AS I was growing up, the feminist movement puzzled me. I could understand why a woman might want to prove something by getting a job in an area that was traditionally male dominated. But advocates from the movement made it plain that liberation for women also meant liberation for men. They believed that men needed to be freed from stereotypes about themselves just as much as women did. I think I understood this intellectually. But theory was never correlated with practice. The practical aspects of this ``liberation'' were brought home to me by a modest (on a cosmic scale) but poignant event. I lost my job.Skip to next paragraph
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With only two weeks' severance and little savings, I had no choice but to switch roles with my wife until I found another position. She would take temporary work (she's an expert in word processing) and I would stay home with our preschool daughter.
After a week passed, I told my wife that I didn't think I could hack it. I was sure the women in the supermarket were giving me weird looks as I wheeled our daughter around in a grocery cart. And the neighbors kept seeing me outside pushing her in the stroller. I was sure tongues were wagging and my masculinity was being challenged. In addition, watching over a youngster in perpetual motion was wearing me out.
My wife took it all very seriously. ``Oh, pooh,'' she said. ``The neighbors and grocery store ladies probably think you're on vacation. Besides, lots of men go shopping and help out with child care. You're really very fortunate to have this time at home with our daughter. It's an important stage in her development and you're able to be part of that. Aren't you pleased?''
Now I have to admit that I'm the product of a home in which my dad went off to work while my mom stayed home and took care of all the domestic chores. Dad did help with the dishes, however, and would sometimes pitch in with the cleaning. But by and large, the working father and homemaking mother were our neighborhood's norm. None of us were latchkey children and none of us came from a single-parent home. Ours was a world clearly defined by a traditional division of labor between men and women, and none of us could even conceive of what a reversal would be like.
As a couple of weeks passed, however, I found my new role becoming very agreeable. I felt less anxious about not being part of a time-intensive schedule imposed by an 8-to-5 job. Time, in fact, was becoming less a measurement of accomplishment (or nonaccomplishment) and more a point of reference among a network of interrelated and nurturing activities.
An agreeable side benefit of this situation was my wife's and my growing appreciation for each other's usual roles. As the Indians would say, ``Before you judge another, walk a mile in his moccasins.''
``Now I'm beginning to understand why you'd come home from work so whacked out,'' she announced one evening. ``Right now I don't feel like doing anything except reading the paper and relaxing on the couch. By the way, what's for dinner?''
``Tamale Pie,'' I answered. It was the result of an inspired idea I had after picking up four pounds of hamburger that had been marked down half-price at the local supermarket. I had been out shopping earlier that day and, in addition to scooping up the bargain hamburger, had scored a coupon coup by redeeming $3.30 worth of coupons on $17.60 worth of groceries.