Egg Sandwiches, Domesticity, and Gender

by Sarah on November 2, 2015

Earlier this week, I was at a writer’s retreat, and one of the other women let us know on the first night that she had made these egg-things which were in the fridge. If we wanted a protein-ful breakfast, we should just help ourselves to one from the fridge, put it on an English muffin, add some cheese, stick it in the microwave for 25 seconds, and voila, Egg McMuffin knock-off.

I’ve heard of this concept before, although the versions I’ve seen are often weirdly textured, unappetizing versions of eggs. These were not. They were runny and delicious and apparently super-easy to make.

When I asked her how she made them, she said, “You know how you see those things go around Facebook, and usually they’re terrible? Well, this one was actually great.”

And I jokingly replied, “I’ve blocked most of the people who share those kinds of things on Facebook.”

I know this is patently offensive to a lot of my friends, many of whom manage to hold a love for cooking, sewing, and hand-crafting their home decor while also maintaining a critical perspective on the state of the world and actively participating in challenging the patriarchy on a daily basis.

It is possible that I am just less complex than these friends. Or more emotionally burdened. Or less capable of accepting contradiction in my own life.

(In fact the idea that one can enjoy something which is also problematic has been a hard won realization and a battle I still fight every time I reread Twilight or watch basically any kind of visual media ever.)

But the truth is, I have a long-felt and deeply-held distrust for all things domestic, a conflict which many folks in my generation seem to have reconciled through a kind of modern reclamation. My friends and my generation are not the housewives Betty Friedan was writing about.

Instead, to quote EMily Matchar in this article from The Atlantic, “they’re reclaiming traditional women’s work in the name of environmentalism, sustainable living, healthier eating culture, anti-consumerism.”

As these are all values I support, it seems logical that I should be able to reframe some of these tasks through this new lens as well.

And yet, for me, it isn’t that easy.

“Women’s Work” or the Gendering of Domesticity

Gender is, of course, at the center of the tumultuous feelings for me around domesticity.

My mother, a brilliant woman and lawyer who helped my dad run his business on the side and who I’ve heard refer to herself as a feminist on multiple occasions, still did a disproportionate (think like 95%) of the housework, cooking, and cleaning in my childhood home.

While my dad would sometimes throw on a load of laundry or take the garbage out when asked, she did all of the emotional labor and planning that come with running a household.

And even today, even with my most feminist friends (of all genders), I have yet to see a truly radical reframing of this.

As Matchar says, “There’s much to admire about the culture of new domesticity. But… the belief in the power of homemaking too often overlaps with a weird brand of neo-gender essentialism.”

And this is where even this new perspective on domesticity starts to feel oppressive.

We’re trying to reclaim traditional “women’s work” by tying it in with a new set of progressive values, but we haven’t actually done the work to remove the connotations associated with it.

Dude-allies, I’m looking at you.

Furthermore, women are doing enough already, and we don’t have time for reclamation, especially when reclamation actually looks like even more work.

To me, the whole thing sounds like nothing more than a thinly-veiled re-marketing of the same ‘ol bullshit.

Just Me and My Gender

On the other hand, it’s easy for me to be dismissive of expectations related to my assigned gender.

I’ve always felt a strong sense of rebellion against anything that I’m supposed to do or be interested in. It feels oddly satisfying that my fridge usually looks like a stereotypical bachelor’s, containing some leftovers, condiments, and beer on its best days, and that my fine motor skills make things like sewing or crafting unlikely to ever become my preferred pastimes.

“Fuck you, assigned gender,” I think, rebelliously, as I purchase my egg sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts each morning.

Of course, because I like to wallow in complexity on a daily basis, I took a knitting class last week, a hobby about which I feel conflicted… and to which I’m also becoming addicted.

It’s therapeutic and relaxing, and I like having something to do with my hands while in meetings or conversations or watching things.

I can also likely get away with knitting in meetings more easily because it matches my perceived gender, although the possible detrimental effects of being seen as someone who knits at work are as yet undiscovered. I’m willing to take the risk.

But does this count as queering knitting, if I’m doing it because it serves a useful function in my life, and not because anyone in the world expects me to do it? It feels that way, and yet, I can’t get to the same place with cooking and other things in the genre.

Gender is not knitting. Gender is not cooking. Gender is not cleaning the house, or liking to craft, or wanting to have things neat and well-organized. And yet, sometimes the connotations become so oppressively strong that they become almost unbearable.

If I looked around and saw that even a visible minority of the folks in that knitting class, or sharing DIY home decor tips on Pinterest, or passing around the 15-minute egg cup recipes on Facebook were men, maybe I would feel differently.

If we were really all in this together, all trying to reclaim homemaking for the environment, and our own health, and to fight capitalism, then I wouldn’t look around and see only thousands of already over-burdened women trying to conform to yet another set of expectations and mandates on how they should live if they want to be truly successful.

And I wouldn’t feel like the expectations of me are different because of my gender presentation.

The Game Is Rigged

The idea that we can address these things on a individual level is a shared delusion.

Sure, making the egg-things means I’ll be eating a healthier breakfast each morning, which will make my grandmother very happy.

I also won’t be participating in the grab-n-go consumerist thing that is Dunkin’ Donuts and will reduce my environmental impact as well.

But at the same time, the problem doesn’t lie with me.

We perceive things as personal which may also be structural. And while we can change the things that make us feel better on a personal level, interrogating the structures can make change that makes us feel better differently. And changing the structures means that we don’t have to continue to fix the problem over and over again with each new person.

As Matchar says, “ All too often, the movement ignores broad social change (workplace reform, school reform, food reform, etc.) in favor of a DIY approach.”

To which I say yes, yes, yes, and yes.

As I sat at the writing retreat and listened to everyone talk about how they’re going to create more and better structures in their lives to support their art, I couldn’t help but feel angry that we each have to do this alone, or for the luckiest of us, with a few close family members or friends to occasionally lend a hand.

I’d like to believe that there is a possible world out there where we all have much broader bases of support, both in terms of larger community structures as well as societal level change that values things like artistic creation and spreads the domestic labor out among larger groups.

But right now, what we don’t need is one more 15-minute egg recipe to make women feel guilty for not doing enough.

Eggs Are Not My Priority

the DIY culture has some social significance. It’s an attempt to address a set of social and cultural issues on an individual scale. It has obvious value, and I’m not trying to take down anyone who chooses to engage in this particular set of ‘domestic’ endeavors. Some days, I wish I cared enough.

But that’s what it comes down to for me – caring enough.

At the end of the day, it’s about prioritization.

There are only so many hours in the day. And, as I read recently, we don’t actually all have the same 168 hours each week, even though the folks in power like to try to tell us that we do.

My mother was expected to prioritize taking care of us kids and the house. My dad was free to go back to the office and work some more after dinner. Leaning in will not be enough until this problem is solved, and leaning in may just be killing us.

So if I order takeout to give myself a little more time to get my writing done, and in the meantime also get to blow off a bunch of gendered social expectations and give my internal rebel a little boost, is that really such a bad trade-off?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Karen J November 5, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Hey, Sarah ~
I hear ya – it often feels to me like ‘expectations are still too high’ for what women are ‘supposed to’ do and be.
OTOH, we individually choose to allow ourselves to keep those ‘shoulds’ in our own psyches – internalized “Rules” that no longer serve Us, according to **our own** wants and needs.
Bright Blessings ~

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