Feminism | Posted by Taylor S on 12/17/2009

An Old School Family

I grew up in an old school family. I am a second generation Hungarian immigrant, and first generation Canadian immigrant. Our family unites all of central Europe: Hungary, Croatia, former Yugoslavia, and Romania. Some of my fondest memories are of eating tongue, heart, and testicles at huge parties where no one spoke English. What made a stronger impression on me, however, is the lifestyle and customs of my family. Since they immigrated when they were very old, my baka and nagyapát (grandmother and grandfather), from opposite branches of the family, have different point of views on gender roles that have influenced my life.

My baka happily accepts her place as the quiet, puttering maid in the background, not getting involved in the business of the menfolk. She considers it her duty to her sons (they still live with her, and her husband died several years ago) to cook and clean, to make pasta from old-fashioned machinery, and to maintain the garden she has in the back of the house, with her fruit trees. This is enough to keep anybody quite busy, but she is also responsible for the grandchildren. I am one of six children, but fortunately now only three are of the age where they need to be closely monitored. She is also a non-able person; she suffers from chronic pain and has to lie down when she gets too active.

With all of her burden, my baka is still responsible for all of the goings on in the house, excluding monetary issues, of course. That is taken care of by the sons. They do not feel obligated to help with anything, except for pay-day and bills, both realms of menfolk. Now, my question remains, is this merely laziness of the sons, or male privilege?

On the other side of the coin, my nagyapát has his own ideas on how the world is to be run. Before he left our home to live in an assisted living complex, he was head of our household. He expected my stepmother to cook and clean and chauffeur him and bear him grandchildren, as I am to be the incubator for the great-grandchildren. I love him dearly, but his thoughts are those ingrained in the past; he does not feel I need to go on to college. As long as I get married, have babies, and finish high school my life will be complete. He is also a staunch believer in eugenics and inferior races, which makes my heart sad. His culture and past life also looked down on people with disabilities and disfigurations. I was born with a birth defect that meant that my face did not come together correctly, with added health side effects as heart problems, respiratory problems, and the such. He said to me, very bluntly, that if I had been born in the homelands, I would have been institutionalized and forgotten immediately after birth.

Here, I must ask, are these mindsets apparent because of the society he grew up in, or perhaps just the time period? Or maybe it’s just my personal experience, and not the template of a generation?

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  • attie @ at 3:44 pm, December 17th, 2009

    I think it’s a mixture of all of them.

    I am fortunate in that my Granny is a rather progressive woman, even if she was a stay-at-home mom (she likes gay people a lot, which is not so frequent in people who grew up under Hitler!) but when I visited her last time in her retirement home I overheard the woman at the next table talking about how her daughter still resented her because she never allowed her to go to college, since clearly she was just going to marry and take care of the kids so it would be a total waste of money.

    I’ve heard similar things from other old people, and I can kind of understand it since that is how things were at the time. It’s still frustrating though, you want to like your family but there they go spewing crap all over you…

    As for your grandmother’s sons (your uncles?), I think it’s laziness that makes them not help, and male privilege that makes the family accept it.

  • Taylor S @ at 12:38 am, December 20th, 2009

    Ah, thank you very much for your insight. :)

    It’s lovely to see that there are others who can completely relate to such family matters.

    Yes, that is how it used to be, but now it is our turn to set the standards for our future generations!

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