Alexandra Bradner, a philosophy professor at the University of Kentucky, has a piece at The Atlantic on women’s “second shifts.” Noting that women, mothers in particular, are both “important” and “exploited,” she asks why exactly men are so dense when it comes to realizing that maybe the wife could use a hand around the house. After all, women are “equally ambitious” but are victims of the “destruction that childrearing extracts.” Since they don’t have “a village” that will pick up some of these menial chores for them, they would like their husbands to “pick up a broom” in order to “relieve working mothers and save their relationships.”
Her study couldn’t have been more unscientifically done. What man in his right mind would have responded to her questions? Beyond that, I have a rule of thumb when it comes to social science: if the claims don’t square with what I see on a daily basis, the author better present an airtight or overwhelming case for her claims. Most marriages I see are genuine partnerships; sure, one partner may get a little frustrated from time to time with what the other does or does not do, but I have never seen a woman suffer her husband’s indolence in silence. Typically, the division of labor within a household evolves over the course of a marriage, and while spouses may on occasion feel put upon, they typically understand and accept their unique role.
Bradner, on the other hand, jumps from this premise:
Within an hour and a half, I received a collection of lists that averaged around 35 items each, full of the taxing, the trivial, the short- and the long-term: sick child duty, travel planning, photo organization, holiday preparation, emotional support work, hairstyling, online searches for sports equipment, et al.
to the assumption that men aren’t pulling their weight, and women are left completely to their own devices in household management. From the self-report of some women concerning the tasks women feel they have to do, Bradner immediately asks why it is that men aren’t supportive and helpful. The syllogism runs something like this:
- Men and women are co-workers in the household
- Women do all the household work.
- Men need to be prompted into relieving women’s burdens (“the village” being too expensive)
Bradner proceeds from the assumption that women do all the work to an examination of hypotheses for the failure of men to help out. Rather than examine the hypotheses, however, she immediately jumps to solutions:
Do I do half of the laundry and half of the dishes every day?
Do I buy half of the clothes and toys?
Do I take on half of the management of my care providers?
Do I write half of the lists and notes?
Do I wake up in the middle of the night to calm the baby half of the time?
Do I change half of the diapers?
Do I plan half of the travel?
Do I track half of the household budget?
Do I put the kids to bed half of the time?
Do I make half of the grocery, sports, and afterschool lesson runs?
Do I write half of the e-mails to my kids’ teachers?
Do I watch the kids for half of the weekend and for half of every weeknight?
This kind of strict mathematical division of labor, and frankly, this kind of narrow focus on only certain kinds of labor, bears no relationship whatsoever to how married couples actually live their lives. It may be the case that sometimes my wife says to me or I say to her “Can you get that this time? I did it last time” – but for the most part you’ve accepted certain tasks as yours, or, seeing a problem, you take care of it. If my wife presented me with such a list – or, honestly, if I would present her with one (lawn work, household repairs, building projects, playing catch with the kids, doing all the driving on family vacations, etcetera – we would just laugh at each other. If there is a woman out there who has suffered her negligent husband in silence, I haven’t met her.
A far more realistic portrait of marriage can be found in an essay by Sharon Astyk over at Science Blog. Astyk writes:
“I don’t think Eric and my eyes have ever met in one of those soppy, romantic looks couples give each other over a puddle of vomit before. Yesterday, however, they did.
We’ve been battling a nasty, slow moving stomach virus at our house (four down, four still to go ;-P), and one of the children threw up rather spectacularly all over their bed, the rug and (especially helpful) a gigantic pile of library books (I guess we now own a smelly $50 copy of the illustrated Silmarillion. Yay.) I walked in on the scene, yelled for husbandly help, and he set to the rug while I faced the library books. It was unbelievably gross. It stank. It was part of parenting, and well, oddly funny. Somewhere in the middle, we looked at each other and all I could think was “Well, there’s no one I’d rather be doing this with.”
The Atlantic has in the past couple of years become a resounding echo chamber for female complaints that men are losers. I can’t imagine what would happen if someone tried to turn the tables, but I can say that in the modern academy, as also in the MSM, challenges to such orthodoxies won’t be tolerated. More generally, however, it’s a reflection of changing work spaces. Bradner just assumes two working parents plying their labor outside the household is the model we ought to embrace. Astyk writes out of the context of farm life, where household duties are rather naturally shared and divided between partners. The one assumes contentious relationships defined by duties and managed by a ledger, while the other assumes the mutual formation, maintenance, and care of a household and children through mutual love and respect. I suspect the social context of the household plays no small role in its operation and in the relations of husband and wife within it, but no doubt I’ll be accused of wanting to keep women barefoot and pregnant for all this.