Today I was sent a link to an author Twitter account that brought up a very interesting dialogue concerning the state of Gen Xers. The author, Sally Kilpatrick, asked a question concerning the moms of Gen X women that know how to do domestic tasks that we, as Gen X women do not know how to do. She is doing research for a character in her next novel that is, apparently, going to be a Gen Xer, and she wanted to get feedback from women born between 1965 and 1980.
As you might have imagined, it brought her some nasty feedback as there are people on the radical side of feminism that were offended by her assumption that women need to do domestic work and people on the side of radical non-feminism that were upset that she thought they couldn’t do domestic work at all. Both of these opinions, and the resulting vitriol she received (this is a common occurrence on Twitter whenever a woman or person from any marginalized group tweets) are not where I want to focus this post. The question itself raised some interesting thoughts for me, as a Gen Xer that was raised by two working parents. My mom was the main breadwinner for the majority of my formative years and she certainly pushed me to be high achieving, but in my experience that was not a replacement for learning basic life skills.
I think the difference here, and what the twitterverse might be taking too seriously, is that I wasn’t taught domestic chores in order to ‘grab a husband’ or ‘live my life alone’, but I learned how to cook and clean so that I could function in whatever scenario I chose to put myself into as an adult. She wasn’t ‘training’ me for domestic life, she was preparing me for the inevitable. Humans need to eat and keep their living spaces clean. These are basic things that ALL humans, no matter what sex or gender they happen to be, need to know how to perform. Unfortunately, many people on the boy side of the gender spectrum do not get the same education or treatment when it comes to domestic chores, or at least they didn’t prior to the late 1980s. Today, in America, we are moving toward more egalitarian setups for our lives, so that means that people that fall on the male side of the gender spectrum have to learn the same things that people on the female side do. This also goes for non gender binary folks. Humans, in general, need to keep their spaces clean and have a way to feed themselves.
But her question was not specifically about cooking and cleaning. Even if you didn’t have a parent that taught you those skills, and you didn’t have a home economics class in school, you would still be able to read a cookbook or watch a YouTube video to figure out basic life skills. Kilpatrick was focusing more on the craft art type of tasks. Things that you would have learned if you finished high school before 1985, but possibly not if matriculated after that time. The only way to learn some of these things, like sewing, knitting, crocheting, and other household craft tasks, would be to have the knowledge passed down to you from someone older. In fact, in my case, I learned many of these skills from my grandmothers. My Nana taught me to knit and my Grandma taught me cross-stitch. I took the skills I learned from those ladies and learned beading and macrame on my own, with the help of books and videos (yes – videos – it was the 90s after all.)
I did learn to cook from my mother and she passed her sauce recipe down to me (as all Italian mothers do) but I also used the basic skills I was taught to continue learning on my own. When I was in junior high, I actually did take home economics (or home ec for short) as it was still offered. The class was divided into 4 ten week periods consisting of sewing, typing, cooking, and wood shop. In the 80s, home ec was combined with technology and that meant that all students took all home ec subjects. Prior to that time the ‘boys’ would take shop and the ‘girls’ would take sewing, cooking, and typing. But, I was in one of the last classes to have these mandatory classes so we just took everything. This was a very positive experience for me as it allowed me to learn how to use machinery as well.
That year I learned how to thread a sewing machine and make a pillow AND how to use a table saw to cut wood to make a base for a lamp. I also learned how to drill a whole in a Chianti bottle and not crack it to make the lamp itself. I learned how to type 80 words per minute on what would now be considered an old fashioned typewriter AND how to bake chocolate chip cookies. I am not certain if home ec is still offered in high schools today, but if it is, I hope that any human is able to take it no matter their gender. I hope we haven’t moved backwards to re-gendering the tasks. With everything going on in America to try and move our society back to the 1950s, I wouldn’t be surprised if home ec was again something that only girls were enrolled in while boys were enrolled in shop class. That would be a shame, but it wouldn’t be surprising considering the current state of thought in America. (see: Mike Pence – I refuse to give him any linked clicks, but you can Google him)
I also believe that those of us born between 1965 and 1980 found great ways to learn things on our own. Being latch key kids gave us a freedom that Boomers and Millennials did not have. We came home from school and had to figure out how to manage our time to complete homework or make a snack. We had to navigate public transportation and we were given much more freedom to ride bikes and play at friend’s homes without a lot of oversight. We learned how to be self-sufficient at an early age and that has helped us moving into our teen and adult years. Being able to seek out information to learn the things we need to know has always been a skill of Gen X and the Internet was the best tool we could have hoped for to assist us with that research.
In light of this, it seems that Gen Xers (and the author focused mainly on women here, but I want to open it up to ALL genders) are the most resourceful generation of all. We could take or leave the home ec and shop classes and still be skilled at tasks that were taught there simply by seeking out the skills we needed to complete those tasks on our own. Basically, we were happy when a teacher or family member or friend wanted to convey new skills to us that we could take with us, but if we couldn’t find someone that was willing to teach us in our immediate circle, we found the information other ways. Libraries were our friends back before the Internet and now we use all the tools at our disposal with a computer and a wi-fi connection. In the end, the members of Gen X should feel proud to have well rounded skill sets. We worked hard for that knowledge and we are willing to share it with any Boomer or Millennial that comes calling. Tech support or mentorship – either way we are always willing to lend a hand and impart knowledge that we gained on our own.
If you doubt the Gen X penchant for learning new things independently, consider these cartoons that were some of our favourites back in the day…
And the most important formative Gen X show – this made us readers!