When Ken and I first married (eights years ago next month!), I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of responsibility. It was as if by signing a marriage license, I’d signed a contract for a slew of household roles: the chef, the hostess, the maid, the mother (eventually), the butler, the baker, the candlestick maker. You get the idea. The crazy thing, of course, is how self-imposed each of these expectations were. Ken and I both held full-time jobs in Los Angeles, working similar hours and sharing chores and giving and taking until we’d established a somewhat fluid groove as husband and wife.
And still, even then, I’d felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. With every wrinkled pant, I felt a similar fold in my heart. It was as if I’d painted a perfect portrait of a perfect wife, and our tiny apartment mirror – smudged from my lack of home ec sensibilities – didn’t reflect that perfect portrait.
Naturally, I love this project from Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian. Shortly after marrying her husband, she created the series to explore the expectations surrounding traditional gender roles. Household objects typically associated with wifely duties – from cleaning gloves to irons to brooms – veil the woman’s face, creating a skewed sense of identity and questioning the idea of self-esteem and self-worth. Where do our duties begin and our identities end?
It’s an issue worth navigating for sure. As a working mother who still can’t seem to remember to switch the wet clothes to the dryer or water the plants or tear down those wretched cardboard boxes for recycling, I’m often battling a bit of guilt for my non-domestic abilities.
But then I remember this: to me, a lazy afternoon in fresh-cut grass smells better than the lemony scent of perfectly dusted shelving. Cuddles from my daughter are warmer than laundered socks. Laughter ringing through the hallway of our home is a far greater sound than the muffled, productive hum of a fully loaded dishwasher.
I feel grateful to to be able to choose what my reflection looks like. And sure, my portrait might not showcase detergent or knitting needles or shoe polish. But it does showcase love and joy and creative fulfillment – lazy afternoons and great-smelling books and yes, take-out dinners. And to me, that’s a perfect portrait. Because it’s real and it’s true.
And it’s mine.
Image Credit: Shadi Ghadirian