Dudes Getting it Together: Men, Housework, and “Having it All”

For a second straight week, my Role/Reboot column looks at the much-discussed “having it all” phenomenon, this time taking on men’s failure to pull their own weight on the domestic front. Excerpt:

In recent years, there’s been a veritable explosion of “daddy blogging” by mostly white and middle-class men, some of whom are “stay-at-home” fathers while others are sole or collaborating breadwinners. Much of that writing has been excellent. But Jill and Jessica aren’t talking about the need for more men to share openly about their skills at nurturing children and cleaning house. Those are important topics to be sure; we need to see more examples of the different ways in which men can step into traditionally female domestic roles. But we also need husbands and fathers in public life to share in detail, both about their own struggle to create balance—and what it is that they’re doing to help the mothers of their children get an equal shot at “having it all.”

For many men, the standard to which they compare their own domestic output is the one set by their fathers. Like most guys of his generation, my daddy didn’t change diapers. I do, like so many of mine. But “helping more than dad did”—with all due respect to papa—sets the bar too low. The question isn’t “how does what I’m doing compare to what my own father did?” The question is, “am I pulling my weight compared to what my partner’s doing?”

Many men complain that asking for these details is just so much unnecessary score-keeping. The fact that we haven’t kept score has been what’s allowed this disheartening disparity to persist so stubbornly. Talking honestly about who does what and how long it takes isn’t about determining winners and losers—it’s about accountability.

There’s no question that some men are pulling their own weight; the small cohort of daddy bloggers not least among them. The “daddy shift” toward a more responsible and present fathering paradigm is real. But as the evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes clear there are too few of us. As Lindsay Beyerstein wrote at In These Times, “if most men aren’t willing to do their fair share of childcare, only a handful of ambitious women will manage to find one of these rare mates. Until cultural mores change on a broad scale, there will never be enough enlightened men to go around.”

Virtual Models and the Tired Trope of the War Against Men

Two more pieces up today.

At GMP, I respond to Tom Matlack and to this Meghan Casserly piece in Forbes. See It’s Not the End of Men, and We Still Have Work to Do. Excerpt:

As reported this week, men with children are doing more housework than ever before. We’re up to spending 80% as much time as women do on chores. That’s an undeniable improvement over where we were a few short decades ago. But again, a trend in the right direction doesn’t mean the problem of inequality has been licked. And as that same study found, women are doing much more than those statistics suggest, largely because women spend much more time than men multi-tasking. The fact that we’re doing more than ever before doesn’t change the reality that we’re still not pulling our weight.

There’s a long tradition in men’s writing (see Freud, Sigmund) of complaining that women’s demands are excessive and irrational. The modern iteration of that tactic is to point out how hard men are trying. What more could women possibly want? Don’t women have more opportunities than ever before? Aren’t men doing more domestic chores and showing more affection than their fathers’ generation ever did? Why isn’t that enough? When are these shrews going to give us a break, give us a cookie, and let “good enough” be sufficient?

Individual men are not called to be martyrs. (I don’t know any women who expect them to be.) But we can do better than point endlessly to all the things we’ve done right, as if they constitute a credit balance sufficient to discharge the debts from all the places where we continue to fall short. And make no mistake, we are still falling short. That men are up to doing 80% of the work—and that women are up to earning 80 cents on our dollar—indicates progress. But to use a football analogy, it’s still the third quarter and though we’re catching up, we need another couple of touchdowns to win the game. And some men sound like they’re ready to hit the showers.

At Healthy is the New Skinny, my column looks at the H&M virtual models controversy. See All Women are Real…Unless They’re Digitally Generated. Excerpt:

But models are more than just walking and talking mannequins. For all the real problems in the beauty industry, there’s a growing awareness of the tremendous potential that real (as in human) models across the size spectrum have to inspire us to think differently about our bodies. More and more current and former models – including so many of our HNS ambassadors are speaking out in favor of a healthier approach to fashion. We’re seeing a new generation of models emerge who are genuine role models, willing to share their joys and their struggles and their tools for living happy and complete lives. No computer image can do that.

For the sake of those role models – and more importantly for the sake of the young people who need those role models – it’s worth pushing back against the current H&M campaign. If we’re ever going to return the beauty ideal to something that’s sane, healthy, and attainable, we need real, human women to show it to us.

By request, some more thoughts on feminist fathering

Four days shy of my first Father’s Day as a parent to a human child, and nine days shy of my daughter reaching five months of age, it’s a bit premature to declare myself a master of Feminist Fatherhood. Still, each passing week brings new insight and experience, and my learning curve remains wonderfully steep.

Heloise is rolling over now, her personality and her energy shining through more and more each day. She’s growing rapidly, still on breastmilk only. And we’ve developed a family schedule that works well for us at this point, revolving around three essential caregivers in baby’s life. Our weekdays look like this:

I get up early, somewhere between 4:45 and 5:45 depending on the day. Heloise is restless at night, but often does her deepest sleeping just before and just after dawn. I go running while my wife and daughter rest. While I’m out, my mother-in-law comes over and takes the baby (if she’s up) so my wife can sleep in later. I shower and go off to school. My wife wakes up, feeds the baby, and goes to work for a few hours, coming home around noon to relieve my mother-in-law. My wife is with Heloise most of the afternoon until I get home. Once I’m home, I’m the primary caregiver; my wife gets more work done or heads out to the gym. Heloise usually goes down sometime after 9:00PM — and my wife and I get a bit of time alone together. I’m usually in bed by midnight, my wife a bit afterwards.

Heloise sleeps fitfully at times, but is usually down for most of the period between 10-7. When she wakes up in the night, I’m in charge of changing and soothing; my wife (obviously) in charge of feeding. We average two waking episodes a night now; each one lasts about 30-40 minutes. (Yes, as a result, I’m probably getting only four hours of sleep a night during the week; I get more on weekends.) And during the day, my wife, mother-in-law, and I each take an equal share of the time being the primary caregiver, though obviously my wife alone can get breastfeed; Heloise can go four hours comfortably without eating. Some days, my wife takes the baby in to work with her, and my mother-in-law is less involved.

Folks, I’m not soliciting advice about how to “do a schedule”; I’m simply sharing what works for us. There’s no one right way, surely, to work out a co-parenting routine. The point is that while it’s a bit tiring, it’s a routine that works for us right now. We get done what needs getting done, and we let slide what we can let slide, and we (my wife and I) do everything we can to make sure that we’re bonding with our daughter and meeting all of her needs and then some. And gosh, I don’t feel disposable or irrelevant! Who are these men who feel as if they have no role to play in an infant’s life? When I get home from school and see my daughter’s face light up at my return, I’m ecstatic; her sweet smile is a better antidote for exhaustion than any other I’ve known. Continue reading

Feminism, fatherhood, and enduring male privilege

This post by Jessica at Feministing, responding to this risible Neil Lyndon piece in the Daily Mail has revived many of the familiar arguments about feminism, the men’s rights movement, and gender essentialism. It’s all part of a response to the latest flurry of op-ed pieces (far too numerous to which to link) suggesting that feminism has proved a failure, largely because so many women today (especially middle-class American and European women, presumably those most likely to have benefitted from the movement) report being exhausted, overworked, anxious and, well, unhappy.

If you follow the feminist blogosphere, this topic has been debated over and over again in one form or another since the earliest BBS discussions of the mid-1990s. I’m not interested in rehashing the arguments, though the latest round of anti-feminist bromides seem unusually poorly constructed. Most are guilty of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: if women are anxious or frustrated or unhappy after the coming of the first three waves of feminism, then they are anxious and unhappy because of the first three waves of feminism. One might as well make the same argument about the arrival of the cell phone, electrolysis, or the designated hitter rule. Repeat after me, class: correlation is not causation.

What made me want to write today was the comment thread below the Feministing piece, a thread in which a number of classic MRA (men’s rights activist) arguments were raised. The basic thesis: feminism has created a world hostile to men (at least in the industrialized West). Feminists have co-opted judicial, political, and educational institutions in order to advance what the MRAs call a “victim ideology”. Men and boys are alternately harangued and ignored, viewed by the feminist elite as either dim-witted oafs or dangerously calculating and predatory. Men are dying earlier and committing suicide more frequently because of their alienation from these woman-centered institutions, say the MRAs; the legions of young men hooked on pot or porn or Playstation (or all three) are the inevitable result of their cultural and social emasculation at the hands of a shrill and craven matriarchy. Or so say the MRAs.

So let me say this in defense of feminism, not only from the perspective of someone who makes his living in no small part by teaching it, but from the perspective of a new father: my relationship with my infant daughter is, in a very real way, made possible by the critical work feminists did to reframe traditional gender roles. It is thanks to the gains of the feminist movement that I was encouraged and expected to go through every aspect of the pregnancy and birthing process with my wife. It is thanks to the cultural shift initiatied by feminists and male allies that I was able to take the time away from work to be there for my wife (a right alas not yet universal). It is thanks to the feminist movement that a generation of committed and dedicated fathers has emerged, fathers who actively practice co-parenting with the mothers of their children. Though men neither get pregnant nor breastfeed, these biological inadequacies are no impediment to developing the capacity to nurture, something I am living out as best I can every day. Continue reading

Dad on duty: of domesticity, acculturated incompetence, and that steep learning curve of the first-time father

Experiencing the steep learning curve of a new father has me thinking again about men and domesticity and the ways in which we carefully inculcate “learned incompetence” in so many of our brothers. (An old post on men and household chores is here.)

As I’ve said several times now, I never changed a baby’s diaper until my daughter was born. Though my younger sisters are more than a decade my junior, I was never invited or encouraged to change them or participate in their care. Growing up, the men I knew were immensely enthusiastic about babies — in short bursts. After some active play, a crying child would be handed by a man to the baby’s mother (or aunt, grandmother, cousin, and so on). My own father was very loving towards me all his life, but the actual care I can remember receiving when I was small was largely from my mother or from other women.

My feminist mother, to her credit, taught her sons how to do laundry, wash dishes, and perform other domestic duties. But we were never given, that I remember, any sort of education about how to care for babies. And though in many previous relationships with women I learned to be scrupulous about balancing out household tasks, small people were never a responsibility. (Pets were, and I’ve always been eager to volunteer to take the lead in caring for animals.) So when Cerys was born, I was suddenly “on” duty in a way I had never been before. Continue reading

Off on America’s latest spring break, and a Friday reprint

It’s a crazy Friday, and I’m not sure how much time I will have to post over the next ten days. I’m off on Spring Break next week (Pasadena City College has America’s last spring break, I’m nearly certain), so posting will be intermittent (but not entirely absent) between now and April 22.

Here’s a reprint of a 2005 post: Relinquishing Control: Some Thoughts on Men, Women, and the Domestic Sphere.

The comments below this post continue to come in, and there’s an interesting exchange worth following up on.

Stacer wrote:  it can be very hard for women to relinquish control over what is traditionally her domain, especially if she was raised traditionally and/or has family members who pressure her in that regard.

I replied: Helping wives to relinquish that sort of control is a task that men, especially those who also come out of a conservative background, ought to consider embracing.

Caitriona asked in response: Uhm, just how do you propose that men "help" their wives relinquish control in these areas?

This is getting into some tricky stuff.  Let’s see if I can wade through it.

I’ve known a fair number of women who have been raised with the notion that the home is their domain.   The cooking, the cleaning, the childcare, and the general presentation of the household are things they see as entirely, or nearly entirely, within their bailiwick.  While many feminists have rightly asked their boyfriends and husbands to "step up" and take an active role in domestic tasks, many traditional women have not.  In some instances, they don’t ask because they don’t expect their male partners to be interested or willing to help.  But in other cases, these women have bought in to the notion that their very identity as wives and mothers is inextricably linked with how they "keep house."

Again, it’s difficult not to share too much from personal experience.  I’ve lived with quite a few women (some to whom I was married, some not).  They came from widely divergent social, economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.   In some of these relationships, my partner and I agreed to live in a kind of low-key slovenliness.  (I’m a bit of a slob, as anyone who has seen my office can tell you!)  In other cases, we agreed to keep the house or apartment up to a "higher standard", and we either shared the labor or (more recently) hired help to do it for us.

Continue reading