When I was 16, I swore I would never learn to cook.
It was a misguided feminist idea about traditional gender roles and cooking as “women’s work,” which meant I needed a husband who would dress in an apron and prepare Coq Au Vin while I sat on the sofa and scratched myself.
That’s not how life unfolded.
As it turns out, I love cooking. I’m damn good at it, and it allows me to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, prepared how I want it.
My 16-year-old self might have bristled at the division of labor in my household now, but my 35-year-old self is happy to forgo changing the oil and mowing the lawn in favor of ogling my husband while he does it (without a shirt, if I’m lucky).
There was a point early in our relationship when Pythagoras indulged my desire to master “men’s work” by teaching me to change the oil in the car. I was eager for the lesson, picturing myself as a badass with a lug wrench in my pocket and a pack of candy cigarettes rolled up in my shirtsleeve.
We purchased the necessary supplies and got down to business.
“See this cap here?” he asked as he crawled under the car. “This is your drain plug.”
I joined him reluctantly, wondering if this was a bizarre new form of foreplay.
“Ick!” I said as he unscrewed the plug and sent the dirty oil trickling into a pan.
As the oil drained, Pythagoras stood up and began explaining oil filters and viscosity. The lesson was mostly lost on me as I giggled over words like “lube” and “nut.”
Finally, he handed me a quart of motor oil. “Here. You do the honors.”
He showed me where to pour the oil, and stood back to watch me do it. I dumped it in, waited a moment, then peered under the car.
“How much do we need to pour through?” I asked.
“How much oil do we pour though to clean things out before we put the plug back in?”
My question was met with a colorful string of curse words and an understanding that this was not the way an oil change should work. As Pythagoras scrambled to put the plug back in, I decided my fantasy role as a female grease monkey was not all I’d imagined.
I haven’t changed the oil since. Though I could probably do it if I had to, I’ve ceased caring about “men’s work” and “women’s work” the feminist implications therein.
I’ve been considering this as I write LET IT BREATHE, which features a heroine who is the Vineyard Manager at her family’s winery. Though I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some amazing women in this role over the course of my research, it’s a job traditionally held by men.
I’m curious if my heroine thinks about this as she’s out there with a lug wrench adjusting the sprayer on the vineyard’s tractor. Knowing Reese, I’d say gender roles don’t cross her mind very often. She does the job she needs to do without much thought given to whether a penis is a required tool for the task.
How about you? Are gender roles a factor in your story or your everyday life? Please share in the comments.
I’m going to stare helplessly at the sink drain until Pythagoras shows up to fish out the giant hairball plugging it.