In recent days the Roman Empire has been a trending topic in almost all social networks, in line with a TikTok video in which a young woman said: “Girls, you are not aware of how often men think about the Roman Empire. Ask your husband/boyfriend/father/brother, you’ll be surprised!” The women of the (internet) world asked the men around them and, sure enough, they shared their perplexity because apparently the Roman Empire is a thing that men think about very often. I’ve been asked to comment on the matter, and I don’t even know where to start.
I mean, I don’t know where to start without it sounding like a joke: I’m on my honeymoon in Italy right now, taking a car trip that has been planned to include two “unmissable” sites: the battlefields of Lake Trasimeno and Cannae, two of the most famous places where Hannibal defeated the Romans. Friends, I don’t live with a man who often thinks about the Roman Empire; I live with a man who often thinks about defeating it.
We got interviewed for the New York Times yesterday. 😅😅— Rev. Kelsey Lewis Vincent (@KelseyMLoo) September 15, 2023
Here is the article if you aren’t totally tired of hearing about Ancient Rome. https://t.co/sWfgzTXGvM
Many of the men who regularly think about the Roman Empire claim to do so when their mind wanders, when they are on the highway, at the dentist’s, when they go blank. And that’s where I’m going. When the chores are done and our inbox has been emptied, when our mind returns to its default setting, my husband thinks about the Roman Empire and I think, wouldn’t we be better off with blinds instead of curtains?
The man I live with has very few alpha male traits (it’s a compliment). He makes the bed and scrubs the dishes, empties the cat’s litter box and takes out the trash. I am a professional woman with hobbies and with a social life that is, in fact, busier than his. This is not an article about housework or mental load, and as far as I can see, we share the rights and responsibilities in our partnership to a greater or lesser extent. And yet, when my husband gets bored, he googles how big the plain of Cannae was. In case you did not know, the Romans did battle with Hannibal on a plain so that he could not hide his troops, and yet, outnumbered, the guy defeated the Romans in a move that has gone down in the history of military strategy. The plain measures about two kilometers. I know because I saw it yesterday. I spent a while looking at a now cultivated field, and where I saw vines my husband, smiling and bursting with joy, saw a lot of dead Romans. But I don’t want to caricature him. Other times, when he gets bored, he looks for information about Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz or about Hitler’s defeat at Stalingrad. He is a versatile man.
When I get bored, I go to the Ikea website. Or one from another home improvement retailer. Then I write to a friend: hey, where did you get your blinds? Are you happy with them? And I also consult with my mother and my sister. The man I live with spends months without talking to his friends: they’re all at home googling things about the Roman Empire.
Of course, this is something of a caricature. And yet it’s uncomfortable because it has a lot of truth to it. It is very difficult to write this article without it sounding like a comedy sketch, and I try to say it without pride or prejudice, but I know that there is a grain of truth in it because I am uncomfortable with the image it reflects back to me.
Then I remember Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman and its insightful observation that men are educated to cultivate a hobby and women are educated to manage a house (and our own body). She gives the example of magazines and remembers the ones her brother read and the ones she read. In magazines aimed at boys, there was talk of cars, video games, sports, Warhammer, and perhaps the Roman Empire: boys were encouraged to have a passion and, sometimes, a skill too. In magazines aimed at girls, they talked about the best sofa if your living room is small, how to tame your hair, which blender was best, and what type of panties will fit your hips better. The sexist sketch writes itself. But it is a sketch that has been ingrained by millennia of cultural history.
I think it would not be enough for him to visit the Ikea website to see if some blinds would be practical for us. I think it would be great if I made up for boredom more often with knowledge and not so much with domesticity. I think it would be nice if there were magazines about video games and manicures, or how the Roman Empire fell and how to renovate your kitchen. I also remember that meme that said “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man,” and I look at the man next to me — who has nothing mediocre about him — excited by an empty plain, and I wonder how you deal with those dead times of the day when, instead of thinking about whether you should wash your hair today or tomorrow, you think about defeating an empire.
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