Thursday, November 12, 2009

Women's work

My daughters were deep in the midst of an imaginative role playing game.

They have dozens upon which they draw for daily entertainment:
- Molly and Sally go the store
- Snow White and Baby Horse at school
- Rudolph and Clarice at the North Pole

Loaf is often delegated the boy’s role, if there is one, or the role of lesser importance. In a recent game based on Little House on the Prairie, Peanut was Laura and Loaf was assigned the role of Jack . . . the Ingalls' family dog.

She doesn’t seem to mind.


But I digress.

There they were, playing some game. They were chattering back and forth. I was off to the side, folding laundry and sort of half listening, but mostly lost in my own thoughts. When suddenly, Peanut, who was wearing a bandana tied around her head like an old-fashioned kerchief and a pint-sized apron tied around her dress said, “I will go pick the berries because that’s women’s work.”

I froze mid fold and stared at her.


Over the past several months, Mark has been reading chapter books to her – the entire Great Brain series, as well as the aforementioned Little House on the Prairie books.

While I am thrilled that she enjoys this time with her father and is completely enraptured by these big books with few pictures, these are tales written in an entirely different time – a time when men’s and women’s roles were clearly defined, rigid and limited.

It is good to learn about these times – the historical lessons are important – but I’m less than thrilled that the concept of “women’s work,” has been introduced into my six-year-old daughter’s lexicon.

And who’s to say it even came from these books? It could just have easily been slipped into one of the old Disney princess films, or another source I’m not even aware of.

“Peanut,” I asked her delicately, trying to keep my tone casual, “where did you hear that phrase? Women’s work?”

She looked at me with a skeptical grin. Maybe my tone wasn’t as casual as I’d hoped. “No where,” she said. “I made it up.”

“I’m not mad,” I quickly clarified. “I just want to know where you heard it.”

“No where. It’s from inside my head.”

Which I know is totally not true. But I decided not to press.

Instead I launched into an explanation of how roles have changed. How “women’s work” is a very old-fashioned term. How women can do any type of work—and for that matter so can men. I finish my diatribe using our own family as an example.

“Dad does the dishes. I take out the trash. We both take care of you and your sister.”

“Uh, OK, Mom,” she said, turning to resume her game. I can practically hear the eyeroll.

A few minutes later, I am back to folding laundry (and no, the irony of what I am doing as I deliver my little speech about today's changing gender roles is not lost on me) and they are once again playing.

“You pick the berries,” Peanut declares to Loaf. “I am going to sweep the floor.”

And then I walked up the hall, found a good solid wall and proceeded to bang my head against it for 10 or 15 minutes.

And the laundry? I left the rest of it for Mark to fold.

Let them watch their father finish it up while I’m in the office today. I think it might be good for them.

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Blogger Dorree's Dish said...

Love this post. Funny part is even though we have come so far with NOT having to play traditonal do you explain that to kids who probably will grow up much more open then we did through all the great examples.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

I love the old traditional books, but you bring up a great point about the backgrounds being very dated! Women's work, harrumph.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Momisodes said...

Oy. I'm sure I would have reacted exactly the same way. And left the dishes and laundry for Dadisodes to do.

2:19 PM  
Blogger alejna said...

I loved this post, too.

I think quite a bit about gender roles, and how my kids will view them. We haven't yet encountered anything terms like "women's work," but I have been frustrated when Phoebe has commented, for example, that Mommy is the one who makes dinner. And it's not lost on me that Phoebe sees me dealing with laundry far more than her daddy. (Ack! Ambiguity! I'm not bothered by how much her daddy sees me doing laundry...though maybe I should know what I mean!)

9:42 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Keep leading by example, they will get it later even if they don't now. There's not much you can do, even Little B says things like "pink is for GIRLS" as if it's a curse. I know he got this from school, not from us (although Frank might agree with him).

5:52 PM  

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