“I’m ready for marriage, my boyfriend is so lucky,“ she wrote on her Instagram while disclosing a photo of a cake she’s baked.
They aren’t engaged. They’re nowhere close marriage. The only reason she wrote that is that 1) she wanted the world to see how good a baker she is, which is fair enough and 2) she comes from a country that still puts a huge value on a woman’s ability to be a great housewife if she wants to find a husband.
The Czech Republic is one of the most sexist countries in Europe, so none of this surprises me. I grew up there. I grew up being told that if I want someone to marry me, I need to know how to cook, bake, do laundry, iron clothes, mop the floors, clean the windows, the list goes on. All of this while also graduating from a university, preferably with a doctorate, and working a job that makes me really rich.
I need to be an accomplished independent woman and a loyal cleaning lady/full-time mother/housewife at the same time.
No pressure, though.
Jokes always hide a pinch of truth
Saying you’re ready for marriage once you know how to cook and bake is a common ‘joke’ where I come from, which is why I’ve seen both women and men use it multiple times without any further thought. When I shared my observation with a friend, he said it’s just a joke and people don’t think about it too much when they use it.
But that’s the core of the problem. Because this joke is an actual reality. It’s where the lines between a joke and the harsh truth blur into subtle misogyny that’s randomly sprinkled between the lines of your day-to-day life until one day, you realize that all those light-hearted jokes actually strive to teach you your place.
If everyone around you says that a woman who bakes is a good wife-material, however light-hearted it might sound, you’ll eventually believe there must be something true about it. Especially if you live in a society where this actually portrays women’s lives accurately.
I have yet to see a day when a Czech cis-hetero married man bakes a cake. Or cleans his own household on a regular basis.
The only thing this joke does is to support the already deeply sexist Czech culture that teaches girls that they will need to feed and take care of their husband as if he was an extra baby, not an actual adult.
The patriarchy makes life hard for every gender
Although women suffer much more in this marriage system because the majority of daily responsibilities fall on their shoulders, sexism can affect men in a negative way as well.
Most Czech men from the baby boomer generation still feel like they need to be the main breadwinners, and it’s easy for them to get jealous of their wife’s success. Their egos are ridiculously fragile because they’re raised to be ‘real men’ who swear, drink beer, watch football and bang as many women as possible to show how much of a player they are.
Their culture is deeply toxic in the sense that almost everyone’s bitter about their wife in some way or another, and they want to drag you into this mess with them. They don’t believe you can be forever happy in a marriage. They want you to go to the pub, drink and complain together.
At least that gives them some sort of an excuse when they decide to cheat — their wife is so annoying, she always complains and is never grateful, who wouldn’t be frustrated and want to spend time with a different woman? All the men agree!
Well, she always complains because she’s forced to be more of a mother than a wife to him. But somehow, he doesn’t process this notion properly because every single man around him is in the same situation and doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
It’s hard for Czech men to be truly good husbands and find solidarity with their own gender at the same time. If an individual wants to get out of this mess, he needs to leave behind the majority of others, which can prove to be a very lonely journey.
Boys also don’t have many good male idols to begin with because everyone around them is a jerk, so they’re often not even sure what’s right or not.
Why we need to stop having traditional expectations of married couples
The whole marriage situation is quite tragic. Out of all my Czech friends, only two have happily married parents. The rest are either divorced or bitter about being together. I personally couldn’t wait for my parents to finally divorce. They were miserable.
The general divorce rate in the Czech Republic was 58.73 per 100 marriages in 2014, so more than a half of couples can’t stand each other to the point where they divorce, while the rest somehow gets on with it but is often unhappy too.
And things like this baking joke have a part to play. They show the division between genders and the impossible expectations we have of our future wives and husbands. A wife fits into one box, a husband in the other. If you don’t comply, you’ll be judged for standing out.
If you’re a wife who doesn’t have the time to bake traditional Christmas cookies, you’re bad at your assigned role. If you’re a husband who irons his own clothes, you’re failing at masculinity because you’re stooping to doing such female tasks.
What this does is that it creates impossible expectations of individuals who feel pressured to fulfil their role in society rather than enjoy spending the rest of their lives with someone. My partner is a better cook than I am. That doesn’t make me a worse girlfriend, and yet in many countries, I would be scorned.
When couples feel like they’re being forced into a certain assigned role, they have to leave a chunk of their individuality behind. They have to make compromises where they otherwise wouldn’t have and they can quickly start feeling bitter about how things turned out.
Having few expectations of what a “good wife” and a “good husband” ought to be would lead to more teamwork and less stress. Couples could divide house chores 50/50 if they both work the same amount of hours or do it in any way they like — instead of doing “wife” and “husband” things, they’d be a team making sure their household thrives.
Being a housewife should be your choice
There is inherently nothing wrong with having a traditional marriage, as long as both parties love how things are going between them. The wrong bit is the expected roles we’re supposed to take on. Every single one of us.
When I was a teenager, seeing only hatred and disappointment in all married couples around me made me think I’d never want to marry. It sounded like the worst deal you could ever make with someone. We promise that we will slowly begin to hate each other while forcing ourselves to have sex.
I only began to change my mind when I moved to the UK where gender equality is moving forward in a much faster pace. I wish that for all countries from Eastern Europe and beyond. Thanks to my new outlook on marriage, I can easily imagine myself doing more house chores if my husband works more hours — it’s only fair.
Would I do more things around the household? Yes. Would I mind it? No, because it’d be a deal that we made together instead of his automatic expectation of me.
Being a housewife should be something you choose, not something you’re born into because of your gender.
. . .
Marriage is a space for companionship. It’s two people who try to make it work because they respect and love each other. Being a wife should be a pleasure, not a duty that runs you down.
Let’s strip those labels of their old-fashioned meanings and let’s just love each other. My English boyfriend is a great baker. We both bake because we enjoy it, not because we’re ‘ready for marriage’.
Being a good wife or husband lies in very different qualities than your ability to bake a cake.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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