The Man is a Prince: He Does the Dog

The phrase ‘the second shift’ refers to that whole second workday most women put in after they get home from their real jobs. I read a recently that nowadays  men are doing just as much around the house as their wives.  I certainly hope this is true.

They sure weren’t when Arlie Hochschild spent eight straight years conducting the research for her book The Second Shift. Observing daily life in the homes of 50 working couples with children, she found that only 20% of American men shared the extra work of chores and childcare while women put in an average of 15 hours a week on those tasks,  which add up to an entire month of 24-hour days. 

You could resent the heck out of your spouse living this way, but what many women do is create a ‘story’  that allows them to keep resentment at bay. One woman named Nancy explained that her husband Evan ‘did’ the downstairs while she did  the upstairs – only in their house doing the upstairs meant doing all the work relating to the kitchen, living room, dining room, bedrooms and bathrooms, while Evan, for his part, handled the garage.

Oh, and the dog. He did the dog.

But this  way of framing things allowed Nancy to think of Evan as pulling his weight. When asked by Hochschild to reflect on this, Evan said, “We don’t keep count of who does what,” quickly adding, “Whoever gets home first starts the dinner,” a statement which did not in any way line up with what Hochschild saw as a frequent visitor.

This was just their ‘story’, the ‘family myth’ as she calls it that they had devised to cover up the imbalance. “The truth was, Nancy made the dinner.”

Other husbands in her survey had stories of their own. One said, with a perfectly straight face, that he made all the pies.

“But I was brought up to do housework,” explained poor Nancy, in charge of every room in the house. “Evan wasn’t.”

And there’s the crux of it right there. As Hochschild puts it, “the female culture has shifted more rapidly than the male culture, and the image of the go-get-‘em woman has yet to be matched by the image of the let’s-take-care-of-the-kids-together man.”  

Or as Gloria Steinem said a while ago to a standingroom-only crowd of fellow Smith College graduates, “The problem is that when I go around and speak on campuses, I still don’t get young men standing up and saying, “How can I combine career and family?”

The day will come though, I feel sure – provided we work hard on raising up strong  and fair- minded little girls  – AND  get them the heck away from all that appalling sex-kitten apparel they’re showing these days in the stores.

Tomorrow I won’t be so crotchety, I promise. 🙂

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Velcro!

What is it that binds people in marriage, really? I wonder this often. Especially I wonder it after yet another tussle with my mate over whose turn is it this time to clean the cat-vomit from the rug where an artsy feline of ours likes to ‘work,’ creating colorful collages of grass and fur and mouse parts, all bound in a matrix of recycled cat-chow. What is the agent, that cat-chow-like, holds couples together? 

For some maybe it’s the flowers and greeting cards that bind people like duct tape over the years of birthdays and anniversaries. For some it’s the vows alone maybe. What I think really holds couples together? Shared moments of humor. For me the real glue comes from the laughs you have, which hold  you together not like duct tape (stickily)  or like Superglue (permanently)  but more like the scratchy kiss of Velcro, which by its nature binds like to unlike.

Study Velcro up  close and you’ll see it: A zillion tiny hooks catch a zillion tiny loops and there it is: the good firm fit, the yin and the yang, the unification of opposites. So too, my mate and I are vastly different. While I sleep like the dead at night, he has trouble sleeping at all and says he ponders shaving my eyebrows off or drawing whiskers on my face as I snooze on, oblivious to all. Me, I can‘t sleep mornings. By 5:30 I’m up, organizing the world and running loads of wash. I can’t stand to see others indulging the sleep-late habit, which to me shows weakness of character.

He claims I barge in and make the bed, even while he’s still in it but I deny it. Much humor in marriage arises from denying the obvious.

Another difference between us, between many men and women in fact: Men like teasing and find it funny. Women hate teasing and find it cruel.

Old Dave and I were brushing our teeth together one day lately and when he got done he leaned down, as is his habit since boyhood, to slurp water directly from the faucet.

“What are you, 12?” I said, pointing to the two nice ruby-tinted tumblers. “When will you start using one of the cups?!”  “Never,” he answered. “The cats drink from them.”

That stopped me for less than a second. “Only from yours,” I said,  thinking, “Ho! This wiseguy stuff ain’t just for the fellas.”  

The truth is, we get a kick out of our differences. And, after all this time, we’ve stopped trying to change each other.  So big deal, we’re apples and oranges, hooks and loops. So we pull away from each other with a good rip now and then. The laughs we have join us up again. 

Old Dave in days of yore. The poor guy didn’t stand a chance