Sometimes I take care of my husband, and sometimes my husband takes care of me. Usually it is I who takes the cars in to get the oil changed or other maintenance/repairs done. If I left it up to Dennis - as enviably undistractable as he usually is - it wouldn't happen in what I consider to be an appropriate time frame. I want my family to be safe. I want our cars to last. And heck, when I get offered a mystery shop and his is the only car that I could use, why not get it done, when it's ultimately for free? That saves us, as a family, money.
But when I mentioned to my mom that I was getting Dennis's car fixed one day, she was horrified. She had never done that for Dad - ever. If anything, she usually had him do it for her. She worried that I might be getting into the habit of doing for my husband. She worried that I might become a bit of a slave.
Her perspective initially surprised me. Later, I realized, though, that what the conversation demonstrated was the difference between the situation of my mom's generation of women and my own. Let me explain.
There was a huge debate on Feministing a little while back about women changing their names after marriage. I posted some excerpts from it here. One of the points that came out of that debate, though, was the fact that - because feminists cannot choose to take their husbands' names upon marriage without feeling guilty, without feeling compelled to defend their decisions, without wondering whether they're just justifying a preference created in them by their socialization as women - women are not free from the influence of societal expectations on that subject. Until a woman can take her husband's name and it means nothing much different than keeping her own name (or until a woman can choose to NOT have an abortion, or until a mother can choose to NOT go back to work after the birth of her children, etc.), we are not free. We do not have free choice. Those are areas in which we haven't progressed enough.
But I do have some freedoms that my mom didn't: I can "do for" my husband without losing any of my sense of myself as a strong, independent, feminist woman. If anything, it actually shows my strength. Many women avoid taking their cars to repair shops because of the rampant sexism there. But in our house, I am the one who takes the cars in. I have enough of my own that I can afford to give some away.
I have seen men and women put forth the argument that women are privileged because they can play the gender card both ways: They can demand to be treated as strong when it suits them at some times, and they can demand to be treated as weak when it suits them at others. (The so-called Father's Rights movement is evidence that men can do the same, by the way.) I would argue that that's just more evidence of how far we haven't come: If women weren't still expected to be inherently weak and men weren't still expected to be inherently strong, we could all be both at various times - as is natural, after all - without it being so fraught with emotion and political import. And then maybe there wouldn't be women like Ann Coulter and Monica Goodling, who play up men's power to furtively secure their own, meanwhile hurting, through their example, the chances of other women nationwide who are not so willing to set back the clock for their own private gain. They only get away with it because of patriarchy. If men are jealous, they should support feminism in its fight against such problematic gender expectations. If we ever get to a time when people of all genders can choose to be weak or strong without it meaning much either way, then we'll know just how far we've come. But that's hard to imagine, I know.
[A clarification that I posted in response to one of those comments:]