housework, gender, being a "wife"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Don't go inferring anything about me from that title. I hate housework (do it only to keep the allergies at bay), think gender is mostly a construct, and think that the "w" word is one of the worst 4-letter words there is.

Now, on to the important discussion. Who does housework in America? Well, you would hope that it would me most of the adult population, right? Well, it seems that, even in our enlightened age where everything is golden and wonderful and there's no sexism or classism or racism.....oh wait, sorry, I was talking about Mars.....Let me get back to earth:
In 2008, when we've been mouthing off about gender equality and feminism for some time now, wives still do most of the housework. Not only is it the wives keeping house, but husbands manage to generate housework that the women wouldn't have to do if they were living alone. Some 7 hours of extra work a week. That's a whole work day, right there! And (!) that number is down significantly from where it was in the '70s. Apparently the hours grow exponentially when there are kids. Of course. Wives do 2.8 times more work than husbands, in general, when there are kids. The industrial cleaning crew required to keep smeared applesauce and finger paint at bay apparently has one name only: Mom.

What's interesting is that of all of the categories of men surveyed, the ones doing the most housework were the single ones. This means that the creatures are completely capable of cleaning and tidying. It must. They get married, though, and poof, suddenly, they're doing next to nothing and the wives do a whole extra work day's worth of housekeeping.

Why is that? I'd really like to keep my scepticism at bay and say that there's some reason other than most men thinking that acquiring a wife means acquiring a servant. Really, I would. Somehow, that nagging feeling just keeps coming back.....

The article that I read was from Yahoo. Here it is. Surprisingly enough, a couple of days later, another Yahoo article tackled the issue of gender roles and how they relate to happy (or not) marriages. I'm surprised because the idea of gender constructs doesn't usually make it to mainstream media. The article suggested that tension in relationships (especially when it comes to things like housework) can come up when one partner's idea of roles and expectations clashes with the other's. It brings up the idea that a man brought up with clear ideas of "women's work" might have trouble contributing equally to housework, cooking, whatever. It also has the balls to bring up the theory that "actions speak louder than words." That is, even if mommy and daddy told you that boys and girls can do the same things, if daddy sits on his ass in front of the TV on a Saturday, and mommy cleans and cooks and arranges the babysitter for the evening, the clear, loud image will be that men work during the week, then relax at home, and women clean and cook and don't have outside interests.

The article is not perfect, by any means. It doesn't do much to criticize the gender roles. It brings them up, though, which is definitely a start.

In 1971 Judy Syfer wrote an essay entitled "Why I want a Wife." It was published in Ms. magazine. It features wonderful nuggets like:

My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife's income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.

It appears that the traditional role of Wife was akin to butler, majordomo, footman, valet, chamber maid, scullery maid, kitchen maid, cook, housekeeper, nanny, laundress, gardener, masseuse, counselor, coat-rack, entertainment......Seriously! Even imperialist British aristocracy figured out that each of those jobs needs it's own person! With that job description, it's hardly any wonder that it took western society so long to discover feminism. Those who would most benefit had to put revolution somewhere between scrubbing the floor, entertaining the guests and wiping the goo out of the eye of the kid with pink-eye! Of course husbands wouldn't have jumped at the idea of equality, what with the workload of a staff of twenty being condensed into the body of one. Imagine getting all that and not having to pay for it! Damn, I want a Wife, too.

Actually, I really want a dumbwaiter from which food will magically materialize at the table. That would be awesome.

The essay is bitingly funny and also pretty seething. You can read the whole thing over at Maggie's.

So, it's really depressing. I think we've come a long way since Syfer's essay, but so much of it is still totally accurate. Men's expectations have changed tons in some cases, and not at all in others. Remember the jack-ass who yelled "Go home and iron my shirts" at the Hillary Clinton rally? I guess it really speaks to the "why should the oppressor want to change his behavior when he reaps all benefits?" theory.

I've been thinking about the married people I know, to see how they compare to these statistics...I'd like to think that the married people I associate with are all nicely progressive and egalitarian. To a certain extent, the "progressive" certainly applies, and I think that the folks I know are claiming that it's all egalitarian, but I still remain skeptical. Very skeptical.

One conclusion that I have come up with, though, is that I will not raise a family within that structure. I don't even know if I want a family, but if I do, I WILL NOT stay at home while a partner/husband goes to work all day. I will not be left alone with a baby the majority of the time. I will not allow myself to be the primary parent, with the other one "helping out." Helping implies that it's the mommy's job, and the other partner is essentially doing a favor. Rather than their responsibility. I will only go about child rearing in an equal partnership. So there.


Since this posted the first time, there has been a lot of publicity from the passing of laws making it easier for husbands to take the wife's last name, and "allowing" new parents to give their kids the mother's name....While that's encouraging, it does hammer home the point that marriage is completely patriarchal. These laws try to make it seem less so, and may placate the "I'm a progressive, but I'm still going to buy into all the bullshit" set (you know, the ones with diamonds on their fingers and babies in yuppie-strollers who are stay at home moms and claim that they chose that in a totally un-pressured way), but I don't buy it.

I think that's all I've got to say for right now....


Anonymous said...

You could always leave it with gramma. I'm sure she'd love to polish its vocabulary and grammar!

kat said...


Anonymous said...

The child.

shadocat said...

Kat; even if one of you stays home with the baby, the other can go "on shift" when he/she gets back from their outside job. There are lots of ways to do it....I loved staying home with my babies when I could; I just didn't like to be stuck in that "momma" role, that is, mother to EVERYONE, my spouse included. Hopefully, we can deprogram our boys with each generation.

kat said...

what child?

kat said...

Yeah, that's kind of what I was getting at, shadow. Taking turns, giving the other a break, some support, whatever is needed. Even with liberals, the gender roles seem to get really stuck when there's a baby.
A friend of mine has an almost-1-year-old. She and her hubby are both freelance musicians, but she's the one who ends up with most of the baby duty. She called me a couple of weeks ago inviting me over for "Lunch, tea, dinner, hanging out......ANYTHING!!!!" cuz she's so starved for adult interaction.

In the last year, he's played maybe 8 concerts to her....1. She doesn't get to practice, but he can (sort of. not as concentratedly as before, though).

shadocat said...

Oh Gawd, your poor friend...

That sounds much like what happened to me. My kid's dad was all about being "equal partners, blah, blah, blah---then the baby came.Suddenly he was all too willing to stick me with every damn thing, while he ran off and did HIS thing. We fought about it constantly. The only thing that makes me think some progress has been made is that the men in my daughters' lives don't seem to do that. Don't know if it's because my kids have learned to set limits a lot better than I did, or if it's because these young guys were raised differently. Whatever it is, it gives me hope...

Mum of 4 said...

Hey Kat,
You are really onto something, however, I must say something here about your limited understanding and the stab at women "who chose to stay at home"
We are not all yuppies, don't always have the cool strollers and don't usually have diamonds, because they are using the single salary to raise their kids. (Many of these "yuppies" are trying to live a Hollywood lifestyle to keep up with others) I have been married twice. The first one was a total Pratt - that said "all things equal" and then expected the children to raise themselves while we all equally "worked and partied and explored our own ego's...." I refused, took on the responsibility and chose to be a mother since I helped caused their conception. He was not willing to "foot the bill" and of course, since I was home all day, figured I did nothing but have fun with the baby.... like I said, a Pratt.

Now I am married to a wonderful man that works 2, sometimes 3 jobs at once, and over weekends so that I can stay home with our babies and grow emotionally stable people. "Wife" and "mother" are noble words to me, meaning "loved one" and "revered". "Husband" has all the other minor responsibilities while the kids and I are completely free to just be. There are always times when one partner is doing more or loving more than the other, one just has to reach a balance and watch that you don't slip. I don't go on girl’s weekends, and he doesn't do the boys’ night out thing - we have a home and children and we don't act like pubescent teens who just want their own way. I think people who have kids and then dump them on other people so that they can "have a life" should not take on such an awesome responsibility of rearing a mind and a soul - keeping a little body fed and clothed is the easy part. It is just not practical for both parents to work if you seriously want to raise your own child. Once kids are in school, people think they will have more time HA HA HA ... dumb has just got dumber!
I know a couple where the dad stays home and mum works because she can get a better salary - It works very well for them and the kids would hate for their mother to swop with dad since he is an ace chef! It really all depends on what you can afford, and who will be the better main caregiver... then again, I suppose some kids are better off at day care, considering the self-righteous and new age attitude of today’s "cosmopolitan" generation. I wish people would stop thinking of themselves for a moment long enough to envisage a life of no sleep and permanent personal sacrifice before they romantically have a cereal box baby... those who still go ahead deserve the title "parent" and the same goes for "husband" and "wife" - it is all a personal sacrifice for love, and every day I watch my love sacrifice himself in every way, with a smile on his face. Just give it a try (It DOES take work) and you might just find yourself in heaven : )

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