Here is an excerpt from an actual conversation with my husband.
Me: Hey. We need a lightbulb for Brigitte’s new lamp. Where are they?
Steve: I have some hidden upstairs. I didn’t want anyone using all the good light bulbs.
Me: You hid lightbulbs?
Steve: Yes. The good ones. I didn’t want anyone to use them all.
Me: So… uh… just curious…
[Throat clearing and additional pause]
Me: In this scenario where someone uses all the good bulbs, which of the Millington women do you think will do this?
[Pause while Steve considers my question]
Me: I mean, not to state the obvious here, but… uh… have you ever seen one of us change a lightbulb?
So let’s be clear here: I am a fully self-actualized feminist. I hold a job as a technical analyst in male-dominated IT. I am even good at my job. But for whatever reason, I place changing lightbulbs just behind “cleaning the gunk under the fridge” in the hierarchy of disgusting household chores. I can’t stand the touch of lightbulbs with their baked on dust coating. I don’t change lightbulbs.
In fact, last summer, I invited a friend to dinner and while he was over, I asked him to change some burnt out lightbulbs. (Dave, if you’re reading, I’d like to thank you again for doing that.)
I can already hear my feminist friends cringing. It changes nothing. I also don’t change my own oil, add my own washer fluid, or give a rat’s toot what’s going on under the hood. For all I know, my car runs on three magical genies. Yes, I have a mechanical mind. No, I still don’t care.
Our home, like many homes in my age group, has an unspoken division of labour. If we want a proper meal, I’m probably the one to plan it and cook it. If we want something fast and easy for dinner, my husband is probably the one to call the restaurant himself to see if they deliver. It’s not always this way. But then, I assembled the living room furniture myself when I brought it home from Ikea. The fact that there are exceptions in no way changes the outcome.
I don’t know how this rule emerged or when I agreed to it. I certainly see no benefit in running at it. But I can tell you where its seeds were planted.
Back in university, I had a best friend, Francois. He was dating a girl whose name escapes me. One day when when I was visiting his dorm, his girlfriend came in and said, “Francois, my lightbulb has burned out. Can you help me?”
Now let me set the stage here a little bit. Francois was a typical male of the 90’s. French Canadian. Very sensitive. Self-identified as a feminist. Loved philosophy. Was studying communication. His girlfriend was an Amazon. No. Literally. She was a competitive athlete training for the Olympics. She had muscle on top of muscle. She could have carried sensitive new age Francois over her shoulder and snapped him like a twig. But she didn’t. Instead, she asked him to change her lightbulb.
Off went Francois with the oddest look of pure, unadulterated joy on his face. It was downright weird. I have never seen anyone so happy to change a lightbulb. He came back from her dorm room carrying the offending dead lightbulb with triumph. He was a soldier returning from war after vanquishing the invaders. He was greeted with a hero’s welcome and his girlfriend returned to her dorm satisfied that her knight in shining armour had saved her from dragons. Francois sat there preening as she left the room.
“OK,” I said. “What the heck was that about?”
“The lightbulb?’ he asked.
Yeah. The lightbulb. I was baffled. Why all this fuss over a lightbulb?
His explanation gave me food for thought that lasted the next twenty-seven years. “Feminism has taught women that you can do anything men can do. It makes us feel obsolete. Changing her lightbulb makes me feel like I contribute something to her life.”
This is one of those moments when I’m not sure if my husband reads my blog or not, but I suspect I’ll find out soon enough, because since Francois enlightened me his need to feel needed, I stopped changing lightbulbs. I can’t think of the last time I changed a lightbulb. I don’t miss it. I pushed that task off the side of my to-do list like a cat sitting on a flat surface covered with … well… anything. (You know what cats are like.) Since I don’t like touching lightbulbs, this particular issue took no convincing at all.
It’s a funny thing being a woman who does not change lightbulbs. In a world where feminism has taught me to be unafraid and to break through glass ceilings and smash through invisible walls, I have consented to a gendered division of labour at home.
And somehow, my husband thought he needed to hide the good lightbulbs.