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?
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 envyeven 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
"I made a really insightful comment about Thoreau today," I say. "Let me tell you about
"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.
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 Truth, Mainly
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 door 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 workplanting 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.