So, the oft-told story is that once upon a time, like in the 1950s, women stayed at home with the kids and men went to work and won the bread.
Then came the feminist revolution and suddenly women were going into the workforce in massive numbers.
BUT, back on the home front, women were working a second shift, doing all the cooking and cleaning and parenting, while the men presumably sat around with their feet up on the coffee table drinking beers.
Today, despite the gains women have made, we are still stuck with that second shift. Even if we are working just as much as our spouses.
It’s a well-worn narrative. And yet it’s never sat too well with me.
Sure, there are times when I feel like I’m doing more than Dave. There are times when I get frustrated by the seemingly never-ending work of cooking, cleaning, bill paying, errand running, and oh yeah, wedding planning. And because we don’t keep time logs of exactly how much time we spend doing household chores, how much time we’re working, and how much time we’re relaxing, it’s easy for both of us to feel that the other is slacking.
(Case in point: one time I accused Dave of not having cooked once in the past week and he reminded me that he had grilled chicken for us two nights ago, a fact that I had edited out of my memory, because in my mind grilling isn’t cooking.)
If I’m being honest, I have to admit that Dave pulls his weight. He cleans, he cooks, he washes dishes way more than I do, he always takes out the trash, he deals with our landlord, he took our car to get it smog tested, he does the grocery shopping, etc., etc.
And while Dave is great, I don’t think he’s particularly exceptional. I look at the husbands and boyfriends of my female friends, and the vast, vast majority are extremely involved in the household: cooking, cleaning, parenting, dog walking.
This pattern doesn’t appear to be limited to my friends and specific peer group either: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women employed full time with children under 18, only worked twenty minutes more than men (counting both paid and unpaid work.) Some second shift.
And yet, as Bean Mom notes in her beautifully written rant, the narrative hasn’t changed. Men are still largely viewed as lazy douchebags who simply won’t step up to the plate.
And that’s not just unfair, it’s deeply problematic.
As Ruth Davis Konigsberg points out in Time Magazine, men are now facing more pressure to balance their families and their careers, even possibly more pressure than women:
In a July report called, tellingly, The New Male Mystique, the Families and Work Institute surveyed 1,298 men and concluded that long hours and increasing job demands are conflicting with more exacting parenting norms. The institute had launched the survey to follow up on its 2008 finding that 60% of fathers said they were having a hard time managing the responsibilities of work and family, compared with only 47% of mothers in dual-earner couples. “Men are feeling enormous pressure to be breadwinners and involved fathers,” says Ellen Galinsky, the institute’s director. “Women expect more of men, and men expect more of themselves.”
Konigsberg notes that men are increasingly expected (and choose) to play very active roles as fathers, but that workplaces are generally much less accommodating of fathers than they are of mothers. While women may be cut some slack following the birth of a child, men get no such rope. That in turn means that men can’t help out at home as much as they want to which leads to guilt and pressure (on the part of men) and resentment and pressure (on the part of women.)
Clearly, it’s time that both men and women started developing more of a work and family balance. But for men, it will likely be an uphill battle, until we rid ourselves of the old trope that men simply don’t help around the house.