Obama recently joked to a newly married woman that it takes 10 years to train a man properly for marriage, and patience is required. It was a real humdinger: a Sad Trombone Moment of Inadvertent Sexism that reinforces the idea that men don't grow up until women make them grow up.
The joke happened at a recent stop at an Indiana steel plant, and was tweeted by political news editor at the Washington Post, Rebecca Sinderbrand:
She's right — that joke is as stale as your grandpa's beer farts, which wouldn't be so bothersome if it weren't for the fact that men still haven't been trained super hot for domestic life. As Kelsey McKinney notes at Vox, recent surveys show women still do more housework than men, and double the physical care of children daily (if the children are under 6). McKinney writes:
What President Obama is suggesting, really, is that women — on top of dealing with internet trolls, domestic abuse, higher rates of sexual assault, and being paid less than men for the same work — must also deal with the mighty task of reforming all of the world's males into decent husbands.
Hey, what's one more menial task around the house, ladies? The 10 years you should be 'training for marriage' are called childhood," Jezebel's Erin Ryan wrote to me in a chat earlier, "which is the same time that you should be training to BE A FUCKING GROWN UP."
Amen. Learning how to be, at bare minimum, a decent, contributing person in a relationship/household shouldn't have anything to do with gender, but unfortunately we still build this into girl play as if women are the only people who need to know how to be good at it. Dolls, little kitchen sets, helper roles that pair girls with mommies to navigate domestic life make what should be considered good future adult traits into good future wife traits. What are we teaching boys? To be polite and nice, sure, but what about the everyday shit—the ironing, the scheduling, the laundry, the grocery shopping? This is not a man or woman thing. It's a person thing.
And is this not 101 Adult stuff at this point? My husband is in his early thirties and was raised to clean and split household duties, so I am always disappointed to learn that men's time investment in housework has not significantly altered in nearly 30 years.
I know, right? Everything is better, men are doing all the things! They cook now! They wear their infants! They stay at home! But apparently they still will not scrub a floor without supervision. I wrote about this before and will reiterate the sentiment again: Any man physically capable of cleaning who does not clean due to anything gendered is full of shit. Or old. Or both.
What is to be done? Of course, a popular solution often issued to deal with the problem of men not cleaning is that women should simply clean less. The old even-the-score approach. Stephen Marche argued for it once, on the premise that men simply cannot be bothered to do it ever and so this is the woman's only real recourse. And more recently, over at the Telegraph, Reni Eddo-Lodge says:
Have you ever wondered what amazing things you could have done with all the energy you've dedicated to housework, propping up the lives of people who don't even notice that you're doing it?
It's why today, as we absorb the news that women are still doing the lion's share of work in the home, I'm urging you to stop. Stop giving. Let the dishes accumulate. Stop sacrificing your time. Stop waking up that little bit earlier to do the laundry. Down your tools. Walk out. Go to the pub. Go on strike. It is only through a collective withdrawal of labour that those who rely on us will realise how vital our work is.
I think there is some merit in revisiting how clean a house really needs to be. There is functional cleanliness and there is Pinterest, ok? And yes, I believe most of us could let the place go for a bit and everything would not descend into the utter chaos we imagine. I also think many people could live in smaller spaces with less stuff and reduce the amount of upkeep a house takes, too. These approaches benefit everyone rather than just making it easier for the household Bartleby.
But overwhelmingly, simply cleaning less still lets men off the hook and doesn't really solve anything. Care must be taken. Families must be tended to. And suggesting that we merely stop caring as much also diminishes the value of domestic life, which is, by the way, a worthwhile, valid thing to participate in. The issue is the way what is still largely considered women's work is valued, or rather, not valued at all. Women are not better suited to cleaning, they are simply trained to do it from an early age. Like learning a foreign language at birth, anyone exposed enough to the mechanics of it will pick it up just fine.
The fault here is any parent who doesn't feel this is essential training for boys, too. Women should not have to convince men of the merits of cleaning anymore than they should be convinced of the value of being able to change a tire. It is a parents job to raise self sufficient children. I'm looking at you previous generations, who for whatever reason, felt your sons did not need to know or take pride in — an egalitarian, clean, well run home. The sooner we teach men and women to both to be autonomous and self sufficient, the less we rely on beer fart stereotypes about our differences in the domestic realm. And the sooner we can all get shit done and focus on where the genders are truly divergent: puppeteering.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby