I’m starting research for a new book about marriage and family. I’ll be writing here about my research, so you’ll start to see a lot more posts on marriage. In fact, I’ve created an entire new category, “marriage,” to distinguish these research-oriented posts. I created the category so I can easily find all my writing on the subject, but you can use it too: if you find you’re getting sick of posts about marriage, just click on the “General” category in the sidebar, and you’ll get all of my posts except the ones about marriage.
The question of the day: are men pigs for wanting their wives to do all the housework, laundry, shopping, taking care of kids, shopping, etc.? Stephanie Coontz, writing in her book The Way We Really Are says no:
Research shows that men are happiest in a relationship when they don’t have to do much housework and yet meals get made, clothes get ironed, and the house looks good. This doesn’t mean they are chauvinist pigs. Who wouldn’t be happier under those conditions? (19)
Of course, in the most basic sense, Coontz is right. But how come most women don’t expect men to do all the housework? Isn’t it piggish to expect others to do something we’re not willing to do ourselves? Coontz says it’s all about “situated social power”:
Various groups in society have unequal access to economic resources, political power, social status, and these social differences limit how fair or equal a personal relationship between two individuals from different groups can really be. Such social imbalances affect personal behavior regardless of sincere intentions of both parties to “not let it make a difference” (15).
Since men have more situated social power, women feel obligated to do the grunt work in a household, for fear that their husbands will leave them. Furthermore, women are the traditional rulers of the household, so they treat men as inferior when it comes to household tasks, especially caring for infant children. Women themselves play a role in perpetuating male chauvinism.
My problem with this analysis, which seems to me to be mostly on the mark, is that even men who are aware of this dynamic fall into the same trap. Why can’t they, with their larger share of social power, demand a more substantive role, especially when it comes to child rearing? Why do they allow women to hoard the larger share of their childrens’ affection? Coontz would say that it’s because the women don’t allow it, and they are the ones with more situated social power when it comes to child rearing. Coontz is probably right, but I’d take this analysis one step further: the “liberated” men who recognize that women traditionally are excluded from power actually exacerbate the problem by overcompensating. They defer to women, especially when it comes to household tasks: precisely the area they need to be more assertive if they are to create a more equal environment. The result is the “second shift” for women, a situation where even in “egalitarian,” dual-career marriages, the women typically end up doing most of the housework, taking over almost the entire “second shift” themselves. The liberated man’s “good intentions” can lead to unhealthy families, to depression, to divorce.