What about the men? (1)

As a follow-up to its controversial front-page story on Ivy Leaguers opting for the “mommy track,” the New York Times ran this editorial notebook item by Nicholas Kulish, a young man who is worried that the women of his generation may be taking a “U-Turn” toward more traditional roles, forcing men into a more narrow breadwinner role as well. He mentions a friend who “left the nonprofit sector for a big corporation so his wife could stop working when she had their first baby.” Kulish ends his essay with a not entirely humorous appeal to young women: “On behalf of American men, young and open-minded, I beg you to reconsider. I thought we had a deal.”

I’m surprised that, as far as I can tell, no conservative blogs have picked up on this items for an “I told you so”: It’s a favorite theme of neo-traditionalists like Danielle Crittenden (What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us) and Maggie Gallagher that the feminist revolution has actually liberated men to be selfish pigs who shun their masculine duty to provide for their wives and kids, and that women who want to embrace a traditional feminine lifestyle often find that the men in their lives are unsupportive of their choice and reluctant to take on the sole burden of breadwinning. Instead, it falls to a left-wing blogger, Lakshmi Chaudry of AlterNet, to take him to task:

[H]is position ends up sounding patronizing and selfish: “Just because you want to stay home and play Mommy, I ain’t supporting you and the brats.”

As I said before, raising kids is hard work — work that gets little recognition from society or it seems young “open-minded” men like Kulish. Men of his generation may have been “brought up to accept and even embrace equality between the sexes,” but thus far there is little proof that it extends to housework. Yes, men do more than two decades ago, but women still carry the greater part of the domestic burden, whether or not they stay at home. … Guess no one told Nicholas about the “second shift.”

The same theme is echoed by two Times letter-writers:

We did have a deal – you guys broke it!

These young Yale women grew up watching their mothers do both jobs, since most of us working women still do most of the work at home.


One very logical reason some women shrink from combining work and motherhood is that men do not share the work equally at home, leading to an exhausting and unfair double shift for their wives.

Time-use studies have shown that while men have made a little progress in doing more child care, women still do just about all the housework.

It’s time for men to acknowledge that they are a big part of the work-life balance problem for women.

Is there a partial truth here? Sure. Just as there are women who want to have it both ways (equal opportunity in the workplace and the unequal privilege of being able to leave the workforce), there are men who want to have it both ways: that is, they want a wife who will relieve them of the sole burden of breadwinning, and do most of the housework.

But it’s a very, very partial truth.

First, none of the women in the Times article mentioned the “second shift” as a factor. Those would-be mommy-trackers who mentioned their mothers spoke of respect for their mothers’ roles as full-time homemakers, and of their conviction, based on personal experience, that traditional arrangements worked best. Others emphasized that they wanted to be the primary influence in their children’s lives. The same was true of the women interviewed by Peggy Orenstein for Flux, the book I mentioned in my post yesterday. Some of the women she profiled had given up their careers despite having husbands who were fully engaged on the home front, and were in fact willing to be the stay-at-home parent. Male lack of participation in “the second shift” did not seem to be nearly as important a factor in their decisions as their own beliefs about female identity, work/family options as a female choice, and family as their turf.

Second, men are doing a lot more than they’re given credit for. See, for instance, this interesting report:

A new study proves for the first time that men actually do a bigger share of household chores than their wives admit. Shedding new light on the decades-old
battle between men and women over housework, the study of 265 married couples with children, published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family, shows that wives estimate, when asked, that their husbands do 33% of the housework. But when researchers tracked men’s actual housework time, they found husbands were shouldering 39% of the chore load.

No, that’s not equal, but that’s a far cry from “women are doing all the work.”

While the “second shift” is a real problem, I think it was always somewhat overblown. In the book that gave this problem a name, The Second Shift (1989), sociologist Arlie Hochschild claimed on the basis of her survey of 120 couples that when paid work and housework are combined, women in two-earner households put in an extra 15 hours a week compared to men. A number of time-use studies from the same time period found the difference to be closer to 1 hour. (I could not find these data online but they are summarized in the 1997 book, Time for Life, by sociologists John Robinson and Jeffrey Godbey. Godbey and Robinson report that in 1995, on average, women spent 15.9 hours a week on housework and men, 9.5 hours; but that includes women who do not work outside the home. Incidentally, those figures are a very dramatic change from 1965, when the respective hours for women and men were 26.9 and 4.7.)

I believe there is a strong tendency among feminists to (1) downplay male contributions at home and (2) with a few exceptions, to disregard the tendency of many women — even professional women — to regard housekeeping and particularly children as their turf. Here’s something I wrote in 2000 about a symposium called “Changing Nature of Work and Family Life: A Focus on Men,” sponsored by the Cornell University Institute for Women and Work:

[A]s family issues consultant Dana Friedman conceded on the panel, many women inhibit male involvement by protecting their turf, sending the signal that men can’t do anything right at home and setting themselves up as “gatekeepers” of the father-child relationship.

In fact, a degree of such “female chauvinism” was in evidence at the event itself. When Friedman mentioned a poll in which 60 percent of fathers said they shared equally in child-rearing, laughter rippled through the room — turning to gleeful guffaws when she added that only 19 percent of mothers agree.

Maybe men exaggerate, but isn’t it possible that women aren’t totally objective judges, either? Then, moderator Francine Moccio said she wanted to speak up in favor of “maternal gatekeeping.” Twenty years ago, her husband was supposed to pick up the kids from a party — and simply forgot. “So,” she summed up, “they do need to be trained.” Again, there was roaring laughter.

I wondered if the women were expressing their frustration over men’s failure to share equally in the domestic realm or taking pleasure in their presumed superiority in that realm. Can one imagine men today gloating similarly over a woman’s incompetence in some traditionally male sphere? Maybe the panel illuminated some of the barriers to men’s involvement in family life in ways the organizers never intended.

Five years later, here we go again, still blaming it all on men.


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14 responses to “What about the men? (1)

  1. angry young man

    it would be interesting to know what was considered housework for these studies of male/female workload and who created the lists.

    in addition, i think your reading of your experience at the symposium is right on. women do think of men too often as cockroaches in the kitchen, even when they want to help.

    finally, do gay couple share an equal burden of the housework? do gay men each do 39%, leaving 22% undone entirely? do lesbians somehow give more than 110%?

  2. Cathy Young

    angry young man–good point about what gets defined as “housework.”

    Some studies, apparently, have not counted outdoor work, which is more traditionally male.

    As for men as “cockroaches in the kitchen” *lol* — some 10 years ago I remember hearing being present (as the sole single gal) at a conversation in which several professional women in their early 30s were talking about their husbands’ domestic ineptitude. As I listened, it struck me that they weren’t so much complaining about it as bragging, essentially, about their own superiority.

  3. angry young man

    indeed, yardworkwas one thing i was thinking about.

    i’m also wondering how such things as childcare is defined. Is that included in housework? If so, does it only include feeding, clothing and bathing, or does recreation fit in?

    to me the problems with these studies is that the terms seem precise to those responding but are in fact vague because they mean different things to different people.

  4. Eric

    I’ve done work in and out of the home. There’s a definite quality of focused intensity that is lacking in my at-home work–unless I really get cranking on writing a story.

    Partially, this is because when you take care of kids, you need to be ready to be interrupted, and keep an ear or eye open for their misdeeds, and a clock running in your head that points out that they’ve been quiet for five minutes, and thats about two and a half minutes too long.

    And this focus is a force multiplier when it comes to work, and its quality.

    Eric R. Ashley

  5. Anonymous

    Once upon a time my ex took my child to a new childcare centre and then forgot where it was. I wonder if a roomful of feminists would guffaw over that. Moreover, she has since succeeded in effectively completely removing me from my child’s life, despite several very participatory years as a father. In so many ways, men just can’t win so one wonders if it is worthwhile trying at all.

  6. Anonymous

    I don’t mind doing most of the housework, even when I work outside the home, as my job is not as laborous as his, and as long as he pays most of the bills and he gives “it” to me whenever I want it without having to hear him whine about how exhausted he is. Besides, he cleans like a man (a straight man) and does not pay much attention to detail like I do. I’m picky, and I take satisfaction in that the things are particularly done my way.
    For that I have a husband who will always wipe our kids butt no matter what, and always brews the coffee, makes me a cup and brings it to me, even when he’s not having any. I have him wrapped around my finger.

    Don’t fight the nurturing nature. Women are the keepers of the home.

  7. Anonymous

    * he gives “it” to me whenever I want it without having to hear him whine about how exhausted he is. *

    So all the usual excuses that women give when they don’t want to do it is just “whining”?

    *Besides, he cleans like a man (a straight man) and does not pay much attention to detail like I do.*

    You mean he doesn’t nitpick as much as you. Or perhaps he just isn’t as fussy as you.

    *I’m picky, and I take satisfaction in that the things are particularly done my way.*

    A control freak, are you? Figures.
    You’re not in a marriage. You’re in a power struggle.

    *For that I have a husband who will always wipe our kids butt no matter what, and always brews the coffee, makes me a cup and brings it to me, even when he’s not having any.*

    You don’t have a husband. You have a servant. I can see how your kids are really going to look up to their servant…I mean father.

    He IS the REAL father of your kids, right?

    *I have him wrapped around my finger.*

    Do you believe in retribuition?

  8. biffcuss

    What are you so upset about? The fact that the relationship I have with my husband does not fit your “ideal?” We SERVE eachother in the ways that work best for us with the least friction.

    And why do you seem to have a problem with how I have him wrapped around my finger? Isn’t that how a husband should be toward his wife? I’m sure you modern thinkers just cringe at that thought. Because you’re the one’s who are really all f@#$%^ed up.

    As for the housecleaning, it’s obvious that he’s not going to be as “fussy.” Like I said I’m picky so why am I going to nag him to do more housework when I’m only going to nag him later again that he didn’t give the same care into the work as I do?

    And there is no power struggle between us because we’re not striving for any ideal here. There would be one if I tried to artificially change our family dynamics.

  9. Cathy Young

    biffcuss, I don’t want to judge anyone else’s family life but I have to say that you’re not making a very attractive case for traditional roles with comments like “I have my husband wrapped around my little finger” (what if it was a guy who said “I know how to keep my wife in line”?). Not to mention that Victorian crap about “women are the keepers of the home” and the fact that you feel free to insult “modern thinkers” (presumably those of us who believe in egalitarian roles).

    No one begrudges you your own choices, but you seem to insist on speaking for all women. Not all women have a “nurturing nature” (or at least more of a nurturing nature than men). How about a little respect for the individuality of different human beings?

  10. Dean

    I believe that a lot of the disparity comes from the definition of ‘housework’ and ‘childrearing’.

    I wonder, for example, if coaching the Little League team counts as ‘childrearing’? I would guess that it doesn’t, whereas taking the children to the playground probably would.

    I, and pretty much every man I know, sacrifice self for the good of the household: we commute further, work longer hours, take more difficult/hazardous/stressful but higher-paying jobs, etc for the good of the family. We bring work home. We take courses to stay current or get a greater chance of advancement. Those hours are not counted as ‘housework’.

  11. biffcuss

    …”Not to mention that Victorian crap about “women are the keepers of the home”…”

    As if there’s anything wrong with that. Why is ‘victorian’ automatically presumed crap anyway? Especially for those who choose it?

    As for a man claiming to “keep his woman in line” I personally asked my husband for his input about this and he responded “but I do,” which I found hilarious. If he had said this to me years back I would have been furious for I was, I believe, conditioned during my teenage years and early adult life to be furious at such a statement.

    I apologize for insulting modern thinker, but it was only after you accused me of being a ‘control freak’ (a negative term for managing my home), and also that I am teaching my children to look up to a ‘servant’ when they in fact, are learning mutual respect from their parents with no pre-concieved hang-ups.

    When I say women are the keepers of the home, I mean that in a general sense. But I’m sure there are men out there who have argued with their wifes (or girlfriends) about what color of curtains he refuses to have hanging in his home, and how dishes should be washed.

  12. Cathy Young

    bifcuss, I didn’t call you a “control freak.” Not my style. That was another poster on my blog.

  13. Anonymous

    The studies that show women doing more “housework” than men never state what definition of “housework” is used. I am positive it doesn’t include tasks like maintaining 2 vehicles, taking care of all the plumbing problems, taking care of all the electrical problems, crawling under the house to change the heater filters, maintaining the yard equipment, dealing with the audio/video/computer issues, doing the heavy remodeling, well, you get the idea.
    I’ll bet their criteria runs heavy to cleaning, cooking, diapers, etc., so I never take those “studies” very seriously. I don’t cook except occasionally, my wife goes ballistic if I look at a laundry basket, and my cleaning is substantially below acceptable (her opinion), but I think I do my share if your definition of “housework” includes everything it takes to keep the family running.

  14. Emancipated

    #!#!##!!#******#****# ATTENTION DADDIES WITH NO RIGHTS!#***#******** #!#!#!#!#

    Planet Dadulon is a cool little website set up with the intention of communicating with, and helping dads who are not allowed to see their children because of the mother’s wishes. We are a Scotland based organisation and have already enlisted the aid of a constituent MP, who has in turn contacted the Scottish Executive for Justice over the matter of fathers not having AUTOMATIC PARENTAL RIGHTS. We NEED you to add your name\alias to our list in the BLOG to help us PROVE that fathers who cannot see their children are NOT the minority.

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