I remember when I first became a feminist. At the very least when I first became engrossed in feminist literature and spaces. I suppose I had always been a feminist, but this was different. I suppose I came to feminism with a lot of angst.
As many a young woman feels when they leave the comfort of childhood and become a young adult who realises that the odds are stacked heavily against them as a result of their womanhood.
In any case I had a lot of anger and deservedly so. I also had all the unbridled passion of my twenties and time to argue needlessly with strangers on Facebook on gender roles and their harm.
I have mellowed a little in my angst. I still detest gender roles both for men and women as they do not allow people to be fully themselves but instead box them in. In my twenties at the height of my “feminists’ ideologies” I looked at all the things I was expected to do because I was a girl with distaste.
To ask me to dish up for my male cousins at family gatherings was tantamount to insulting me with my mother’s privates. After all, why should I have to serve grown men with hands? I would tell all who were willing to listen that I did not exist to serve men.
Instead, I would sit under the tree with a glass of wine and convince my aunts to join the movement. Thankfully I come from a family that has always allowed me full expression and even entertained my folly.
I would not be caught dead cooking for a man. I would not clean up a boyfriend’s place even if it was a mess that I had created, and God forbid he expected to have food dished up at my place. Overall, I would not do anything for a man I felt he expected of me because I was a woman.
I of course expected men to do for me all the things that are expected of their gender. The men in my life often indulged me. Perhaps I have always had good men in my life, or I am particularly persuasive, but I soon developed a reputation as a diva. Both in romantic relationships and amongst family.
The change in my attitude on gender roles came about when a cousin agreed that yes, it was okay for me to sit and drink my wine and not dish up for them at a gathering. For this, he said he would also sit with me and make conversation as he drank his beer.
I could chop my own wood and braai my own meat. A sensible exchange he insisted. If he was a grown man with capable hands, so was I.
Since I could do all that, he could then I should be put to test. I found his suggestion unfair and abusive. My long nails and generally lazy demeanour not being suited to the chopping of wood.
I cook and dish up for my male cousins now, sometimes even for men with whom I am romantically involved. This is because I realised that the men in my life actually perform a lot of gendered work for me.
The chopping of wood. Carrying my bags. I have a cousin who once drove to get me electricity in the middle of a rainy night because I am much too fragile a creature to do it myself.
I have not changed my stance on gender roles. I still want to live in a world where work is not gendered. I have however come to accept that at a certain age we have been socialized a certain way from birth and it is easier to just do some things.
I am 30 years old. I am way too old to learn how to start a fire. To be honest, I do not want to know. Manicures are expensive and I like my nails a certain way.
The men I date are normally in their late thirties and above. They can try to cook but most are bad at it and I am a much better cook. My male cousins are often too tired from putting up tents so I can have shade at gatherings and burning themselves with fire for my comfort so a little dishing up from me is not serving but rather a display of love and they do so much for me so I am happy to pamper them a little.
I do hope that the generations that come after me are socialized differently. I am very active in instilling this with them. Cooking and other domestic work should be done by those who are good at them and enjoy them not as a matter of gender. As should be the case with traditional male pursuits.
To quote Chimamanda, “The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina” but so does the knowledge to chop wood, it does not come with a penis. So, while I hope the next generation of women will be self-sufficient and lift their own heavy loads, I most decidedly am not the one.
I am willing to trade hot meals for the comfort of having a man do the heavy work. Does that make me a bad feminist? Not at all, it makes me the perfect feminist. It is after all a movement based on choice and I choose the beauty of my nails above all.