Standing at the kitchen sink tonight, I wondered how many dishes I have washed since my first sink full when I was six years old. That is sixty years of washing dirty dishes for a family; the thankless job no one likes, but still must be done by someone: the hapless kid whose turn it is, the person who drew the short straw, or the homemaker, also known as the kitchen cleaning facilitator.
Our dishwasher is broken, and if history repeats itself, there is no hope of repair for at least three weeks. It seems the only licensed repair person who is allowed to touch our delicate little machine lives east of here, over the mountains, somewhere in the Willamette Valley. And, he comes to the beach but once a week. He came here three weeks in a row when this happened before, each time with only some of the necessary parts, or none, or not enough time left in his day to complete the repair. Pleas for a speedy fix were met with a disapproving stare, and a remonstrative tone of voice that left no doubt the doors of negotiation were tightly locked. It did not impact this fellow at all that there were six of us in the home, eating meals at regular intervals, and requiring clean dishes to repeat said activity. No impact, none at all.
So, once again our dishes are being washed by hand, just like they were in most homes prior to the 1970’s. It was during that decade, and after, that things for women began to change exponentially. I still recall the joy I felt, especially at the political statement being made, when we bought our first automatic dishwasher in 1969. I could not get over how amazing it was to load that large, white machine with dirty dishes, roll it up to the sink, attach the hose to the faucet, turn it on, and in an hour be able to unload shiny clean dishes. In those days, my soul was burning with a desire for women to be liberated, and freedom from dirty dishes seemed like progress in the right direction.
Equality for women was such a reasonable concept and option to my twenty-something mind. I never felt particularly militant, but I did have a personal axe to grind. Growing up in the 50’s was not easy for a strong-willed girl who could not understand, nor accept the idea of gender jobs, male superiority, or male preference. It did not seem correct or just, and yet my experiences at home and at school told me the opposite. The standard phrase to my objections and questions regarding unequal and unjust treatment or expectations was, “But, you are a girl”, or “Well, he is a boy”; to which I always replied, “So what?” Did I mention girls arguing the time tested gender bias of the day was a guaranteed trip to the principal’s office at school, and a speedy, vigorous punishment at home?
I never yielded my position in this matter. I believed gender bias or preference violated every foundational principle of humanity, and I could not fathom why a female was treated with less regard than a male, for any reason. After all these years, I still do not get it. But, I did figure out somewhere along the way, I could not shake the whole world, and make it come to its collective senses. I could, however, make a difference in my small corner of it. I would teach my son and my daughter there was nothing either of them could not do, could not attain, nor achieve based on their gender. Well, there is childbirth, but that was a no brainer. They worked shoulder to shoulder in and out of our home, and as they grew, proved their capabilities in areas they chose and shined, based on talent, desire, effort and skill.
Finally, it does not come down to liking or disliking a job, or being a particular gender. As members of a community, especially a family, to make it work and function properly, we all need to share the load, equally. And, if that means our dishes need to be washed, and the dishwasher has broken down, just maybe we can take a minute and remember, as we wash those dishes by hand, it was not always as it is today. It took years, and dedication, and a lot of courage for our Baby Boomer women to remove those aprons passed down by our mothers and grandmothers, and walk away from the kitchen, thus giving everyone else the opportunity for a turn at the sink.