Sunday, November 29, 2015
My kitchen at home is small. It barely fits three people actively cooking, so Thanksgiving with all 14 attendees is kind of stressful. Three nuclear family sets and one pair of grandparents regularly come to my family’s Thanksgiving, including my own nuclear family set. Among the youngest generation, I’m the only girl, but also the oldest.
Once everyone has arrived and has begun preparing the food and place settings, regular roles set into place. My mom, aunts, and grandma work in the kitchen or hover around near the kitchen occasionally offering a hand. My dad does the turkey work and navigates, stressed out by the full room, around the others as he handles food. My uncles and grandpa watch football. Once I was old enough to be distinguished as a girl and not just another kid, I kind of faced the difficult choice of abandoning my mother to her closest relatives and the housework, or helping with the housework. As a girl and a capable not-child, I felt like I was shirking if I wasn’t helping. The kitchen was also the best place to be, as hanging out with five younger boys tackling each other didn’t really appeal to me, and even at the height of my “I’m not feminine like uncool girls, I have internalized misogyny” phase, I couldn’t sit still long enough for the football men to reset the football game every two seconds when the ball hit the ground. As a human being, though, I didn’t really want to do housework. I kind of floated around doing the bare minimum of work for a while, until my brother also became of capable not-child age.
The effect of seeing men in the roles they took kind of sharpened as the cousins also grew up a little. The oldest boy, a cousin a few months older than my brother, has never once even pretended to help or be interested in helping in the kitchen. My younger brother, however, took his role more gracefully than even I did, taking drink orders and helping me sort silverware. The two of us grew up around my dad, who did more than half of the household chores while my mom went to her fulltime job. The idea of what a man is supposed to be was varied in our eyes, and allowed to more generic traits of what a good person should be to slip into the definition. We knew we should both be unequivocally helpful to our stressed-out parents, whereas the other cousins and uncles kind of slipped into their roles of not-cooking. The masculine route was also the easy route, which made it difficult to encourage questioning gender roles.
Masculinity was gruff, reticent football watching, and femininity was chattering dishwashing. Ever since I’ve been old enough to be expected to help wash dishes, this has annoyed me.