[OPINION] Do not domesticate girls
I meet so many young people who have not a clue how to cook, clean or host their friends and families. I know a lovely couple who have one girl child. She has achieved academic excellence. She is 25 years old and has been headhunted to do articles at an international firm.
Her mom says she “refused to domesticate her daughter”. She “didn’t agree with girls being domesticated”. With her tongue in her cheek she says sort of regrets this, as her daughter is now relocating to another city. “She doesn’t know how to make herself coffee and has never made up her bed or cooked anything.” I waited for her to wink, elbow me and add, “Just kidding!” She did not.
It may just be me but I completely agree with her. Girls should not be domesticated just because they are female. It is wrong and it is sexist.
But at the same time, I believe all children should be domesticated. They are human beings who must co-exist in the world. A busy world where self-centeredness, instant gratification, entitlement and often the inexperience of youth has replaced emotional maturity and functionality.
Raising grown children is no substitute for raising competent adults. So, definitely, girls must not be the only ones privileged to be domesticated and taught to cook, clean, defrost a freezer, make a meal of leftovers, make good coffee, draw up a shopping list, plan and schedule meals and meal times and where to get laundry done for cheaply and not at your parent’s home. All children should have this exposure. These are among the great skills of life.
My mum grew up in a home where she polished red concrete floors on her knees, washed clothing by hand and with elbow grease and newspaper washed windows and linoleum floors. My dad grew up in a home with a housekeeper. She cleaned the house, polished his shoes (he was her favourite), cooked and looked after the kids, while their parents worked.
We always had live-in domestic help. My mother had the four of us by the time she was 27. Our mother looked after us completely. Discipline was our father’s role, so we always had the threat of, “Wait until your dad gets home...” Those were last resort words and so we learnt how to tow the line, show up well-mannered and respectful, we did our homework, never back-chatted our parents and played together as siblings. We were encouraged to support each other and be good people. We regularly saw our dad washing dishes, wiping kitchen surfaces, packing his cupboard and our parents worked in our garden together, cutting the lawn, planting gladiolas and petunias for big days. Our mom fixed plugs with screw drivers, something our dad didn’t do and something we weren’t taught to do, because mom had it handled.
However, we were not consciously taught to be domesticated until we were in our teens. A nasty wake-up indeed. Although we had a domestic cleaner our mother cleaned before Betty came into the house, every morning. She was almost apologetic about letting her clean our home. I suppose with hindsight our mum appreciated what it took to clean a house. We, however, had no chores. Later our parents decided we should probably start cleaning the kitchen after dinner, at least.
It is terrible how we used to bicker and moan about doing just that. With hindsight we were the spoilt darlings I am talking about now, but only until our teen years. As we entered the magical slash misery of teenagedom, suddenly our now more experienced parents started questioning what we did around the house to earn our keep and the money we needed for socialising and outfits. It was horrible.
Eventually we had a little roster which our lazy selves drew up to help with cleaning the kitchen after dinner to make sure everyone had a fair turn, even the ones who suddenly had to study, make a phone call or go to the bathroom. That schedule remained inside the cupboard door until we sold our family home about three years ago.
Our smart parents started to measure our eligibility for going out one or two nights of the weekend and whether we could sleep over at our friends or not. So followed daily under-our-breath rows about who fed the dogs last. It generally disintegrated to a debate on whom the dogs belonged to in the first place. With hindsight it is hilarious but taught us about compromise, the value of doing your bit at home and the negotiating skills we acquired were second to none. Bribing and dishonesty were rooted out more loudly than just swopping the schedule around. We became fierce about equality and justice, a funny place to learn, but a useful awareness. Washing the supper dishes, drying them and packing away were chores for the 3 sisters, not feeding the dogs. Our parents excused themselves from the table, abandoned the debates and let us sort it out among ourselves. It was a memorable time as we are now in our 40s and raising children of our own.
What is notable in 2017 is the squabbles are the same about who must do what. Our choice is to say what has to happen and then leave that there for them to figure out. I smile as I hear the under-breath negotiating or the squeals from the younger ones about how many times they have had to clear the table and wash the dishes. Originally whoever cooked would seek immunity from after-dinner duties, only to be disappointed when overruled by the person who usually cooks (me) as I don’t only cook for myself. The other voice on my side is the person who pays for everything (dad)! He is accustomed to living completely independently and his example to our children is outstanding.
We have three sons and a daughter, nobody here has a role deliberately separated by gender. We all can and do what we have to do. Sometimes there is a feigning of knowledge but the skills are happily passed on by the person not wanting to do the job.
We also have a lady who lives in and cleans our home, does our washing and ironing and keeps our home spic and span and neat. Our children are clear; she is not here for their convenience or to clean after them specifically. A good lesson to learn and we won’t stop coaching and domesticating until they can’t wait to live on their own.
When they do, they will make coffee, meals, beds and friends. Nobody appreciates a housemate who has no concept of shared space, putting down the toilet seat, replacing the loo paper, packing the fridge neatly, airing the living space and respecting the people around them by looking after their things and not leaving them abandoned on couches, kitchen tables or hanging over chairs.
Again, beware not to domesticate girls. As adults your children, their partners, their house mates, their parents in law will appreciate your effort.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn