First Comes Love, Then Comes Laundry

The goal is not to enter into the debate of how we account minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour of who is doing more around the house, men or women. What is more interesting is the fact that we are undeniably in the midst of a shift where men are actively trying to be more engaged in domestic work and raising their children than ever before. Is it perfect? No. A shift like this never is. But is the trend in place and growing? Absolutely. My goal is to take a step back out of the minutia and say, wait a minute, there is a significant thing happening here. Why is this happening and is anyone noticing?
photos by MRay Photography
A shift in the working world has changed things at home

 

The division of household labor has long been a source of contention among men and women. The “Second Shift” by Arlie Hochschild published in 1989 pointed this out by illuminating the household work disparity, as women remained primary caretakers of the household while pursuing careers. This research was pivotal in supporting the criticism that men were not sufficiently involved in the day-to-day efforts of raising children, and were notably absent in helping with domestic chores.

More recent research, such as “Taking on the Second Shift: Time Allocations and Time Pressures of U.S. Parents with Preschoolers,” suggests that the work disparity between working spouses has closed dramatically. And as Ruth Konigsburg wrote in the Time Magazine August cover story “Chore Wars”: “It may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, to discover that on balance, husbands and wives have never before had such similar workloads.”

So yes, albeit a bit late, and against a resounding chorus of “FINALLY” yelled by women everywhere, men are doing more. Have we reached a true equal division yet? No. Regardless of what research one can produce to defend that claim, it feels premature at best. But nonetheless, the positive trend is moving towards a shared balance around the house. This raises a challenging new question: as men cross over to assume responsibilities that have traditionally belonged to women, are women doing the same?

Modern man

There seems to be a constructive cultural shift taking place where the idea of a “man’s man” is radically being rethought and redefined. The stoic male who eschews activities such as, doing the dishes, laundry and reading to his children before bed is now viewed as outdated. And, this social pressure on a husband to be engaged is coming from an unlikely source: other men.

The new paradigm is the father who cooks, helps his children with homework and actually does the dishes instead of simply placing them in the sink. 

By doing these things, he is sending the clear message to other men that being involved with your family is good, sitting in the recliner while you are waited on is not. As Greg Lew, a local father and husband who represents this new shift said, “It’s all about being engaged in my children’s lives. And, what could be more important? It’s hard to imagine a dad would want it any other way.” 

When you ask Wilmington mother of three Kim Golder who does most of the cooking in her household, she quickly responds: “Oh [my husband] John does.”

And, Greg Lew says with pride: “Yeah, I do all of the laundry in our house.”

At my six-year-old daughter’s gymnastics class, I often see four or five other fathers watching their daughter’s practice. And at a recent dinner party my wife and I hosted, the men gathered in the kitchen cooking while the women sat in the living room enjoying their wine. Even to the casual observer, it’s difficult not to realize that things are different. 

But, as with all cultural changes there are leaders and there are followers who may reluctantly go kicking and screaming. Modern day husbands will be no different. But the trend is firmly in place, and should encourage women who are not seeing equal support from their partner, to ask why and open up the discussion.

Point, counterpoint

When you look at the men who represent the leading edge of this trend, you can’t help but see something interesting. The husbands, who now lay claim to doing the laundry and tucking in their children at night, still seem to, on average, bear the sole responsibility of repairing the steps, re-wiring a lighting fixture or fixing the sprinkler system. 

To this end, recent articles, such as “Times are Changing, Gender and Generation at Work and at Home” and “The New Male Mystique” have provocatively suggested that men are now experiencing more “work-life conflict” than women. Even so, when exploring the factors that might be contributing to this, the focus often remains on the interrelationship between work, domestic chores (cooking and cleaning) and childcare not the responsibilities and roles traditionally thought of as belonging to men.

So, in an attempt to understand if this is an accurate observation, I recently posed to other couples the question: Are women picking up circular saws as fast as men are learning to cook? 

“No,” said Julia Smith, a Wilmington mother of two. “And, we don’t want to.” 

Her response is fairly consistent with what I have heard from other working women. They openly say learning how to plug a tire, repair a roof or hook-up a generator are things that, on average, simply do not interest them. 

As Susan Lew said, “I want to disagree, but the reality is [my husband] Greg does a lot around the house and I am thankful for that. But I am realizing I have not taken an interest in those things that we have typically thought of as being the male’s responsibility.” 

It’s not a matter of if they can or can’t do it, they simply do not want to take on any additional jobs than they already have. In essence, there is still a healthy dose of skepticism that men are doing more and women remain leery of prematurely accepting additional responsibility.

So not surprisingly, I more often hear women saying, “It’s about time” when discussing men’s newfound household roles, which is understandable. The working wife and mother is now just on the cusp of seeing an equal division of labor at home and to enjoy a sense of entitlement is to be expected.

But if men finally are starting to take on more of the workload and the trend continues, can we see a time in the future when the husband is the one experiencing “The Second Shift?” 

As Susan Lew points out: “Feminism was about women pushing back, and we are still kind of pushing. Men have not had to push back…yet.” 

 

Bio: After 15 years as a career-focused husband, Bob Pressely, is a new stay at home dad in Wilmington. He enjoys raising his daughter Kayla and engaging in thought-provoking discussions with other Wilmington families.