The Ikea Fantasy
This morning the mail landed with a thud from the slot in my front door. This was preceded by my dear roommate squealing with joy and running into the living room. I quickly looked at the calendar and registered the smell of autumn in the air. These signs added together could only mean one thing: the 2013 Ikea catalogue had just landed on our doorstep.
About four years ago, back when we had a different president in the White House, we thought the economy could only go in one direction, and there were no apps on our iPhones, I had moved into an unfurnished apartment. Having no idea what sort of Swedish hell I was then inviting into my life, I bought a few pieces I liked and still make use of today. Even the desk I write on, aptly named the “Hemnes,” is of that Ikea brilliance that boasts of streamlined living and international savvy. But what I didn’t realize was that I was inviting Ikea to send me a catalogue the size of War and Peace every time the company came up with a new line of shower curtains with pockets and an even dumber Swedish name to call them. Nor was I aware of the even more shocking point that every female assistant I would ever have would receive so much joy from these magical pages selling essentially highly processed particle board.
The reaction of these young women often makes me wonder whether or not the feminist movement even took place. As they flip through the brightly colored pages, folding down the corners to mark items they would like in their own house someday (never mind the fact that they are planning to live in America where Ikea, I’m sure, has yet another line of furniture to suit the new world), I know I am looking at the modern version of playing house. Fantasyland now comes delivered directly to your doorstep with a climax-building ‘thud.’ It seduces you like any form of porn or promise into the idea that you too can have the perfect color coordinated life. . . exactly like those available in the 1950’s.
Maybe young women simply love to “nest.” And despite all the advancements and opportunities open to women, the lie of the perfect little home life is something that is relentlessly chased after. Granted, nobody wants to live in a pigsty, but shopping for a flat you have yet to sign a lease on seems a bit much?
I really am starting to believe that in their deepest hearts, most young women want to nestle down and keep house for someone. How else can you explain their rush to find a perfect throw pillow that really sets the room off?
I know these choices are just as valid as choosing to devote oneself to as a career or anything else. But it is as if young women today can’t come out and say, “Oh, I just want to keep house.” Rather they have to want to be both, the ideal housekeeper and the stunning career woman. We tell our young women they can have it all, and then, when they find that they must choose one over the other, these young women feel as if they’ve done something horribly wrong. The isolation that comes from this disappointment can be life-shattering.
As I watch my girls flip through the Ikea catalogue year after year, attempting to find items which they’ll put in their fantasy flat, I worry about how much we put these women in an unfair place. We live in a society that teaches we can be a career woman, and have babies, and have the perfect suburban home with white carpets, and have amazing date nights with our husbands, and a baby that sleeps on command. But unless you’re ready to hire a fleet of staff to take care of the day-to-day issues, this combination simply isn’t going to happen. We pretty much live in a world that expects every woman to have about five times as much on her plate as young men. Worse, most young woman think that they can rise to that level of expectation then are crestfallen when they have the baby, the wedding album, the carpets which are supposed to be clean, the bread-maker that only works some of the time, the car which won’t start when it’s cold out, and the job that takes way too much out of you. In short, we don’t know what “happily ever after” looks like, but this was not what we had in mind.
For myself, I have already begun to make sacrifices in my life which I’m pretty sure were the right ones for what I wanted to be. When one is trying to be a first class actor with a disability, a top quality writer who only types six words a minute, and a superhero who battles the evil forces of social injustice, it sort of ruins the perfect Ikea fantasy. The problem is, I talk about these sacrifices to other young women, and these women get angry. I try to warn them that it will get hard, that there is no such thing as a baby that doesn’t cry at two in the morning, that non-stick pans can be ruined, and stain guard isn’t as wonderful as it sounds but nobody wants to hear it. It’s as if I’m the witch in the fairy tale, stealing into the banquet hall to put a curse on the queen and her newborn child. Better to let the curse of the multiplying diapers and carpet stains pile up of their own accord. Fairy tales don’t need a witch or a magic curse to be shattered. It just takes time.