I’ve been living here for a little over a year and, by default, I am a “hausfrau” (housewife). Which means I’m supposed to be an apron wearing June Cleaver and have the house spotless, dinner cooked, shirts ironed, wearing pearls and greeting my husband as soon as he walks through the door. That may be how some cultures look at it, but it’s not how I see it.
I’ve straddled two cultures my whole life and now a third one has been added to the mix. It can be confusing and frustrating. Growing up, my mom strongly encouraged my sister and me to find a husband and take care of him by doing all the above. However, I spent most of my twenties in long term relationships with Asian men and was adamant that traditional gender roles weren’t anything I was interested in and wanted a partnership where everything was equal. It’s how a marriage should be, and I was determined that my future husband understood and supported that.
In American culture, it’s safe to say that gender roles have been modernized and evolved- splitting all household responsibilities. I’ve found that Austrians are big on traditional gender roles. When we were moving in, our landlord’s daughter was going showing us the flat with us and somehow ironing came up. Hubs was quick to say that he did his own ironing. She was shocked. From what I gather, women do most of the household chores for the men and family here.
I’m so thankful to have a husband that doesn’t believe in traditional roles. We both cook. He’s actually a better cook than I am, but a disaster when it comes to baking. That is where my strong point is, so I do most of the baking. Since he’s OCD about how the house should be cleaned-he does most of it, where I do the maintenance cleaning in between. Gender roles don’t exist in our household nor does Hubs expect them of me. It’s disheartening when we reveal this stuff to people and they say things like “then what do you have a wife for” or “what does your wife do all day?”. It makes me feel like I’m useless and not doing anything right. Being an expat is already hard enough, but to be defined as traditional housewife and not living up to it makes me feel disappointment in myself at times. It takes me back to poignant moments in my life where I’ve been told, “I’m not good enough” and “you will never amount to anything”. Just to be clear, I was raised in a traditional Asian household where these words are suppose to drive you to succeed (tiger mom reverse psychology warfare). No matter where it’s coming from, it still hurts and makes you question your worthiness.
So, it brings me to- what is it that you do all day? I’ve recently started to learn Spanish twice a week, I’m constantly trying to improve and come up with new ideas for my blog, going out with new friends I’ve made, museum-hopping, learning new skills, finding new hobbies, and even joined a book club. I may not be doing the typical hausfrau things, but I’m challenging myself every day with opportunities that I may not have had the time for or would necessarily try. I’m enriching my life and feel like it counts for something. For the first time in my life, I’m truly putting myself first and learning slowly, that it’s okay to do so.