I have decided that I will never be a typical mother-in-law. I have a daughter who may grow up to get married, but to be a mother-in-law to a son-in-law is easy. In all of the areas open to female on female criticism: housekeeping, child rearing, familial relationships, place settings, how to make a perfect soufflé and the like, I will be dealing with my daughter whom I have promised myself to never criticise anyway so I will not likely start once she is a married adult. If in future, I am fortunate enough to bear a son and he grows up to marry, I have decided to never properly meet my daughter-in-law, at least for the initial years of marriage. Instead, when in her company I will don a full on black veil and remain silent. I will communicate via a repertoire of four hand gestures: the wave, the peace sign, thumbs up and thumbs down. I actually think I will never even use the thumbs down gesture because it could be construed as a criticism depending in which context it is applied. In that way then, I will assure that I never become the dreaded mother-in-law. The one who is talked about incessantly with your own mother and girlfriends. The one who’s visit is bemoaned a week before she turns up. The one who’s back of you pray to see on the first day of that visit. The one, in short, that is despised…The sad thing is that it shouldn’t be this way, so why is it? Why are mother-in-laws so horrible to their daughter-in-laws? Why are women so horrible to each other?
I think I know the answer to this and the first aspect of womanhood that we need to accept is that women are wired differently than men. Men are team players. Men feel comfortable forming little groups. Sure male groups tend to have a leader and a weakling; one gets looked up to and one get picked on, but their natural habitat is a group formation. If you have ever been in a situation where there is a group of people thrown together, say on a bus tour, a golfing charity event, or a new place of work, you will know that men easily size each other up and take their place in the pecking order. Women on the other hand, eye each other up and wait to peck each other’s eyes out. Don’t agree? Think about it. Way back when men were out hunting woolly mammoths, they needed to have an organized group based on preferred roles. Maybe some men had more endurance than others, some had a keener sense of smell, some had better aim, and so forth. So every male had an accepted role to fulfill and this made the group a working whole. Back at the camp around the fire women were cooking, tending to children, shoring up shelters and inventing language. Their ability to turn their hands to all of these tasks was probably a huge advantage in bagging themselves a good husband. Thus although women were working together, their role in the keeping of the tribe was dependent upon cooperation not cohesion. Anything that set them apart: attractiveness, perceived fertility, ability, skill would have given them an advantage in the reproductive game. Specifically, it would have given them a choice of suitors from which they could pick the best. If your husband is a winner then he is a good provider and protector, all qualities needed for a woman with babies on her mind.
Once a woman has the male who can support her during her reproductive stage then she can go ahead and get pregnant. Pregnancy in my experience brings out another main aspect of womanhood: threat detection. What is threat detection? Let me illustrate: I was living in London when I was pregnant and one evening I was on the Tube returning home from work. I was sitting down on the packed train and standing in front of me was a fellow reading the evening newspaper and listening to the music coming from his headphones attached to his phone. He had the newspaper in one hand and his phone in the other. His eyes were on the newspaper and his ears were on the music. His hands were not on the railing and his attention was not on me. As he attempted to surf the Tube home in a senseless coma, I watched him like a cat watches her prey. His every lurch towards me and my belly, his every hop, skip or jump made to steady himself, all spelled danger to me and my unborn child. I started to become more and more agitated at his refusal to hold onto the hand railing and suddenly, I had the most overwhelming urge. I wanted to stand up and snap his neck thus eliminating him – the perceived danger. This sense was strong and serious, but of course I didn’t act upon it; I am not writing this from a jail cell. This extreme way of looking at the world stayed with me through my pregnancy and even through the birth of my child. My daughter is now almost two years old and the intensity of it has lessened but not abated. Becoming a mother not only physically changed my body but also my brain. I think that I will now always look at things as either safe or sorry. Sorry that I am going to have to take you out in order to protect my child. I am therefore suggesting that woman’s evolutionary need to distinguish themselves and to protect their children have engendered in them a certain way of being and of viewing the world that although less applicable in the modern world still lingers on. Thus women are inherently competitive and suspicious resulting in aggressive behaviour. Time and Feminism have changed the playing field but they have done nothing to salve these aspects of womanhood, rather they have only strengthened them. When I was a little girl there was a perfume called Charlie. It had an advertisement on the television where a sexy woman in a suit sang that she could: “Bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.” This was supposed to signal the triumph of the Feminism of the 1960’s when women were burning their bras and protesting in the streets. Women such as Gloria Steinem were telling us that: a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Germaine Greer was calling us the Female Eunuch and urging us to reject the male establishment in order to claim back our sexuality, womanhood and selves. Women did take heed and things have definitely changed. Today in Canada out of 13 provincial and territorial premiers, three are women. In the USA a woman is running for leader of her party so that she might lead it to the presidency. In the UK parliament the party with the third most parliamentary seats is led by a woman. These are just examples taken from politics to show how much women’s roles in society have changed in only a few generations but what does that mean? Are women’s lives any better?
Absolutely not! Why? Go back to the Charlie commercial: do you know how much effort it takes to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan? It takes every waking hour and those are a lot of hours because you never seem to get any sleep, especially if you have children. I would suggest that the quality of life for modern woman is worse now than it has ever been. Give me sitting in a cave and having a fire-side chat any day. Women are now not only competing for husbands and trying to keep their children safe, they are competing for and trying to keep everything. Well-paying jobs in a job market that demands the same efforts as it does of men but pays them noticeably less. Daycare places in an industry that is overpriced, understaffed and simply not keeping up with the demand. School places at the best non-paying, government-run schools in order to assure their children’s future. Affordable, decent houses in over-inflated, strained housing markets that can be made into proper family homes. Women are not only competing with other women, they are competing with men and the world at large. It is a good thing that their evolutionary DNA has equipped them with the tools they need for this fight because without it they wouldn’t have a chance. All this fight, instead of bringing women together as it was intended by feminists, has pulled us apart. Don’t agree? Think about how we Western women look at documentaries on female genital mutilation and wonder how a mother, in honor of a tradition dictated by men, could take her daughter to get mutilated, but she does it because it was done to her. We read an article about a child of ten becoming the bride of an old man and wonder how her mother could allow this to happen, but she allows it because she herself was a child bride. Unfortunately, misery loves company and women’s history and lives are full of it. The equivalent of this in our societies is the harping mother-in-law who criticises our every move. She had a life of hard work inside and outside of the house and she survived to throw the perfect dinner party, potty-train her children by the age of one, receive her doctorate from MIT and discover a previously unknown plant species, so why can’t you. Why do you do such a poor job in comparison of looking after her son and grandchildren?
I personally am having none of it. I am not going to use my future daughter-in-law as catharsis for my life of modern servitude. In fact I have taken myself out of that predicament totally. Yes, I am a wife and mother, but I chose to not have a great many things so that I can keep my power and my happiness. I do not own a house or a car. I do not have a career or a business. My house is a mess and my clothes are all from ten seasons ago. I do not bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. I don’t even eat bacon! Instead, my husband is happy and my daughter is ecstatic. I am fulfilled personally and creatively. I have heeded the feminist call to reject the manmade society and reclaim my womanhood and myself. I have looked my evolutionary DNA in the eye and told it where to go and if I want to wear a black veil and communicate with hand signals to my future imagined daughter-in-law, then it is because I would rather choose to stand silently with her and all women than to loudly rail against them. If women would stand together as opposed to against each other ready to peck each other’s eyes out, then we could finally create the equal, fair, magnanimous world that we want for our families and ourselves. If we remain divided and conquered then we will remain over-worked, underpaid and constantly exhausted. If we keep trying to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan then we go to our graves without having ever really lived on our own terms. So what will it be, Sisters? A life as dictated by others or one dictated by ourselves? I know what I have chosen and it is your choice too. Come on, you can do it! Put down that bacon and hit history in head with that pan (along with the despised mother-in-law)!