Domesticated

8 Feb

The other day I was on the Sparknotes site for Little Women, checking a detail I was wondering about *nerd alert*. Anyway, I came across an interesting comment about Jo’s behavior in her early days of acquaintanceship with Professor Bhaer, who would ultimately become her husband. In their blossoming relationship Jo, the ultimate tomboy and feminist–in the late 19th century, no less–“becomes nearly conventional, conforming to a more accepted code of female behavior. She darns the professor’s socks, for example, in order to show him her affection […]”

The funny thing is, this echoes a conversation I had with a girlfriend the other day. She was bewildered at her own behavior, as she had spent the day before running around whipping up a homemade dessert for a dinner with the family of a man she is interested in. “I don’t even bake!” she cried.

No, but there’s something in her that makes her feel she must. I’ve seen it over and over–friends who usually eat a bowl of cereal for dinner suddenly slaving over 3 course meals for their new boyfriends, or how many times did I see a girl in Bible college produce a batch of homemade brownies for her guy friends but never for the girls? No end to the manifestations of these primal urges to feed, nurture, mend, and clean. These young women knew that mastery over domestic tasks is an essential part of the package most men are looking for, no matter how much progress and equal rights our society has seen.

This can easily be seen in terms of “selling out” but that’s not always the case. I think sometimes girls shy away from such domestic tasks when they are single (and not yet husband-hunting) because they don’t fit with the strong, independent career-girl image they choose instead of the wife-and-mom route (sometimes chosen, incidentally, because no one chooses them). But when they find themselves in a situation where they must demonstrate their level of wife-ability, these domestic urges naturally arise and I really believe that many of these girls find they love the tasks and activities they originally spurned on principle of feminism, independence, gender role defiance, whatever.

On a related note: I’m still reading that book Mediated that I quoted a couple of posts ago. Later in the book, the author writes, “So you finally grew up, got married—or coupled up seriously in some way.” And I’m wondering, since when is getting married the key, or the initial evidence, of growing up? I know “grown-up” singles, and I know many married people who are still waiting in those wings. Maybe I’ll know what he’s talking about when I grow up get married. At a different point in the book, the author mentions how after college, adolescence is an extended, drifting time period because there is no longer a rite of passage or milestone looming, such as puberty, high school or college graduation, etc. So what do you think? When is an American person “grown up”?

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