Domestic Duty in the Desert…and Gender Inequality…Maybe?

My daughter Ramona, at Pritchett Arch near Moab, Utah, where we camped this weekend.

The Black Diaper Collective just rolled in from a weekend camping trip in the Utah desert with friends. 13 adults and 5 kids spent the weekend under the stars, camped below a beautiful sandstone arch near Canyonlands National Park.

Last night, as we finished dinner and settled in to share a few drinks and some s’mores by the fire, bedtime came for the kiddos. I watched as one by one, each of the kids’ corresponding mamas ushered them off to their respective tents. I heard one mama reading ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to her 3 year old, and glimpsed another mom nursing her 2 year old and 8 month old to sleep quietly. As I humored my daughter through her giggly last-ditch attempt to avoid actual sleep in our tent, I thought about how all the wonderful papas were still sitting out there, comeraderizing around the campfire, while us women-folk did our domestic duty.

Uhm, whoa.  Domestic duty??  I don’t even believe in such a thing, but that seemed to be exactly what was happening as I looked at the scene around me.

No, I don’t think that a woman fulfilling her role as a mother necessarily means that she’s submitting to gender stereotypes and societeal expectations.  Personally, I like to think that the two young families that make up my household have a particularly equitable and non-gender-biased domestic arrangement. Both dads are unemployed and stay home with the kids, while both moms work–and nurse the kids when they’re not at work.  The nursing part definitely makes up for the time we’re away at work, in both meaningful interaction with the kids, and labor-intensive childrearing.  And as far as bedtime is concerned, my partner puts our daughter to bed every night so that I can work on school, and my housemate’s partner puts both their kids to bed about 50% of the time, while she’s at work.  We definitely share the load, and I think we’re definitely creating an example of a functional family where the division of labor is unrelated to gender.  And just to be clear, I have no idea what kind of overall parenting style or arrangement exists for the other families we were camping with.

But as I watched all 4 moms all just get up and go put their kids to bed, with the dads lounging around the campfire, it just felt a little dirty.  Like a reminder of what life is like in so many families, where either the father is uninterested in childrearing, or is interested but just has never been given a good example of how to participate equally as a male.  Or where the childrearing defaults to the mother because that’s the only system she knows, and she grew up thinking that was her purpose in life.

And yes, it absolutely is some women’s purpose in life, and I support those women.  There are fantastic, strong, brilliant mothers (and fathers) out there who are perfectly comfortable being the primary caregiver for their children, and I’m so glad they get to do that.  But I think the women who were coming to mind for me that night, were the ones that don’t realize it can be different; the ones who haven’t had the opportunity to create a parenting strategy that equally involves each parent in the responsibility and work of child-raising.

I’m glad I’ve had that opportunity.

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3 responses to “Domestic Duty in the Desert…and Gender Inequality…Maybe?

  1. eric niederkruger

    I would like to hear an on the ground report of the same night from the “menfolk” perspective. Men will never know a babies kick to our uterus,or breasts engorge or lactating, so there is some grief. If you start seeing patterns arising on the trail, in your travels, its good to know that you can sit aside with your partner and check things out. Overall, the trip looks and sounds successfull

  2. Loving “black diaper collective” that’s awesome! How did you mamas handle working and nursing when they were littler? I was really lucky to be able to take my nursling to work with me when she was under one–she would never take a bottle so I couldn’t pump. Kudos to the supportive dads!

  3. I was lucky enough to get to take Ramona to my office everyday for the first 6 months, until she started to crawl. By then she didn’t need to nurse every 2 hours, so we just balanced it all out. Connie got to take a few months off after each of the boys were born, and she pumps a ton. We’re lucky folks!

    I’ve thought a lot about the “gender inequality” that’s inherent in the fact that women can lactate (and thus have a different relationship and level of responsibility with the child) and men can’t. And in this case, it’s a literal interpretation of gender inequality–not implying that it’s a bad thing, just a difference.

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