Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Why is it that when a woman cares about the division of labor at home — like her home being a decent level of clean — she is considered to be overreacting?
OK, I’ll get down from my soap box now. (I’ll also break it down, and put it in the recycling.)
DEAR CARES: It is not overreacting! Imbalance in the effort at home is a path to divorce.
To suggest otherwise is to tell women, essentially, that their only chance at harmony is to acquiesce to doing more work than their partners because that’s what we’ve been socialized to do. Total cop out. People make their deals in marriage, yes — and we’re all free to agree to the arrangements that suit us, even if they involve resignation to one stereotype or another.
But pointing out an injustice of long standing — and one often of default vs. examination — is not hysteria or an -ism run amok. It’s how we progress as a society toward fairness.
We could also look at it this way: If you would applaud a man who speaks out against our culture’s motherhood defaults — and they are legion — then applaud women who speak out against housework defaults.
Men suffer from the rigid gender expectations, too; it’s like wearing clothes tailored to someone else. Never feels quite right.
People who are allowed to be themselves starting in childhood, gender roles be damned, grow up to feel better in their own skin, choose better partners and are happier in those relationships for it.
RE: MANAGER: True story: I was just home from the hospital after major surgery. Opening my groggy eyes after a long nap, I saw my husband and daughter at the foot of the bed, staring at me. “What?” I whispered. “What’s for lunch?” my husband asked. He wasn’t kidding.
Much, much later — after laughing about it for years — I realized I’d pretty much trained him to that behavior. I had ALWAYS had things planned out in advance: menus, shopping lists, schedules for food at a party. He fully expected me to have cooked and frozen meals in advance, or at least a list of menu options somewhere. And I think he was afraid to just wing it, because if I’d had a plan and it wasn’t followed, I’d be [angry]. It took me a long time to let go of being the manager, but I had to realize it was NOT a healthy pattern.
RE: MANAGER: Once my husband called me when I was on vacation to ask what his usual order was at our favorite taco place.
RE: MANAGER: My grandmother could never understand that I had (and have) zero interest in cooking, so she would sniff and sigh disapprovingly whenever I would respond, “Oh, [husband] is cooking something.” Eventually I stopped responding as though it were a real question: “[Husband]’s grilling the neighbor’s cat!” “Oreos and wine! I bought them all by myself!” I mean, if she’s going to disapprove of my answers, I might as well give her something to disapprove of, right?
DEAR ZERO INTEREST: Outrageous. Milanos with wine, OK, or Lorna Doones.
RE: LORNA: Oh Carolyn, everyone knows it’s Lorna Doones with bourbon.
DEAR EVERYONE: Lorna understands that monogamy is for suckers.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.