always a disappointment for my mother and me. They drink too much and scowl a lot. Furthermore, they are hopeless where gift-giving is concerned. (Though they can be generous when cajoled.) We do our best not to let them crush our Christmas cheer.
I am well acquainted with patriarchal conventions like grumpiness. Where I come from, there are many subtle practices that separate the boys from the girls. Roles are well defined. Equality is not much in our vocabulary.
Subtle things clue me into the fact that men and women are different. In my family, for example, men have endearing nicknames like Goofy or Rascal. Women are usually addressed as bitch, rather than by a first name, or some other more traditional designation. Last week on a note left to me by my father, he wrote: Thanks for nothing—bitch. We ain”t no cooks—bitch. We had to eat out!
As one might assume, bitches are required to cook, clean, drive, and exhibit all the most favorable feminine qualities. Additionally, we are expected to be skilled in typically masculine tasks, like drinking, shooting, thinking, and fucking. Though we are supposed to conceal these talents, unless by request, or if it serves to highlight the men favorably.
This is all good. First-rate even. These are not complaints. Having, yet concealing certain skills, is an asset, not a detriment. Only novices make a show of their knowledge and know-how. I suffer from terrible guilt on New Year’s Eve every year when I see my kid brother standing meekly to the side while I put on a spectacular fireworks display in our garden.
Doing women’s work doesn”t need to be demeaning. I learned as much this past week when I found myself for the first time, a woman alone in a house with nothing but men. Big, tough, men.
I was visiting my father in New York. My brother, my male best friend, and my father’s sensei were also at the house. I wondered if they would have survived at all without me and our dutiful daily housekeeper. I imagine they would have eaten out every night, the house would have been in shambles, and a roach or ant colony would have moved in, as none of them can manage a simple dishwasher or washing machine.
The first morning during my trip, I found myself in the kitchen. I was happy to have the place to myself. I don”t care much for conversation before noon. The men trickled in slowly. I could not finish my breakfast. Each one berated me with requests.
My father does not do anything practical, not even boil water.
The sensei, while extremely polite and unassuming, can only cook using his microwave, not ours.
My brother needs three female assistants to do anything menial. He often makes such a fuss about his obligations, a stable of women manage his burdens simply to quell his anxiety.
My best friend cannot charge his telephone without someones help.
By 9:15, I was ready for some retail therapy.
Later that day, I poked around department stores looking for pretty clothes and Christmas presents. I felt extremely fortunate, and proud, to be a fairly obsequious bitch. I don”t have to fight to survive in quite the same way as a man.