I have talked a lot with friends lately about the weight of housework: not so much the actual labour, although that is significant enough, but the feeling of having a burden of responsibility for the housework if you work mainly at home.
I’m often at home. I have a great privilege, one not available to all women in all countries, or indeed even in this one, of studying full-time, and for a postgraduate degree at that. It is of course a privilege I am very keen to shuck off, and I hope to take my place in the workforce before many more weeks are out! This post comes out of my general frustration with the drawn-out way I’ve been finishing the PhD, but I feel justified in this particular whinge because: a), it’s a blog, it’s totally FOR whingeing, and b), because of the gendered nature of domestic guilt/endeavour is worth bringing up.
See, I just found myself thinking, “it’s not so bad if you don’t have much money to spend, but it sucks when you don’t have money OR time.” And the reason I was thinking this is because I want to go on a picnic, but you’re supposed to bring food on a picnic, and I can’t work out when I would have time to make any, but I don’t feel I can just go and buy a bunch of food to bring. And even as I’m thinking this there’s lists and recipes and places to go shopping drifting up from somewhere down in my brain, demanding that I think about them, plan whether or not to do/go/buy/bake.
But the reason I wanted a picnic was really just an excuse beyond loitering to sit by the river and read, and maybe write out a blog post, with only J. and maybe some dolphins for company.
I wanted, of course, to relax.
The kernel of the problem, for me, is that there is anxiety mixed in with the pleasure of food – is it the right kind of food, is it what J./friends/family would like on a picnic, does it look simple and easy enough, so no-one is stressed about me having put too much thought into it. I’ll let you unravel the ironies of that thought in your own time.
What my inner monologue doesn’t ever seem to say – and what I hope you, dear Reader – (possibly Readers, I am on Twitter now after all) would have already muttered at the screen, is, “who cares? It’s just food.” I can’t tell you how strongly it goes against all those drifting, jarring dodgem-cars of impulses I have in my brain to write that, to write “it’s just food.” Of course that’s partly my hedonism, my interest in food & recipes and food culture, but that pleasurable and defenisble aspect of planning for a picnic is so entwined with a feeling of – I suppose the word is duty, a duty to be a source of food.
Some of my friends and I have agreed that it’s important to fight the feeling that the housework is your responsibility, and to fight the expression of that feeling in apologising for a messy house, to visitors or partners (or in someone’s case, the cleaning ladies themselves- not to dob anyone in there). But I am going to fight against the feeling of responsibility for cupcakes.
I cannot arrange to meet with my friends for a picnic, or visit at their houses, without feeling, immediately, like a hot blast from an oven, that I really need to bake. Like scone-dough that you can’t get off your hands even under the tap, the feeling sticks to me that I must bring something, and that it should be homemade, because it’s more appreciated, more earthy, more tasty, more thrifty, and more likely to dispel the aforementioned fear that people will feel themselves pressured if I go overboard.
My feeling, turning the blog-lens on my behaviour, is that probably my friends don’t want cupcakes, and are sick of eating cupcakes, and admiring cupcakes, and having guests turn up late because of taking cupcakes out of the oven. My guess is, if you’re a mum with a toddler and people visit you or you go to visit them 3 days out of your week, then you must feel like Santa with all the hopeful pressing-on you of biscuits and muffins and cupcakes and cake. As a student and inhabitant of cafes I sometimes wish I didn’t propose to meet people in them quite so much, as one of us will always propose having some cake, and the other will always acquiesce, but if you catch up with enough people in a week (a bad student habit anyway) you end up having cake for lunch four days in a row.
And really, a domestic-guilt driven exchange of dainty cupcakes is not the metaphor I want for my friendships, I want to be impulsive ice-cream purchases, and simple weeknight pasta that can be shared by toddlers, and off-the-main-street Thai restaurants, and a heel of bread and jar of honey and leftover apples hastily thrown into a plastic bag on the way to the zoo, and pizza in front of the TV, and jazz club food that’s horrifyingly expensive but you’re too hungry to resist, and cold roast potato and garlic, picked out of an ice-cream tub in the fridge.
I’m not saying I forswear all cupcakes – they are very pretty, after all – but I slam the oven door on the idea that meeting my friends = I really ought to bake.