Unfamiliar circumstances — like the Coronavirus lockdown — have brought up old conditioning and stereotypes if only. I wish I had stopped watching all those telenovelas!
I consider myself a feminist and a strong believer in equality. I work hard and contribute a sizable amount to our family income. But during this lockdown I have found myself assuming a “traditional” female role of managing our home – child care, schooling, etc. while my husband prioritized his work over everything else.
After a week into our lockdown I started to feel resentment. I could sense my anger for not getting enough help. But then I realized I was also not asking for the help I needed. What was stopping me?
That’s when I observed that a part of me still believed that my husband’s job is more important than mine and therefore, I shouldn’t disturb him too much (I feel shame in saying this out loud).
I grew up in Venezuela. My mom was a fierce feminist and the most hardworking person I knew. However, as a child I watched telenovelas and dreamed of having a handsome and wealthy man come to my rescue. Since then, I’ve worked hard to become who I am today and feel pride for having created an equal partnership, yet there’s something that drags me back into assuming this female stereotype.
While years of mental conditioning may be difficult to shift, accepting that these thoughts and behaviors exist opens up a dialog and can be the beginning of creating change.
These are two things I’ve been experimenting with.
Learning to curb my sense of guilt
I’m trying to notice the first signs of guilt and speak up before I start to build resentment. If I’m feeling guilty for asking my husband to look after the children at night while I lead a virtual meeting, I remind myself that our jobs at home and at work are equally important. And that just because I’m good at multitasking (I can write an article while my 3-year-old is climbing on my back), that doesn’t mean it is ok or that I should continue to accept it.
Distributing the Emotional Labor
I carry most of the emotional labor at home—meaning that I do most of the “behind the scenes” work like planning meals and keeping the morale high to ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe. This usually comes naturally to me and I enjoy it, but in times like this I don’t want to be the only one responsible for planning school schedules and organizing nutritious and delicious meals for increasingly fussy diners.
When talking to my husband about this article, I realized the depth of the complexities on this topic. He values and respects my work and is a loving and supportive partner and father. We are a very good team. Yet, we both have to acknowledge and be more aware of the programmings in our brains— there’s also a part of him that believes he must be the breadwinner and therefore his job should be more of a priority than mine. These are the dominant cultural narratives that rule our minds even when we do not realize it.
For those struggling struggling to ask or get the support they need from their partner, I recommend to ask yourself why? This might be the perfect time to embrace some discomfort and have challenging, often “tabooed” conversations with partners, parents and friends.
My business coach recently wrote on an Instagram post “we’re trained to be voiceless as a strategy for getting what we want. Just lay here & be lifeless and then don’t you worry, a magical prince will offer you a non-consensual kiss, and he will just happen to be ‘The One’, and you’ll get everything, and you’ll be happy. Just be quiet.”
But we are Latinas. And we are not quiet. Let’s use our passion and voice to ask for the support we need. Let’s rewrite our cultural narratives. And when the time comes, let’s not shy away from being and demanding change, at home and everywhere elsewhere is needed.