“In my next life, I’m going to be a man. When I’ve punched the time clock, I’ll be off work, done for the day. Go home, grab a brew, the remote, grunt, and wait for dinner to appear. I won’t cook. I won’t clean. I won’t do dishes. Mess, what mess? Do laundry? I’ll wear them again tomorrow. Fold clothes, why? Prepare lunch to take to work? Nope. I’ll buy something at the store. I’ll scratch my privacies in public and grin, think it’s normal. Think burping and passing gas is sexy. Then late at night, when the old lady has finished her work, I’ll get frisky. Yep. I’m coming back as a man.”
My daughter, she made me laugh. I’m of the last unenlightened generation of women who grew up thinking all the above was normal. And I gleefully cheered from the cusp as the world of behaviors between men and women slowly changed.
“Honey,” I reminded her, “when you met him was there anything in his raising that made you imagine life would be different. His mother was in charge of the kitchen. His father was in charge of the television. And then where did he go from home — into the Navy, not exactly a training ground to lead a guy to explore his feminine side. Get a grip, sweetheart. He was set in his ways when you married him.”
“I know, Mom, but I thought I could train him to do some things differently.”
“Yes, Daughter, we all thought that.” And why did we think we could change any man? The feminist movement?
No, it was literature. Fairy tales and fables, those childhood stories we drank with our mother’s milk. We grew up believing if we kissed a frog, he would turn into a prince. We had it backward. The truth is that we kiss the prince and he turns into a frog.
If I fell into a swoon and slept for a hundred years while brambles enclosed my palace bedroom, would a prince on a white stallion prance along, give me the kiss of life, put me behind him on the horse and ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after in a magical kingdom. No. Unequivocally, no. What I’d get is old. And miss out on a lot of life.
If I were lost in the forest, running from the wicked queen with the poison apple and found shelter in a wee little house with seven wee little men, would that elusive prince find me, rescue me and restore me to my true queenly place in life. No, I’d keep on being a drudge to seven little men, without pay.
We women bought the romantic myth of being discovered when all seems lost, that a man would battle his way across deserts and over treacherous mountain passes to claim his one true love. Women love this myth, the quiet, conforming “good” girl gets the hero while the “fast” woman, the temptress, stumbles and falls into a pit. It’s the same story as the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise never wins the race. It is pretty to think that way but it is a lie. The hare always wins.
We grew up believing these stories, these lies. Who wrote them? Men. Hans Christian Anderson. The Brothers Grimm. Aesop. All these writings are types of romance novels. They were written for a niche market. Women.
And in all fairness, I suppose it is the same for men. For sure no man wants to get stuck with the wicked witch. However, the only true childhood story, the one that makes sense, is Br’er Rabbit. “No, no, not the briar patch. Don’t throw me into the briar patch.” But of course, that is where the fox throws Br’er Rabbit, right into the thicket where he was born and bred. He knows every twist and turn through the brambles and scrambles to safety. But this clever Uncle Remus folk story, popularized by Joel Chandler Harris, was never held up as a model for women. We eventually learn to tell the difference between foxes, toads and princes.
No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. I know women who are handy with wrenches and men who love to take over the kitchen. In today’s world, and I applaud, there generally is a more equitable division of labor between partners. That might mean more “prince” days than “toad” days. That’s OK by me. I recognize my own “witch” days.
But on those days, my girl, when you find you’re pulling the wagon in tandem with Mr. Macho, might as well finish the dishes, bathe the kids and tuck them in, grab a romance novel and lose yourself in the fairy tale.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She found, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she's headed on a new journey. She moved to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)