Sunday: Soapmaking and sexism
Last December, Ken and I went with some friends to a soap-making workshop. It was a lot of fun; we all experimented with different colours and scents, and ended up with about 36 bars, which in soap years will take us to retirement. But then, not long ago, the soap instructor messaged me to say that I’d won the draw for a free soap-making session. I wasn’t surprised because I hardly ever win anything, but when I do, it’s always soap-related. For example, a few months ago, my Lancôme lady Lisa called to say I won a gift basket in a draw, and I was super-excited until I got said gift basket, which was made up of dish soap and hand soap from Cuchina (an upscale kitchen store), and was NOT make-up, perfume, or fancy cream. Honestly, if Lotto Max prize was soap instead of millions of dollars, I’m pretty certain I would win the lottery every week. And instead of a giant cheque, I’d be presented with a humungous bar of soap to go with all the other soap I won. But making your own soap is actually fun, and I wanted to do it, but it was with other people I didn’t know. That was a problem because I’m really awful at making small talk with strangers. Actually, that’s not exactly true—I can MAKE the small talk, but I FEEL awful about it. Then Ken said he would go with me, or more accurately, I told him that WE had won a free-soapmaking session and that we just had to pay for him.
On Sunday, we discussed in the car what kind of soap we each wanted to make. I was going to make something with lavender flowers, and maybe something I could put away until Christmas, because everyone loves soap as a Christmas gift, am I right? Ken tossed around a few ideas, but wanted to wait until we got there to decide. Ken is very creative, and his previous batch of black and lime green “Peppermint Licorice Swirl” was a big hit with the family. We were the first to arrive, and were told we were waiting for three other women. Now before I start the rest of this story, let me say upfront that I’ve never give any real thought to “reverse sexism”. The whole notion of “what men should do/wear/like” versus what women should do/wear/like is pretty foreign to me. I grew up with a dad who was a toolmaker by trade, then a machine shop teacher, a pretty “manly”, Scotch-loving guy, but he also took me to my first symphony when I was six (I fell asleep–sorry about that, Dad, but Brahms?), and taught me the difference between Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo’s opera voices, and never once in my living memory told me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. My father-in-law was a dairy farmer his whole life, but he’s also an avid photographer, and spends his spare time experimenting with glass-fusing—he even has his own kiln. My brother, a lawyer with a PhD, can be pretty fierce in court, but he loves his garden, sings to his son, and came with me once for a pedicure. And Ken? Ken is the most creative person I’ve ever met. He has amazing spatial perception and can build me anything I asked him to, he writes poetry, and he’s been known to spend hours taking photographs of the way the light reflects off the Christmas tree ornaments. So, long story short, it would never even occur to me that a soapmaking class is somewhere a guy SHOULDN’T be. Then the other women came in, and the first thing one of them (I’m going to call her ‘Babs’) said was, “Oh my god! How did you get your husband to come with you? MY husband would never come to something like this!”
How do you even respond to that? Of course, I didn’t get it right away. My first thought was that maybe he was allergic to soap, or had some kind of physical disability which would prevent him from participating. I was about to ask, in all sincerity, “Is there something wrong with him?”, when I realized that she was actually implying that there was something wrong with MY husband for being there. She didn’t say it in a wistful kind of way, like “I wish MY husband enjoyed hanging out with me and liked doing fun stuff like this.” No, it was more like she was being very judge-y. It pissed me off, but I didn’t know her at all, so I just looked at Ken, who was happily choosing his colours and scents for “Lemon Poppyseed Loaf” (see photograph below, the yellow-y one), smiled tightly and said, “He’s very good at soap.” Yes, I know it was a sh*tty comeback, but what was I going to say? “Your husband sounds like a dick” would have been appropriate, but then again a) maybe Babs never even asked him to come and he might have said “Yes” if she had and b) I didn’t want to get kicked out of soap class for being a sweary trouble-maker.
Then we started doing the mixing, and everyone was having fun, so I let the whole thing go. Two of the great things about our instructor are that she always mixes up the lye for you so that you don’t accidentally scorch your lungs, and that she loves to experiment and has all kinds of weird stuff that you can put in or on your bars, like coffee grounds for exfoliating, or flower petals for texture, or sparkles just to make it look interesting. Which is where Bab’s reverse sexism reared its ugly head once again. She was making a blue and green conglomeration for her sons with a scent called “Monkey Farts” (I know right? But it smells like candy, and if that’s what monkey flatulence actually smells like, then I want a monkey even more than I did before). The instructor offered her some blue sparkles, and she responded,
“They would never use soap with GLITTER on it!”
One of the other women said, “But glitter is fun. It would look great with the blue and green.”
Babs was relentless. “You don’t understand,” she insisted. “They’re REAL boys. There’s no way they’d touch it if I put glitter on it.”
I wanted to say, “They can’t be that real if they actually pay attention to the soap they’re using. If you can actually get them in the shower in the first place without a fight, who gives a sh*t about the soap?” (This might sound like a little reverse sexism of my own, but it’s based on my experiences with T when he was around the same age. And from what the mothers of other 13 year-olds have told me, apparently the girls can be just as willing as the boys to go three days without a shower, so it’s simply a phase which has nothing to do with gender. In fact, I still remember T telling me, “I don’t need a shower. My clothes are clean.”) But I was genuinely appalled by Babs’s attitude. Sure, women have had a lot to put up with through the ages, but I honestly believe that there will never be equality between the sexes until men stop being told that wearing pink makes them “girly” or that doing something creative is helping them get in touch with their “feminine side”. To me, this is just as bad as calling a girl a “tomboy” for NOT wanting to wear frilly dresses. Would you ever tell a woman that being a mechanic is helping her get in touch with her masculine side? I’m not blind to certain realities—boys and girls are sometimes predisposed to certain behaviours and activities. I tried really hard to make T play with dolls when he was little, but no matter what I gave him, he just turned it upside down and made Vroom Vroom noises with it. But that didn’t make him a REAL boy any more than thinking that glitter is cool makes a man less than a man. I mean, where would the world be today if David Bowie hadn’t liked glitter? My best advice is to let your kids wear what they want, play with whatever toys appeal to them, and give them all, boy or girl, the opportunity to get in touch with their creative side. And most of all, don’t judge them based on gender. In the end though, I kept my opinion to myself—it’s never a good idea to speak your mind when you’re working with caustic acids.
Monday: This Broken Jaw of Our Lost Kingdoms. OR What the F*ck is That?!
On Monday, right before dinner, I was in the kitchen chopping mushrooms. Ken and I have a deal—I do all the cooking, and he does all the cleaning up. This works for us, because I love cooking and hate doing dishes, and he can’t cook. OK, he can cook certain things, but I don’t want tacos or pasta every night. And he’s currently going through a phase where he’s trying different brownie recipes to see which one is the best, but he refuses to use gluten-free flour, so he’s on his own with that experiment. Anyway, I was getting dinner ready, when Ken came into the kitchen holding something very gingerly between his index finger and thumb.
Ken: Look what I just took away from Titus. He was chewing it in the yard.
Me: WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT?!
Ken: I’m not sure.
Me: Is it human?! Oh my god, call the cops!
Ken: Don’t worry. I don’t think it’s human. It’s not quite big enough.
Me: If it’s not human, then what the hell kind of animal is it? How did it get in our yard? Did you say Titus was chewing on it?! That is SO gross!
Ken: I’m going back out to see if there are any more “parts” in the yard.
Me: Don’t put it on the counter! Or at least wrap it in paper towel or something! Titus, stop jumping! You’re not getting it back.
Titus: But it’s so yummy…
Me: Oh my god, I can’t even.
What Ken had brought in the house was part of a very large jawbone, complete with teeth. On second glance, the teeth didn’t look human so I stopped googling “Canadian CSI” and started a new search. Did you know that if you google “dead animal jaw”, there are literally thousands of images of dead animal jaws available for you to look at? Who exactly is posting this stuff? Anyway, I started narrowing it down until I decided it looked the most like a deer jaw. But then the mystery deepened. Namely, how the hell did a deer jaw get into our fenced yard? I’m pretty sure I would have noticed if a deer had died out back—the vultures would have been a good tip-off, for starters. And I’m pretty sure none of our neighbours are hunters, but even if they were, we get along pretty well with them, and I can’t see any of them lobbing a deer jaw onto our property just for fun. I mean, there was an incident a few years back when the people on the corner kept letting their dog take its daily dump on our front lawn. The final straw came when we saw the man taking it for a walk, and deliberately putting it onto our grass to do its business. So Ken scooped up all the poo in a shovel, rang their doorbell, and when the woman answered, he said, “I believe this belongs to you,” and he dropped it all onto their porch. Their dog never came near our yard again. But in terms of retaliation, it’s not like we were slaughtering deer on THEIR lawn and giving them a reason to fling the bits back. So I’m still at a loss as to how it ended up in Titus’s mouth. Ken and I speculated for a while:
Ken: Maybe another animal carried it into our yard.
Me: What? Like people carry around rabbits’ feet? “What’s that you’ve got there?” “Oh, it’s my lucky dead animal jaw.” Besides, any animal big enough to carry that thing around is TOO big to get through the fence.
Ken: A bird could have dropped it…
Me: How big a bird are we talking about? I don’t think most birds outweigh that thing. And why? It’s not like you could make a nest with it.
Ken: A squirrel?
Me: Squirrels ARE assholes. Wait–maybe one of neighbours is a Satanist, and it was part of some weird ritual. Keep an eye on them.
A week later, we still haven’t discovered the origin of “this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms”. That’s from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”, and every time I look at the gross thing, I think of that line, especially since now I’m afraid to go out into my “kingdom” in case there are more pieces of dead deer lying around. By the way, if you’re wondering why I said “every time” I look at it, it’s because we still have it. We figured we might need it as evidence for when the Satanic cult in our neighbourhood is exposed. Plus, it IS kind of cool in its own disgusting way. See what you think. The screwdriver is there for scale.