This Week In Old-Timey Patriarchal Bullshit: Columbusing Women's Stories
My husband is a joke-repeater. While the phrase may be unfamiliar, the idea is not, and you'll likely recognize it before you're even finished reading the next sentence. A joke-repeater is one who hears a funny thing someone else has just said in a group, says it louder, and then gets all the credit for the hilariousness of the joke. The decent thing about my husband and his terrible habit is that he acknowledges that he's a joke-repeater and, when called on having joke-repeated, will laugh at himself and give credit where credit is due. "Ha ha, darling wife!," he'll jocularly exclaim. "So I have joke-repeated your flawless and golden humor again! I am a silly man rife with flaws, and I acknowledge that joke-repeating is but one among many. How you love me after all these years I'll never understand, and I am forever grateful for your continued affections!" Then we make out. And this acknowledgement is why I don't smother him in his sleep after decades - DECADES! - of his joke-repeating. Clint Edwards and the Washington Post don't get off so easily. On July 21, the Post published Edwards's piece titled "I blamed my wife for our messy house, I was wrong for so many reasons" in its On Parenting section online. Truly, it is a benign little self-congratulatory realization of the obvious fact that his wife's job as a stay-at-home mother, just as his job as a professional writer, does not automatically guarantee a magically clean house. It might even do some couples some good because it follows Edwards's transformation from an entitled critic ("Shortly after she became a stay-at-home mom, I started getting really judgmental. I started looking at the state of the house and thinking, 'You have one job! One job! To take care of the home.'") to an enlightened and understanding partner ("I stopped looking at the dirty dishes, assuming that they were evidence of Mel sitting around all day. Instead, I got up myself and started washing the dishes. I realized that this was not her mess, but our mess, and I started pitching in more."). I imagine that this is not a transformation that many male partners are not able to make as quickly or whole-heartedly, if at all. So, for any change that this piece is able to promote, then I say thanks for "pitching in." But the content of the piece is not really it's main problem or why it earned the inaugural OTPBS acknowledgement. The story's main flaw is in who is telling it and why that teller's voice and perspective is privileged enough to warrant publication. Every stay-at-home parent, over 97% of which are women according to the US census, has faced the choice that Edwards's wife, Mel faces: Whether to devote time and energy to cleaning the house or raising the kids. That overwhelmingly female percentage renders the story that Edwards writes about stay-at-home mothers facing unfair and undue judgment for having a messy home a woman's story. So why on earth was Edwards the one telling it? And if the Post was eager to publish a story about sexist perceptions of what constitutes women's work and men's work, and, worse, what constitutes men's rights to the enjoyment of the fruits of what have been traditionally women's labors, then why did they seek a man to tell that story? Of all the women's voices heard in smaller venues - conversations, parent's groups, online forums, blogs - telling the same exact story that Edwards tells on his wife's behalf (To be fair, he does quote her once in the story; chivalry is not dead!), why does Edwards's voice earn the privilege of being amplified by thePost? It is sickening to think that the Post assumed, correctly or incorrectly, that a male writer was required to legitimatize and validate a woman's story, and yet it appears that that was the unique intent of the piece. And, while I'm grateful that Edwards did come to value his stay-at-home wife, and thereby all stay-at-home parents, as more than a housekeeper, it is neither his story to tell, nor his place to tell it. It just isn't his joke to repeat. "Columbusing" is a new term floating around that generally refers to white people "discovering" something that has existed in other ethnic cultures for ages. Perhaps a gendered corollary is required to accurately describe what Edwards and the Post are doing in this piece. (Lovelacing perhaps? The grammar isn't parallel, but I'll be damned if we call it Babbaging.). Whichever name we apply to it, it is a prime example of the kind of Old-Timey Patriarchal Bullshit to which we should all say "enough."