Monday, August 13, 2007

The privilege of ignoring housework

There's a must-read article in today's New York Times, "Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife."

I only have a few minutes to blog because yes, I am in the middle of cleaning up the house before my cleaning person comes. And yes, I am very grateful to be able to hire someone to help me with the work, but it does not get me out of a lot of chores.

The interesting thing about "Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife" is that it really shows the male privilege of being ignorant about the benefits of having a wife. A couple is interviewed separately. The wife's perspective is:

“Men lock the door and leave. Things could be a wreck or whatever and it doesn’t affect their other world,” Ms. Santana said. “I walk out and worry about the house looking nice, because the kids have play dates, etc. Someone has to worry about that, and it’s usually not the dad.”

While her husband sees things differently:

“We both do whatever we can do while we’re not sleeping,” he said. Regarding the earnings advantage of married men, he commented: “I can’t think of why that would be. I can’t think of what they’d be doing that would cause that.” He has noticed that some married colleagues bring a lunch from home, which he guesses has been packed by the wife, but he doubts that it would increase anyone’s paycheck.


Not only do men get out of doing an equal share of the housework and childcare, but they get to ignore the problem of housework and the benefit they are receiving by having their wives taking care of the issue. (This evokes the idea of white privilege, in which white people don't realize that they are running a race with the wind at their backs.)

I have written quite a bit about this issue of male privilege and it's a drumbeat I intend to keep sounding. Until men realize the benefit they are getting from "women's work," it will never COUNT, economically or socially.

How will this all play out as the Boomers age and "someone" has to take on the task of caregiving? What does it mean to know that we may spend more years taking care of our parents then we do taking care of our children? When "childfree" people, men and women, find themselves dealing with the "non-optional*" issue of parental care, will we come up with some real solutions that make caregiving count? Or will women be left holding the bag once again?

In my family the "kids" in their 60's are very grateful that the "parents" in their 80's and 90's have stable and caring life situations.

Back to housework for now. I know I've previously linked to Judy Syfers' classic 1971 article "Why I Want a Wife," but it's time for one more go-around. It used to make me laugh, but today it makes me want to cry!

And back to the New York Times article for a minute, when both husbands and wives fantasize about whom they could conjure up to be a "devted, trustworthy helper" to rescue them from the drudgery of household management, they both wish for....a Mommy.

Uh-oh.


(*Of course on a societal level, childrearing is also non-optional, but the fact that having children is framed as an individual choice has allowed U. S. society to get away without providing adequate consideration for the caregiving work that parents do.)

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Lisa Giebitz said...

First of all, I am aware how very lucky I am to be able to stay at home. Under any other circumstances but our current ones (my husband is military), I would have to work at least part time, likely full time to make ends meet.

I talked about something similar I've been experiencing recently in my last blog post. I worry a great deal that when our child's born (probably in the latter half of next month) that I will be totally overwhelmed and not be able to do ANYTHING but take care of him. For a long time. When I also want to take care of our home, cook more often, and try to get back to school next fall. I feel so silly even worrying about how the house looks.

I try to get my husband to really understand that things around the house will not be as they are now after the baby's born (he's pretty aware of all those big emotional shifts, of course). And they'll change again, maybe even more drastically in some ways, when he's done with the military. Eventually, I say, you'll really have to step up and do more around the house, especially when I'm in school or start working.

Sorry that I'm rambling a bit, I'm still trying to sort out all my feelings about this. It doesn't help that I'm 8 months pregnant and it's really started to limit what I can physically do, so I HAVE to ask for help with certain things. It's been very frustrating, as you may be able to tell.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Brilliant, timely, provocative (as always) and true.

As the mom, wife and stay-at-home worker, I call myself a hotel manager. (Funny that my first husband, to whom I was not a "wife," was an actual hotel manager! I think that falls under the law of karmic retribution.)

And as I often say, "We are all single mothers."

Yet still, how to acknowledge this, challenge it, change it, and not torment myself with rage and resentment? For his part, my husband offers this tip: you can ignore the housework too. (In other words, what matters to me does not matter to him.)

Still working on that.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a guy, I admit it. Karen hit on an important fact that underscores a critical difference between men and women --and yes, I believe it is biological. Most men don't care much how the house looks -- they don't notice the mess or the dust as women do. The corollary: Most women would not tolerate living in a house that looked the way the man would take care of it if left to his own devices. Now come on, that's a fact -- you know it. What you really want to do is make the man care about housework. If he loves you, just tell him he has to do it -- for you. If he refuses, it's not "male privilege" but grounds for a divorce.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Claudine Wolk said...

I hope you keep sounding the drum. I, too, am confounded by this issue. I think for most moms it sneaks up on us. We do all of these nurturing and caring tasks because we see as our job. As the years pass, and we find other interests, the resentment starts to build because we no longer have the time (or quite frankly, the inclination) to do all the things we were doing before. Once we have a chance to think about it, we realize that not only does this "stuff" NOT count, it is also not appreciated. Why, oh why, would anyone want to do a job that that is not appreciated AND unpaid?
As far as a solution goes, I don't know what the answer is. Maybe we should grab these new moms early and huddle them in a conference room. "Don't do anything except care for the baby", we'll chant. "Keep a little job on the side." "Never, ever, let him know you can cook." What do you think?

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard so many folks say "it's biological" or "women are simply better at that," when it comes to noticing what needs to be done to keep house and family together. I think that's hooey and an excuse for the status quo...we completely disregard the thousands-year old steam-roller of societal pressure, itself. Society judges the state of the home as the women's responsibility. If the home isn't clean, tidy, children well dressed and fed, you never hear "wow, that Dad has really let the place go." It's always "well, she works outside the home, you know," or "she's not much of a mother."

12:33 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

I think that's hooey and an excuse for the status quo...we completely disregard the thousands-year old steam-roller of societal pressure, itself. Society judges the state of the home as the women's responsibility.

I completely agree and as a matter of fact I was mentally composing a follow up to this particular post when your comment came through. So thanks for chiming in because it is helping me get the impetus to write.

Look for the new post Sunday night or Monday.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been married 25 years, no kids & I have come to the conclusion that my husband does not have the same standards as me when it comes to housework.
For years I found it frustating, but I now think I'm just a neater person than him & it gets to me a lot more.
He will let things go to the point that I can no longer stand them & I wind up doing them myself.
When we both worked full-time this really upset me. I was angry & felt overwhelmed much of the time.
Now that I am at home, I think it fair that I take care of the house work & chores, but I still sometimes harbor resentment over the fact that I feel alone in caring about our home together sometimes. Is that selfish of me?

If I ask him politely to help, he doesnt put up any fight usually. He just jumps in & helps me.
But, I have a tendancy to get irritated if I ask him to help me & he says "What do you want me to do?" My reaction is "You have to ask? Can't you look around & see what needs to be done?" The answer I believe is: No, he can't.
When I get worried about how the house looks, he usually says things look just fine to him. They could be really horrific & he still says that. I honestly think he means it.

Another issue I have with my husband is that he will promise to take care of something...forever.
Keeps putting it off. I think he probably forgets, I don't!
Especially aggravating when he promises to water the plants "tomorrow" day after day until they are dead.
I get really irritated & say "If you aren't going to keep your promises, then stop making them! I could have watered those plants myself & then I would'nt be so angry now. Why volunteer to help & then do nothing to help? I think it's mean to do that to someone"

If I wait until I am overwhelmed by it all, I tend to get bitchy & then he jumps up & starts doing whatever it is, but acts very put-out.
Well, maybe I don't want you to wash windows at midnight. Maybe I just want you to keep the promise you made to get it done on the weekend (last weekend, or the previous weekend & the weekend before that) Sigh.

I love him to pieces though.
He is so helpful & nurturing in all sorts of other ways that matter so much to me. I don't think I can hold it against him for not being a clean-freak like me.

4:56 PM  

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