When we finally get around to eliminating stereotypes, perhaps the one portraying men as disinterested fathers, sitting on a couch waiting for someone to fetch a beer can get on the list.
Today’s Midmorning — headlined “Men Are Stepping Up at Home” — may have succumbed to the assertion. It’s based on a study from the Council of Contemporary Families that seems to say because of the poor economy, men have no choice but “but to take more responsibility for home chores and parenting.”
Reader/listener Mike from Minneapolis points out the obvious flaw in the assertion:
The major problem with the work studies dating back to the 1960s is that work required to maintain the ‘house’ has been defined in terms of weekly maintenance work like cooking and laundry. Questions about upkeep of the physical dimensions of the house like painting, fixing things, paying bills, and upkeep of the community aspects like participating in community relationships, social and service groups have been excluded from these studies. So, the outcomes of the research are predetermined and therefore not very informative. Creating, supporting, and maintaining a family is much more complex than the three chores, laundry, cooking, and cleaning.
As for us, my wife works 50 – 60 hours a week and I work many fewer hours. If we were to have participated in these studies, our shared workload analysis would fit in the average range. However, I would say that I spend more time on the full household management issues than does my wife. ( the exception is now that I am teaching spring term in Mexico, she has all the responsibilities and is to date very overwhelmed) . We have never fully agreed on what constitutes balanced teamwork. Neither have we fully agreed on what constitutes daily and weekly maintenance activities. But that is also true in the work force. I would hope that future studies are able to better capture the complexities of household maintenance.
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for reader comments, that one would be a candidate.
Some of the e-mailed comments to the show are particularly interesting. Some pointed out their husbands have “stepped up,” because they’ve become stay-at-home dads. It’s great that couples agree on such an arrangement, but how big a step forward is it to define “stepping up” as staying home?
A listener in Waconia writes:
I am a working mom with a stay-at-home dad. The worst critics are other woman. My husband’s ex-wife constantly calls my husband (father of 2) “unemployed.” Female co-workers ask how can I “do it” and leave the kids each week. I work out of town 2-3 days a week. Woman are not supporting this dynamic. I make 2.5 times as much as my husband did and can only do it because of his sacrifice.
Flip the genders, and the discussion could be happening in 1968.
As near as I can tell, today’s show cherry-picked a relatively small statistic out of a large report that actually wasn’t about who does what at home, but what the effect the recession has had on families. The report indicated that it’s men who have born the brunt of the recession, but families who feel the effect. But it found more than that:
Reaction to the recession has not been all bad. Many families are rethinking their material priorities. Volunteerism is up. Community gardens and other forms of neighborhood cooperation and sharing are on the increase. And some studies show that in the long run people raised in adversity become more sensitive to social inequity and less inclined to blame others for their misfortunes.
But when social adversity is accompanied by marked social inequality, it often leads to resentment and scapegoating.
By the way, I wrote this while taking a break from cleaning the bathroom.