The concept of domesticity and what constitutes "a woman’s role” in a culture seeping with machismo never sat right with me. I spent most of my childhood rebelling against my stay-at-home mom, who would punish my sister and me for not doing our chores, but never forced my brother to cook and sweep the house. When she’d ask me to fetch my father’s chancletas after he returned home from work, I flat-out refused and said he was capable of getting them himself. Whack! went her hand. When she’d serve him dinner in the evenings, I’d ask why couldn’t he go to the stove and grab his own plate. “¡Mire, carajo!” she’d curse, and I’d walk off grumbling about female servitude and how I wasn’t going to be groomed to cater to any man.
Growing up, my dad would joke and say that any man who married me would return me as soon as he learned that I couldn’t cook. I don’t want to learn how to cook, I’d tell him. If I don’t know how, then no one can expect me to cook for them.
Fast-forward 20 years and I’ve had to admit that I love taking care of my house, cooking for friends and family, and doting over my significant others. I didn’t bother learning how to cook until I was off in graduate school — Mami had to guide me through her recipes over the phone — but now I get so much satisfaction from watching my partner enjoy something I’ve made. It takes me straight to my happy place to set the dinner table with all the courses I’ve prepared. I pat myself on the back if I time it just so that everything’s done right when he walks through the door.
But here’s the catch: While I like tending to my domestic side more, there have been times when that little girl inside me still wants to rebel against my actions. “You’re going to be expected to do this all the time now,” she’s said. “When was the last time someone had dinner ready when you finished work?”
Sometimes she makes me feel so conflicted between wanting to stand my ground as a career-driven Miss Independent and the side of me that enjoys taking care of others. Food has come to be the way I show my love much like the other women in my huge family. And when I’m not defending my inclinations to myself, I’m fielding comments from female colleagues who simply refuse to cater to a man because it would give off the wrong impression. When I once mentioned that I had to get home to do laundry for my partner while he took the evening to catch up with a friend, one said, “Oh, hell no! I'd make him do it.”
"What is he so busy with?” another asked. “Would he ever do your laundry?”
Eventually, what started as a selfless gesture became a string of judgments as I hunched over the sink to wash dishes after my meal and mentally ticked off all the ways he was lazy and inconsiderate. I was the one who offered and here I was complaining about the tasks I’d happily taken on just hours before.
Now I’m the one asking what’s so wrong about doing chores, tidying up the house, and cooking for someone. It’s made me wonder about how reluctant some of us are to admit we like doing domestic things for a guy. We yell out "girl power" and look down on those who’ve chosen to become stay-at-home wives. I used to be one of those women.
Perhaps it's the fear of setting the feminist movement back 50 years or being expected to handle all the chores in the future. Does it carry the same weight or meaning when you offer your roommate a hand? What about tending to your children? Do guys get the same flack from their friends if they tend to their partners?
Obviously every relationship is different, but I learned that expectations were the leading cause of too many arguments and frustration in past ones of mine. I’m stubborn and don’t like being told what to do so there aren’t demands, but rather requests to do something for the team. If one person is better at one task than another then we work within those preferences. At the end of the day, it’s less about how my actions fit in with some grander societal scope and more about what makes me feel good, why I’m doing the gestures I do and what will benefit the health of my relationships. And all of the above is made so much easier when you’re with someone who not only appreciates the things you do for them, but also gets joy out of caring for you.