Another post on the topic of equitable domestic load-sharing – and Sarina Lewis again. You may recall I had a go at Lewis on the subject of domestic load-sharing before. No, I haven’t finished with the poor woman yet. But she had not one, but two, articles on that page of the Sunday Life magazine, the second one retailing a particular story that we hear repeated from time to time: Men would “help” more around the house if women weren’t so damn fussy and control-freaky! (And, Fairfax, what’s with the “own worse enemy”? Bring back the sub editors, please!)
Watching my husband and three-year-old son get ready for their weekly ritual of watching live Saturday-afternoon football, I couldn’t help but question my husband’s choice of clothing for our son. “He’ll be too hot,” I blurted out.
Calmly stopping mid-jumper-pull to address me, my husband said in a polite voice tinged with steel, “This is my time with him. Leave me to do it how I do it.”
It is a scenario familiar to clinical psychologist Victoria Kasunic. Women appreciate domestic help, yes, but are they able to loosen their hold on the household reins?…
…As for me, I have learnt to keep my mouth firmly shut, the payoff being a five-hour block of solo time each Saturday afternoon, mine to do with as I wish. The reward for tolerance? Priceless.
Polite voice tinged with steel? My mouth firmly shut? and she’s the controlling partner here? OK. Anyway, we’re here to examine the urban myth behind this story.
I’m sure you’ve seen this one yourself, in one form or another. In this Just-So story, the popular suggested solution is for the female partner to lower her too exacting standards – the implication being that we’re a bunch of obsessive Hyacinth Buckets who, as one LP commenter HILARIOUSLY put it, iron the cat.
Here’s another example from Rebecca Huntley, H/T to Leslie Cannold.
Aussie men may make worse husbands than their counterparts in the US or Britain, but according to one social researcher, women have no-one to blame but themselves…
…Dr Rebecca Huntley, who is speaking at Sydney’s Dangerous Ideas Festival this weekend, says women tend to be martyrs and control freaks when it comes to household duties, thus embracing their own domestic slavery.
See? You, female reader, are to blame, as usual. I think this Just So story is a bit of clever framing which some (not all) men have gleefully taken to their hearts because it lets them off the hook. There are two things hiding behind this popular trope. One is that as a society we still see women’s work as inferior, and therefore a no-brainer requiring no training at all. Surely it’s impossible for there to be a right and wrong way to do something like dishes or laundry? Two, we are perfectly fine with listening respectfully to men showing us how to perform manual tasks, but not to women.
Think back, oh ye older ones, to the 1970s or 80s when we were baby feminists and we wanted to do jobs which were coded male for ourselves: changing tyres, or the oil in the car, let’s say. I can’t speak for younger people, but people of my age were most likely taught by a father, brother or boyfriend to do these things.
These people most likely taught you that there was a wrong way and a right way to do things, didn’t they? After all, you create problems, expense and extra work if you use the wrong oil, for instance, or forget to put the oil cap back on the engine head, or leave the handbrake off when you’re changing the tyre. If you’re learning to do something, whatever it is, it’s beneficial to listen to the person who does it every day. And the way in which you carry out household tasks does make a difference. You can cost a working person a lot of unnecessary money by stuffing up the laundry.
This is not women being control freaks. This is the perception that “women’s work” is no-brain stuff with no degree of difficulty, so it’s not necessary to be taught. Also, men explaining stuff to women (or, as above, simply disagreeing about the best way to carry out a task) is normal, but women trying to instruct men is control freakery. Furthermore, as usual, you’re not going to win whatever you do. Notice that the first writer is recommending that we keep our mouths firmly shut, while the other is taking us to task for not discussing enough.
This just-so story helps to justify the continued imbalance of male and female contributions to the household load. We’d do it, but you lot are just never satisfied. See? I TRIED OH MY GOD HOW I TRIED, but just because your would-be respectable clothes are all covered with tissue snow, now you want to TELL ME TO CHECK POCKETS. And just because I left oil and food scraps on the cooking pots you want me to SCRUB THEM instead of just wiping them. My dignity is offended. I’m all in favour of equality, but no woman’s going to tell me what to do!
Update – Just noticed this wonderful post by Spilt Milk on the same theme.