Teaching Okin or Bartky?

Want some real-life testimony on the way that distribution of paid and unpaid work affects power dynamics in a marriage (Okin)? You couldn’t do better than this:

We had been together 10 years before we had children, and they had been lived as equals. Suddenly, this was no longer the case. Suddenly, we had very little time together, and most of it was spent talking about his work and life. My future, my career plans and goals, felt sidelined by fatigue and logistics. The “flexibility” I coveted suddenly meant I was picking up all the slack and getting very little respect in return. Before long, it seemed whenever I raised a qualm or demanded help, he would say, “But I have a job!” I’d get upset in return, of course, but my voice always seemed to fall flat. Mostly I’ll never forget how degraded those words made me feel, nor how I stood there just praying that Julia wasn’t old enough to understand them.

Looking for a description that captures the alienation of seeing oneself as a thing to be gazed on and assessed by others (Bartky)? Try this:

In the past few months, she’s been understandably more needy and prone to tantrums and fits of her own. The other day, during one of her meltdowns, she did something I found so disturbing that my shoulders tighten just thinking about it. She ran to her room and stared at herself in the mirror as she cried. I followed behind her and sat by her side as she did, but that only upset her more. With a glassy stare somewhere between fear and confusion, she took to looking frantically back and forth between the mirror and me, and it was at this point that I started crying too. I realized then that my daughter didn’t quite know how to be herself, express herself, without worrying about how she would appear to others. It was as if our lives at that moment collided.

Both from one and the same article.

(It’s worth noting that the article’s title might make it look like I’ve put the wrong link in. I haven’t.)

11 thoughts on “Teaching Okin or Bartky?

  1. That’s odd- the link works for me. But I know Salon’s had some technical troubles lately.

  2. Jender, I end up getting the article about the girly four year old. What’s the title or author of the one you quote from.

  3. I think that is the article – if you keep reading the material Jender quoted comes up – I think it’s on the second page of the article.

  4. My daughter was very girly and feminine too, as a child. My theory was that this happened as a kind of contrast to my own gender self-presentation. I had short hair; she grew her hair very long. I never wore skirts; she insisted on skirts even for her very active daycare centre; I didn’t wear makeup; she constantly wondered why. For a long time we had a rule, “No Barbies in this house!”. Finally, when she was nine, my daughter said to me, “Mummy, I won’t become like that!”–so I got her a fashion doll. Sure enough, decades later, she is not a Barbie doll in any way. She still has long hair, sometimes wears make-up, but she is strong, self-confident, getting post-graduate education, working part-time, and in a relationship where she is every bit an equal.
    I think I learned something from this. First, to discuss with my daughter, in age-appropriate ways, the choices she was making about femininity, and to explain why I made mine. (Flat shoes are better for your feet and preserve the flexibility of the calf muscles; trousers are far more comfortable for me than skirts.) Two, not to worry when she chose a different mode of self-presentation. Three, to make sure she always had lots to read and to think about, and understood the value of education.

    In the end I had to be confident about my daughter’s own intelligence and good sense. It worked.

  5. I found this article difficult. I originally thought I had gotten to the wrong article, because it seems really unlikely that the daughter in the quote is 4 years old. WTF!! And it sounds as though this child has a very, very difficult life, at least emotionally. It may be that her image is one of the few things in life that seems at all fixed.

    Anyway, I think the whole story is very worrying. There are a lot of things out of one’s control, and it is very possible that one has a young child and one’s life is falling apart. That’s a form of hell. So what is wise advice in the face of this possibility? What could young women who are considering having children do to minimize the chances of its happening to them?

    I suppose one thing that is worth thinking about is safeguards and things you can fall back on.

  6. You’re right JJ. There’s a lot of disturbing stuff going on in that article. (I’d just been teaching Okin and Bartky so I was struck by the perfect illustrations, and though they might be useful to others. But I may have unintentionally minimised the rest of it.)

  7. Jender, I’ve relieved you think so. I was feeling like an old spoiler, but I didn’t take you to deny or even minimize this. I wasn’t sure, and I worry about criticizing other lives. Also, I think it’s an object lesson for lots of people.

    I could get very worried about how one can tell how things will unfold. I did myself marry a real helpmate and I wonder what part of that was pure luck.

  8. I do think, by the way, that one has to be so careful about bringing one’s theories – or really just general beliefs – to one’s children’s lives. We all have a tendency to overlook the particular, I do think.

    Introvertica above gives wonderful advice about children.

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