Thursday, July 14, 2011

Training our WHO???

There's a word I've been hearing since before my marriage, and which after my marriage has begun bothering me more and more. I'm sure you've heard it, and wives, maybe even said it without really thinking. I may have even said it myself in the past.

"Oh, I'm getting him trained. He puts his underwear in the hamper now."
"I don't pick up after my husband. I have him trained to put his dishes in the sink."
"You just need to train him."

It's always about domestic duties, and includes the assumption that men are helpless but adorable imbeciles when it comes to anything regarding the functioning of a household, and that wives have the strenuous task of "training" them to become fit to move in from the barn and take their place at the head of the table.


Let's start with the least of my objections. While I may have a married, female reader somewhere who began her marriage with a thorough and exhaustive knowledge of how to run a household, I know most of us just didn't. We were brought up to go to college and have a career. We were not taught at our mother's knee how to balance the household finances, how to plan menus, how to cook gourmet meals, how to mend clothes, how to make clothes, how to organize a house, or the best way to clean it. Most of us were taught some of these things; I know no girls who were taught all of them. Once upon a time, I'm given to understand by conservative female bloggers, girls *were* given a thorough education in all these things, and it was the nefarious opening of the doors of employment to women that destroyed the traditions of these beautiful womanly arts. I don't know about that, because I've read plenty of pre-WWII novels that talked about housewives who didn't know how to do their job. David Copperfield, for instance. But whatever the cause, the fact is that in modern American society, most women get married without knowing how to be a proper housewife.

Which is fine. In modern American society, most women work outside the home and, as is fair, divide the household duties with their husbands. Ryan and I have done this. In fact, I counted this afternoon and discovered that I have been a stay at home wife for exactly half the time that I was a working wife. And we divided the household chores. I didn't always feel that they were quite fairly divided, but Ryan didn't always feel that my side of the chores were very well done, so I suppose we were about even in our levels of disgruntlement.

But this was also the time in which Ryan and I were both learning to manage a household. We were not quite both out of college, and we both had heretofore kind of had a college-style attitude toward housework. You know, wait until it becomes unbearably disgusting and then clean all in one day, making sure to include plenty of angst at how this house got so nasty and how the other person needs to learn to pick his/her s*** up.

We gradually became better at the whole keeping our house tolerably un-disgusting thing. During this period, I spent quite my fair share of being annoyed at Ryan for, say, leaving his dirty socks around. But let's face it: the reason the socks bothered me was not because I had a perfect knowledge of how to keep a perfect household, but because I had just recently come to the realization of just how bad the dirty socks made the house look, and had just learned not to leave my own socks around. My frustration was a result of *my* learning, not a result of Ryan's barbarism.

And a magical thing happened. As we got in the habit of keeping the house clean ... we got better at keeping the house clean. Ryan knows that the dirty socks lying around bother me. His socks usually end up in the bedroom now, which is vastly better than all over the house. When they don't, they'll end up on top of the table, because he knows how much I hate picking them up off the floor. It makes me shake my head and laugh. Does that mean I trained him? No! It means that we both have learned how to keep a decent house. Not only that, but when I keep the house clean now (which, let's face it, I'm a stay at home mom, so in a completely practical and unpatriarchal sense that *is* my responsibility), he's more likely to put his things away and not to leave messes. Does that mean I trained him? Again, no. It means that houses, like cities, are subject to the broken-window theory. And that I've become a good enough housewife to take advantage of said theory.

Also. It's not just that we've been learning together. There have been some things that Ryan has taught me about managing a household that I just didn't know. Like, I guess you're supposed to make a menu every week? Never even knew. Definitely didn't learn that one at my mother's knee. My mom just enjoys thinking about the feeding-her-family aspect of motherhood so much that actually sitting down to write out a menu would be as irrational for her as sitting down to write out a list of things I want to knit next would be for me. They're just there, in my brain, more projects than I will ever be able to do. Staring blankly at needles wondering what to make is as incomprehensible to me as staring blankly at a pantry wondering what to make is to my mother. But, as it so happens, I don't like thinking about food - it stresses me out. So I do stare blankly at pantries and wonder what to make. Ryan has been telling me for TWO YEARS to make a menu, and I finally did it last Sunday. And it was amazing. I suddenly knew what we needed at the store, and my dinner-preparation stress was almost nil this week. Of course, if I'd really followed my own system, I would have known that I planned for roast tonight, so I would have put the roast in the fridge two days ago and begun to marinate it yesterday, instead of pulling it out of the freezer at noon and putting it straight into the crock pot. See, I'm still learning.

So, Ryan teaches me things about being a housewife, but I'm supposed to be the one training him?

However. This long-winded explanation was the vastly less-important reason why this idea of training a husband is odious to me. Here's the real reason it gets my goat:

"Yes, I've really gotten my wife trained well. She keeps the house clean, doesn't bitch when I bring home buddies unannounced, and doesn't even ask me to help change diapers anymore. Took a while to train her, but I did it."

HELL NO! I'm not a dog! I am not somehow sub-human just because I'm a woman! I may be a stay at home mom, but that doesn't make me a little wifey-poo whose entire life revolves around keeping the children sparkly clean and the house tidy and the pork chops on the table! You did not TRAIN me! I'm a real person, I have dignity, I have intelligence, and being a housewife is not my equivalent of sitting up and begging for treats!

Oh wait.

So if it's not OK for him to say it about you, why do you say it about him?

Come on, ladies.


  1. Thank you. See people? It's not cute or funny when it's turned back around to training a woman!
    I don't train Chris. I ask him nicely to do something for me that makes me happy or makes my job easier. What I DON"T understand is when I explain a time saving tip like this and explain, "Get blue and white mesh bags and tell him to put dark laundry in the blue one and white laundry in the white one." And women look at me like I'm crazy and say, "Oh, no way. I could NEVER get my husband to do that." I just want to say...does he speak English? Do you think he's stupid or just plain indignant?

  2. Well, you know, I actually never *could* get my husband to do that. He's pretty hopeless about leaving clothes in the floor. I'm just happy they're in the bedroom floor instead of strewn throughout the house as he tires of them. On the other hand, he works construction. When he comes home, he's exhausted and sweaty and dirty, and he just wants to get in the shower as quickly as possible. I make it work for us, though. I dump my clothes in the floor too, and every morning I bring the dirty clothes into the laundry room, where I sort them and start a load of whatever's full. It really doesn't take any extra time, because the clothes have to go into the laundry room anyway, and it beats the hell out of all the times we were mad at each other because I griped about him about WHY won't he pick his clothes up, and is he TRYING to make my life harder, and DOESN'T HE APPRECIATE ME?

  3. And by "I could never get my husband to do that," I mean that I would ask him to do it, and he would either flat-out tell me "no," or the clothes would just still be on the floor. Oh, he speaks English. He just wants to leave his clothes on the floor. Of course, "training" still doesn't apply, because it's not like pieces of cheese would get him to do it. Because, as it so happens, he's his own person with the capacity to choose to leave his clothes on the floor or put them in a hamper, not a) a pet or b) a projection of my wishes and desires. I think that's a real source of frustration in marriages - I know it has been in mine. When I ask him to do something, I obviously care about whether he does it or not, but I too often forget that he's not bound or obligated to do it just because I ask him to. I mean, he could ask me to keep my hair long, and he would then be disappointed if I didn't, but that wouldn't give him the right to shout at me and tell me I'm a horrible wife if I decided to cut my hair short. Or he could tell me to keep the floor swept every day, and if it didn't happen, I would expect him to still accept and love me. When we switch the roles, it becomes a lot more clear that he's not a terrible person for not doing all the things I ask, even if they seem so simple and obvious to me.