Author | Illustration Mariel Kelly

Adult Learning: When society groups men into one kind – the horrible kind

Hey Audra,

When I was trying to find a Valentine’s Day card for my wife last weekend, I was so frustrated by how horrible the bulk of the cards were. They mostly consist of “Happy Valentine’s Day from your lazy incompetent jerk of a husband.” Why does Hallmark think there is only one type of husband: the horrible kind?

Signed,
A Husband Who Does Dishes

Hey AHWDD,

I hope you had a good Valentine’s Day! I’m sorry you couldn’t find a card that you felt matched your family dynamic. I totally know that feeling. My family and I actually manufactured our own cards (with the help of Mariel Ashlinn, the super talented gal who illustrates this column), because we were so fed up with the lack of options for people who were non-monogamous and/or wanted to celebrate their friends as much as their romantic partner(s).

It’s interesting to hear that even someone in (what I am admittedly assuming is) a more traditional relationship is similarly struggling. Truly our culture seems to be pretty broken when it comes to how we view romance. So many things seem to reinforce the message that all couples secretly (or openly!) just resent and tolerate each other.

As far as these cards go, there is so much to unpack here that I almost don’t know where to start. On one hand, they are very insulting and demoralizing to men who do their fair share of domestic chores. At the same time, they normalize (and, in fact, turn into a sort of punchline?) the fact that women still do the bulk of the domestic chores in relationships. A 2008 study from the University of Michigan showed that even for women who didn’t have children, getting married resulted in seven more hours a week in housework for them. It’s like, get a husband, lose an hour a day of your life to laundry and cleaning. Here is some more interesting data: middle- and upper-class men are far less likely to take on an equal role in domestic tasks than working-class men; and even though Millennial men are more likely to purport a desire for egalitarian relationships than their fathers were, their attitude becomes much more traditional once they have kids of their own.

You know what, though? Even more than suggesting you read all those articles, I’d encourage you to spend some time reading through this public thread that started on my Facebook wall when I posted a personal essay written by a man who had finally realized why his wife left him. It was called “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink,” and this was my favourite paragraph:

I always reasoned: “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.” But she didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household. She wanted me to figure out all of the things that needed to be done and devise my own method of task management.   I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.

In the piece, the author outlines the fact that it’s not about the dish by the sink, it’s about showing that you care about your partner’s stated needs. He didn’t care about the dish being by the sink, so he left it there. Even though his partner cared about it. Even though he cared about her.

The post clearly struck a nerve all over. It had close to a thousand shares, and then comments were divided between men insisting this wasn’t a gendered issue and women saying a variation of “Yes, this is exactly why I left my husband.” The most astonishing thing to see, though, were things like a woman tagging her husband and saying, “Read this and you might understand why I get annoyed when you don’t put your dishes in the dishwasher” and her husband actually replying with “Blah blah blah.”

As I have written about before, there are so many fantastic feminist women who are dating complete man-babies, and it is grinding. us. down.

Something I find pretty telling is that in movies, a husband is often set up as an obvious villain if he is violent, while a wife is often set up as an obvious villain if she tries to crush the husband’s dreams by wanting him to be a responsible and considerate partner. And our standards for what that consideration looks like are staggeringly low. When test audiences for the 2012 Mike Birbiglia film Sleepwalk With Me saw an early cut of the film, they couldn’t figure out why the main character’s girlfriend even wanted to be with him. When the film was edited to include a scene where that character gave her a sandwich while picking her up from work, suddenly audiences were super into this otherwise completely imbalanced relationship.

What I am saying is, as much as it is lousy for men to see themselves reflected in popular culture as lazy and inept, they also unwittingly (and often unwillingly) benefit from things that reinforce these insulting ideas. Because as much as men are being sent the message, “You probably can’t even boil an egg,” women are being sent the message “You better make sure all of men’s basic survival needs are being met, because they can’t do that on their own.” And so, the cycle continues, until someone does something to fix it. But who?

So maybe I need to turn this back around. Maybe instead of asking why greeting cards don’t reflect the fact that men are equally responsible for domestic tasks, we need to figure out why so many relationships don’t reflect it. And then work to change that narrative. Speak up the next time you are at a family gathering and the men head to the couches after dinner while the women head to the kitchen. Make a point of modelling caretaking and domestic chores with any young boys or men in your life. Start difficult conversations with men you know.

Share this post on your Facebook wall and see what happens.

Thanks for wanting to be part of the solution, <3
Audra

Do you have a problem that you could use some help with? Send along your questions about love, career, politics, and anything else to ask.adult.learning@gmail.com.

7 Comments

  1. ihmurria
    February 16, 2016

    audrawilliams shedoesthecity this is a super fantastic piece, as is the man baby one linked inside (which is sadly reminiscent of my ex)

  2. audrawilliams
    February 16, 2016

    ihmurria shedoesthecity Oh thank you so much!!!

  3. ElizabetKAdams
    February 17, 2016

    Good to read such a well-balanced piece! Particularly satisfying is the call-out on films’ representation of the issue.
     BBC’s Woman’s Hour has done many episodes of “chore wars”, and found that whilst men had improved over the years, and in some cases spend more time actually doing chores, women are far more likely to take on the ‘managing’ role, with planning and logistics and decision-making – and the time spent “worrying” about these things was considerable, and, it could be argued, is more stressful than f.ex. emptying the dishwasher every day. 
    So why do women worry about these things? Are men taking advantage of the fact that women ‘care’ more about how things look,  and they don’t? (but then, what about all the great male designers and architects – surely men have aesthetics too?) Or are women labouring under the sense that if the home is untidy, it reflects poorly on her, rather than on her partner? – because the assumption is still that the home is her responsibility – however outdated that is. Or is it because a tidy, clean home is an imperative (if an impossible one), when raising kids – and the safety and well-being of the children is still primarily the mother’s domain. 
    I happen to live on my own, and am a bit of a slob – and I always get the sense that I wouldn’t be apologising so incessantly to guests about the mess, if I were a dude. And yet I can’t stop myself, it is hard-wired into my behaviour, even though it is really entirely up to me how I use my own space. Alternately, guys often seem to need extra acknowledgement for their domestic work – it is still a novelty act, even for most millenials, and as such demands extra praise. I feel when I make an effort, I should get praise too – after all, I was not brought up to be a domestic slave! And domestic skills are learnt, anyway, they are not a part of female DNA.

  4. SuzanneStaufferLambert
    February 17, 2016

    I’m one of those married women without children who lost at least 7 hours — possibly more — when I got married at 50. It’s the time I spend cleaning up after him, putting things away, wiping up spills, putting trash in the trash can (seriously — he’ll leave a bottle cap on the counter rather than drop it in the trash can). I think it’s more a personality thing in our case, as I know plenty of women who also operate on the “clean it up once a day” rather than “clean as you go” philosophy. 
    What I’m working on — and making some progress on, after 10 years — is getting him to see that “the house” — all of it — is both of our responsibilities. He’s sees it more like the workplace, where we have defined jobs, and when he’s finished with “his job,” he’s off the clock, regardless of what else needs to be done. He’s always done the vacuuming and mopping and taken out the trash — all of which are, at most, weekly chores —  and now is doing the washing up in the evening — but when he’s finished that, he sits down with his Kindle, and that’s that. Bed still isn’t made, wastepaper baskets have not been emptied, his laundry has not been folded and/or put away (in fact, it’s likely in a basket in the living room), shoes are in the living room, etc. I’m cooking dinner, and he’s sitting on Facebook because he’s finished with his assigned tasks for the day. 
    When he was single, he was a better housekeeper. I do think that there’s a subconscious attitude that if there’s a woman in the house, it becomes her responsibility, because that’s the way it was growing up.

  5. sudsieone
    February 17, 2016

    Superb.  Simply superb.  Thank you!

  6. manbaby
    February 18, 2016

    Let me see if I get this right.  The response to the question of gender generalizing hallmark cards is basically that the generalizations are totally true and men are lazy and inept.  So feel ashamed of yourself.  Imagine if hallmark had negative generalizations about women, there would be riots on the streets!  It would be unimaginable to make a valentines day card where a woman apologizes to a man for being lazy as a premise.  Unimaginable.  

    There is something called an exchange of value.  equal does not mean everyone does exactly the same amount of everything. It’s pretty insanely inefficient to cook every meal together at the same time, to do equal amounts of laundry, to both work 8 hours a day at mediocre jobs.  You are basically doing all the same work as if you are both single.  But to cook for 2 is like 10% more effort than to cook for one.  To do all the laundry is like 50% (not 100%) more difficult than to do one persons laundry.  And, to focus on a job that can support two people is literally giving someone EIGHT HOURS of their life back a day.  This does not mean that the man should work and the woman stay at home, this doesn’t have to be gendered at all.  But this article is all about enforcing gender stereotypes from the get go so let’s stick to it.

    You write that married women gain an hour more of chores a day, but please tell me what they receive in return.  I guarantee, on average, they are making way more for that hour of labor, as an hourly rate, than that man is making at his job.  Upper-middle class men do the least chores?  Well no kidding, because upper-middle class men also buy, and spent 30 years of their life paying for (in a high stress job that will lower their life expectancy relative to their wife) , an upper-middle class house for them!  For that one hour of ‘extra’ work the average stay at home wife in a traditional marriage gets back many more hours of resources.  Now if you are not splitting the choirs and you are both working equally then someone is being an asshole.  But the article gives zero weight to the work men put into a household in a traditional setting, and only counts the effort women put in.

    This is a relationship thing, not a gender thing.  If you are not putting in equal effort, in which ever form it takes, then you have a relationship problem.  But endlessly reinforcing sexist gender stereotypes does nothing positive for anyone.

  7. ankylosaurus
    February 19, 2016

    @manbaby

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