Women Are Doing the Man Things But Men Won't Do the Lady Things

Women are doing all the "man things" they can these days. Wars. Heavy lifting. Dangerous jobs. Cigars. Heart attacks. And men are doing more "lady things" than ever before, like expressing identifiable emotion and caring about children. They are really picking up the slack and the slacks. Get it? From off the floor? But don't machete your sensible feminist heels down to flats just yet: This men-are-the-new-women thing is still overblown.

Take the whole stay-at-home dad trend. A bit overhyped, says a piece over at the Atlantic, which acknowledges that, sure, while it's true that the number of men who are stay-at-home dads has doubled in recent years, it has doubled from such a low figure as to be almost insignificant statistically, and doesn't merit all the trend pieces. Read it and weep directly into your yogurt/salad to burn some extra cals:

Among all married couples with children under 15, only 0.8 percent include a stay-at-home dad— up from about 0.3 percent in 1994—compared to 23 percent that include a stay-at-home mom.

But even those small percentages probably overstate the relative importance of stay-at-home fathers in the greater context of U.S. families. First, we're living in the age of the single parent. More than half of births to women under 30 happen out of wedlock, and women disproportionately end up taking care of those children.

This is depressing, but it's worth noting that:

  • 1) It's rare for anyone to be able to stay at home these days.
  • 2) When someone does "choose" to stay home, that's typically driven by who makes more. The person with the lesser job, pay, ambition, or no job prospects often "decides" to take one for the family.
  • 3) This person is still more likely to be a woman.
  • 4) Even when couples agree that splitting everything as equally as possible is ideal, they hit the hard wall of workplace, policies, and institutions, which still often grant men higher pay and less flexibility, and which still often grant women greater flexibility but in exchange for lower pay and less room for advancement.

But it's this part that gets me upset all over again:

… even among two-parent households where women work, the percentage of men acting as the primary caregiver has actually declined slightly since the early 1990s. The fraction of these men regularly providing any care whatsoever for their children while their wives work has been static since at least the late 1990s.

Yup: In families where men and women both earn, women are rocking 12 hours of childcare while men are only mustering up 7. If anything, the author writes, men have stopped taking on more responsibility at home in recent years.

Ugh. Unfortunately, yeah, we know. We know women still do more housework than men. And handle more of the childcare. Because we are doing it, and you know we gonna talk.

And even though it's no more shocking than the recent study that men are threatened by the success of their girlfriends/wives but that women are not bothered by the success of their men, it's still a major bummer. Why? Because reciprocity is the ideal. It's fucking weird to even have to bring this up again.

I'll admit: the household chores/childcare thing is always super tough to talk about, because it triggers all kinds of irrational feelings in people. It brings up how they were raised, and how their spoken values may be contradicted by their lived experience, which no one likes to go over with a fine-toothed comb.

It also often indicts our parents, because when we look at the root of our habits when it comes to domestic labor, men realize their mothers/fathers never taught them cooking or cleaning mattered. Women realize they were routed away from outdoor work, household repairs, or car maintenance in favor of making a mean cupcake.

All this perpetuates the current stats, where somehow we say we want equality but then fall into these really traditional roles — not because they are more natural, but because it's been drilled into our heads since birth. But this isn't making most people happy: We know that marriages are happier and divorce rates are lower when unions are egalitarian.

Add to this the cultural narrative that pits women and men against each other, she as the nag, he as the slob, and it's no wonder perfectly intelligent, well-meaning people would rather watch The Bachelor than squabble over why he still won't clean up the goddamn dust bunny that has grown to the size of a balance ball chair in the corner of the living room.

But, sorry. This shit matters. This isn't a pick-your-battles thing. I'm not talking about bean-counting chores within an inch of their equality. I'm talking about the fact that there is no way around it: the definition of equality at home hinges on agreed-upon negotiating of chores and childcare. They key is agreed-upon.

This falls on women and men to be up front, honest and vocal about their arrangements, and to check in frequently to make sure those arrangements still work. And, duh, to actually follow those arrangements.

That arrangement is up to you. If you like gendered division of labor whether by choice or by habit, hey, go to town. But any arrangement that burdens one partner with the lion's share of the work, while the other person gets mad room to charge into the world on a smash-and-grab spree of happiness, is a bogus arrangement. That's the arrangement that's fucked up. Negotiating on equal footing for maximum smash and grab for both parties is the only defensible deal.

When I know of an actual person who complains that they do all the work at home (woman) and the other person (man) doesn't do as much, I'm like, how does that even make sense to you? How are you able to deal with that? How are you able to put up with it? And the story is always the same: They are pissed, but they are resigned to the inequitable arrangement, not wanting to rock the boat all the time or be perceived as a total nag.

But it's not nagging, it's fighting for what is fair and deserved. And part of moving past gender bullshit is understanding that when someone keeps bringing something up, it's because it matters to them. It's because it is unresolved. Framing women's complaints as nagging while men's are simply complaints is another facet of this problem.

But more broadly speaking, this is a two-parter.

First, men and women of today already tainted by cultural messages and highly gendered upbringings, start unpacking. (We addressed practical ways to actually hash out chores here.)

Second, please, for the love of equality, if you are a parent, DO NOT distinguish life skills by gender. To continue this practice is a grave disservice to everyone. We should be teaching our sons and daughters to cook, clean, iron, mow the yard, change a tire, create a budget, buy groceries, plan meals, identify poisonous spiders, care for an injured person, and so on.

And while we are at it, abolish gendered scouts! Or at least teach girls and boys alike in scouts to wrestle a bear in a tree with arm tied behind their back while being brushed with poison ivy WHILE selling cookies. Everyone should learn survival both in the wild and in the home.

In the meantime, perhaps a PSA campaign is in order. Let's come up with slogans! I'll start:

Stop bitchin', start pitchin' (in).

Get off your butt, and clean this mutt.

Want more sex? Write some checks (to take care of paying bills)!

Ugh.

Image by Jim Cooke