Tuesday, February 1, 2011

boys will be boys

Today, Meg at APW wrote a brilliant post about being a self-full wife.  Which means, roughly, being a wife that doesn't feel the need to sacrifice everything while husband walks down the street whistling with his hands in his pockets.  Which reminded me of a topic I think about often enough that I actually don't need to be reminded.

I have had enough of letting men off the hook.  I have seen some of my favorite women, otherwise strong, independent women, women with careers and families and lots of opinions, women who kept their names when they got married and marched on Washington for women's rights, sacrifice for men because of gender stereotypes. 

This is the thing.  Men actually can figure out how to wash a shower.  They can also do a load of laundry without destroying clothing, and load an unload a dishwasher.  Without having to be "reminded."  They can also tell you when they are upset instead of just walking around sulking and cranky until you pry it out of them.  They can fulfill your emotional needs.  The reason they don't is that it is not required of them.  Because we, as a culture, let them off the hook. 

(I would like to put Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus into the Freedom Trash Can.)

My grandmother passed away when my grandparents were in their late sixties.  My grandfather was diagnosed with cancer a short time later. In addition to the pain and loss at the death of his lifelong partner, my grandfather was faced with a terminal illness and a house full of machines he did not know how to operate.  Like the washer, the dryer, and the stove.  And guess what?  Within a pretty short period of time, he figured it out.  The man was not going to walk around in dirty pants and eat nothing but peanuts (although he actually tried the peanut thing for a while, until his doctor told him he wasn't allowed to do that).  I'm not saying he was perfect, or that the women in his life didn't step in and show him the ropes a bit.  But if that old dog was able to do these new tricks, all men can.

I wrote a research paper as an undergrad, and I would do anything to be able to dig it out of wherever it sits. It showed that heterosexual marriage boosts men's careers tremendously, while sending women's careers into the tank. This is because once they are married, men just up and stop doing anything around the house. Whether there are kids or not. Whether the wife works or not. They just stop. This is not because men are horrible villains who think they deserve to be waited on. It's because we, as a culture, allow them to. I also discovered that, according to one study, the husbands of women who work full time outside the home do an average of 10 minutes more of housework than the husbands of women who do not work outside the home. Ten minutes. And I'm not just limiting it to vacuuming and dishes, I also mean "manly" chores, like mowing the grass, changing the oil, and taking out the garbage. Don't you wish I could find that paper, so I had some academic support for these assertions?

Anyway, while I was reading books to research for the paper, one of the researchers noted an interesting anecdote. She had gotten married several years before doing the research. She had never cooked in her life. She did not like cooking, she was not interested in cooking, and her husband knew she did not cook. And yet. Shortly after returning from her honeymoon, she made homemade macaroni and cheese, the kind you bake in the oven.  She served it to her husband, who dutifully ate it.  It stuck out in her head because it was terrible.  Suddenly, she thought, "WHY AM I DOING THIS?"  The socialization runs deep. Wives cook for husbands.  So this rad 70's feminist who hated cooking found herself making macaroni and cheese.  And her otherwise new-wave husband didn't say, "Um, hey, since when do you make macaroni and cheese?"  He said, "Honey, this is delicious!"

I have been accused of making more of this than it is.  So here are just a few examples (which took me less than 7 minutes to compile with the help of the internet) of our culture perpetuating the stereotype that men are pretty much incapable of normal adult tasks like running a household, taking care of children, and working to sustain a relationship.  Which is why these tasks tend to fall to women.  Unless the women work their asses off to make sure it doesn't end up this way (but that is one-sided, and work, too, isn't it?):

1.  Anything with the title Mr. Mom
2.  Real Men Don't Clean, and similar articles, which are supposed to be funny, I guess.
3.  Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus.  Which was written by a guy whose PhD is rather dubious, to say the least, but became a bestseller nonetheless.
4.  Anything that comes up when you google "funny quotes about men and housework".

No doubt, as you read this, you're busily thinking of counterexamples.  Your husband "helps out" without you asking, your dad always made dinner, your boyfriend is a really great listener.  Fantastic.  But the reason that sticks out in your mind is because it's not the norm.  Individual men are not the enemy here.  The way our culture treats men is the enemy.  Which is a much more vague target for the anger that comes up every time I get started on this topic.

And with that, I will end this installation of the rant.  I wish I had something nice and positive to say at the end so it's more than just a rant.  You know, some ray of sunshine and hope.  But I don't.  I don't see any way out of this without massive cultural change.  And of course, who is responsible for instigating such change?  We are, as women.  In between working full time outside the home, working full time inside the home, sustaining one-sided relationships, and taking care of babies.

P.S. Right after posting this, I realized I left out one of my favorite points.  Which is that the reason there has not already been a cultural shift is that we continue to devalue women's contributions.  Housework isn't done by men because it's done by women.  But that will have to be elaborated upon in another post.


  1. Or any of the many bumbling idiot, (often alcoholic) father figures on tv (e.g. Peter from Family Guy, Homer from the Simpsons, or Al Bundy from Married with Children).

  2. YES! You would not believe how many "jokes" I came across that involve cutting off a man's beer supply in order to convince him to help out a little. That's so hilarious, a guy who can't pull his weight because he's too busy watching TV and drinking.