3.29.2007

Is the reason the wedding is for the bride...because the marriage is for the husband?

While working on my Women and the Law paper, I ran across a law review article entitled "The Focus Factor" by B. Glenn George (15. Tex. J. Women & L. 147). Here is one excerpt that I found quite interesting:

Susan Maushart's Wifework describes the reality of marriage, or rather being a wife, as a “nasty shock.” Weaving together her own experiences (two divorces, the second leaving her as a single parent with three children under the age of five) with research studies, Dr. Maushart makes the case that marriage is often a bad deal for women in virtually every respect, while men reap significant benefits from the arrangement. “If you are female, marriage will make a huge difference--and a surprising proportion of that difference will be negative. Becoming a wife will erode your mental health, reduce your leisure, decimate your libidom, and increase the odds that you will be physically assaulted or murdered in your own home.”

According to one study, marriage means fifty percent more laundry, seventy-three percent more cleaning and forty-nine percent more cooking for the wife. The husband, on the other hand, reduces his time on such tasks compared to his single state. Thus, the presence of the husband adds to the wife's workload (eight hours per week, according to one study) without bringing with it the “extra help” a “modern” woman might expect--or at least without bringing as much help as the eight hours he is adding to burden. And Dr. Maushart is talking here just about housework without the additional commitment of childcare. Add children to the mix, and mom is performing five times as much childcare duties as dad. Another study described husbands' avoidance of laundry as “notorious.” Even when both husband and wife work, the wife does all of the laundry in eighty-five percent of these relationships.

Whether of not the wife is employed has surprisingly little impact on the balance of housework performed by a married couple. Indeed, the difference between men with working wives and men with nonworking wives comes down to ten minutes--men with working wives perform ten minutes more housework per day than men with non-working wives. Other studies report a negative correlation for men between the number of hours worked and the hours spend in domestic work; in other words, fewer hours worked by the husband translates into less work done around the *161 house. To the extent that studies indicate a more balanced division of labor when both husband and wife have demanding careers, the balance is explained by the fact that the wife is “off-loading” more of her domestic labor hours to paid help (help generally arranged by the wife); the husband rarely contributes by shouldering an increasing load.

Dr. Maushart's colorful style captures the essence of these statistics with enough humor to soften the depressing reality. In discussing the culturally ingrained practice of “performing services” as a way for women/wives to express their love, for example, she notes the apparent absence of the proverbial two-way street:

Is there a husband alive who shows how much he cares by steam-pleating his wife's skirts, or making sure she always has enough bras in her underwear drawer? Does a man in love feel guilty about falling behind in the dusting? Does he assume 94 per cent of all child care tasks, refusing to use day care because ‘he didn't become a father to let somebody else look after his kids'? Does a truly devoted family man feel terminally conflicted about juggling paid and unpaid work commitments? And will he ever in a billion trillion years cop flak if he forgets his mother-in-law's birthday? Other scholars report similar findings on the home front, regardless of race, class or culture. As one scholar concluded after a review of available studies, “Little will be said about variations associated with race or social class differences, or differences between the various countries for which substantial data are available. . . . This is not due to lack of interest or lack of space, but because there is a great deal of evidence that these matters are barely, if at all, relevant.”

In one particularly revealing incident reported in a study by Dr. Francine M. Deutsch, Dr. Deutsch reports on a family in which both parents work full time, but the wife worked significantly longer hours than her husband. The wife worked an average of seventy-five hours per week as a clinical social worker, while her husband averaged 41 hours per week *162 as a speech pathologist. Yet, in spite of this significant disparity of time availability, the wife continued to do most of the housework. When asked to explain this apparent anomaly, the husband responded that he “didn't enjoy and wasn't interested in doing the cooking or laundry.” How does one even begin to respond?

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I have to say that this excerpt resonates with me because I sense the Knight and I will have a dispute one day based upon this traditional split (or rather dumping) of chores on the wife. Right now, we live apart, he works long hours, and I am taking a mere 12 hours this semester. When he comes home for the weekends, he helps by vacuuming, loading the dishwasher, and cooking occasionally, while I take care of the laundry, dusting, mopping, bathrooms, and general pickup.

One reason why he does so much less is because the mess is mostly my mess. Also, he works a lot more than I do, and drives 3 1/2 hours one way to see me for the weekend. A final reason for my doing more, which I think the article should have addressed more closely, is that I like the way I clean a lot better than his method (plus, I secretly like doing the laundry). My guess is that a lot of other women feel the same way (well, except for the laundry part).

Sometimes now, we fight about his contribution to the household chores, but since there are a multitude of reasons why he could be excused from doing anything right now (as I just mentioned above), I usually nag a few times and let it go.

However, once we both live in Memphis together, and we are both working, a serious compromise of chore-splitting will be essential. Either that, or we'll hire a maid. Or maybe go "Big Love" style and get a wife. Or a robot? Any other suggestions?







3 comments:

Anastasia said...

Oh man. I've read Maushart's book and it scared the baloney out of me. I've never come to a good conclusion except part of what you said resonates - most guys don't clean the same way women do. (I hate to make generalizations, but that's my perspective.) Also, guys seem okay with living in a higher level of disorder so a lot of women seem to find that if they don't pick up, no one will. Personally, I'm hoping for two things in a guy - a)he loves to cook & b)he'll do dishes because I can't stand them. Besides that, I'm hoping to one day afford a maid. Oh, and if he wants kids, then he needs to agree to be the primary caretaker in that category. Period.

Meg said...

I have lived with several men, and this all definitely rings true for me (and I'm not a particularly "tidy" person, by any means). I find the best way to go about doing it is to never get to the point where you're doing more in the first place (hard, though.)

I'm currently living with a guy I lived with a year ago - when we lived together in the US, I did almost all of the household chores (he washed dishes, though). I figured it was ok because he had a monster commute every day (1.5 hours each way). Now, I still cook and do laundry, and he does dishes, folds laundry, and cleans the room - simply because I ask him to do it when I'm in the middle of doing some other household task.

I guess the best advice I have is just to give him tasks to do, without nagging. When you're in Memphis, and you're in the middle of doing something and he's watching TV or on the computer, say, "hey, would you mind helping me out by....(doing dishes, putting a load of laundry in, etc)?" You might have to ask him every single time, but as long as he recognizes that you work as hard as he does it should be ok.

I think he hardest part comes in when a woman is staying home and taking care of kids, and has no quantitative way to show her spouse how much work she is actually doing every day.

Amy said...

Just heard about your blog. I'm a blog addict. . . anyway, saw that you are moving to Memphis. That's exciting! I live in Memphis, and am a lawyer. I think you will like it!

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