The Truth, Mainly - 03/25/1991

'High profile liberated' male speaks out during Women's History Month
by Leon Satterfield

March is Women's History Month and I suppose some men are whining about it. "When do we get Men's History Month?" some of them are probably saying. But you don't hear me asking questions like that. Women's history is important to me because I'm so sensitive to all women's issues that my friends can hardly stand me. I've so thoroughly transcended the patriarchal model of marriage that I make Alan Alda look like Archie Bunker. I'm a high profile liberated male. You want evidence?

I cook.

It's a big job, especially when we have people over for a meal. My wife follows me around the kitchen, cleaning up the tomato sauce I spill into the electric clock on the stove, scouring the inside of the pan where the lasagna noodles stick, scraping up the mozzarella crumbs I drop on the electric burners.

"What a lovely lasagna," our guests tell my wife. I duck my head and dig my toe into the carpet and wait for her to say, as she always does, "I didn't do it. He did."

Then I'm wonderfully modest while my male friends squirm and my female friends look at my wife with what I choose to call envy—even though I once heard one of them whisper to her, "You poor thing."

I've been doing the cooking ever since she became an elementary school librarian. It seemed like the fair thing to do. She spends all day riding herd on hordes of kids with leaky plumbing. Oh, I put in eight-hour days too: two hours in class, maybe three more reading and writing, an hour in jovial companionship with my colleagues in committee meetings or having coffee, perhaps an hour working out and showering in our gym, and an hour or so contemplating my navel and the pleasant scene outside my office window.

We both come home from work about the same time, I whistling, she glassy-eyed and shellshocked.

"I made a really insightful comment about Thoreau today," I say. "Let me tell you about it."

"I've had 120 little kids stuck to me since 10 a.m.," she says. "They're lovely and sweet, but they wipe their noses on me and crawl into my lap and wet their pants. I don't want insights. I want comfort."

So I fix supper and feel virtuous. Later in the evening, she cleans up after me in the kitchen and washes a load of laundry and irons some clothes while I watch something ennobling on ETV and think about what I can cook the next time we have guests.

Because I like to cook. I like to buy groceries and chop them up and mix them together and smell them and cook them and watch people eat them. And I especially like having people say to my wife "That's a great stir-fry," and having her say "I didn't do it. He did."

That's high profile liberated. Low profile liberated is what my son-in-law is. He does the laundry at their house and if my daughter runs out of clean underwear, she wears his. He doesn't want anyone to know this.

The question of who does the laundry in our house doesn't come up when we have guests. Nobody says to me, "That's a nicely ironed blouse your wife is wearing. What kind of starch did you use?" And nobody asks me what I use to clean the windows or how I get the dog hair off the furniture. Nobody compliments me on how promptly the bills get paid or how neatly the checkbook balances.

If they did, I'd have to say "I didn't do it. She did."

I tell myself we divide the household duties along lines determined by what each of us likes to do—or at least by what we can't stand leaving undone. And I can stand leaving lots undone. She's genetically unable to tolerate a messy house and unpaid bills, so she takes care of those things.

She likes doing yard work—planting tulip bulbs on her hands and knees, digging weeds out of her marigolds, pruning the honeysuckle. But she doesn't have much time for that after the laundry and the bills and the tomato sauce in the electric clock.

Outsiders watching all that might conclude the bottom line in our division of labor is this: I do the work I want to do and she does the rest. They might also conclude that I'm not as liberated from the patriarchal marriage as I think I am.

But high profile liberated males are always looking for new ways of being liberated that will be noticed. In observance of Women's History Month, for example, I'm taking lessons in Male Humility and the Operation of a Toilet Bowl Brush. Now I'm waiting for someone to say "That's an exhilaratingly clean toilet bowl. Who did it?"

Looking back on her own personal woman's history, my wife says I may have a long wait.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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