June
16th 2008
BREAKING: Man shares parenting, housework equally with wife!

Posted under: Berkshire Conference, Gender, women's history

We at the Berkshire Conference last weekend shared plenty of transhistorical, global bad news about women in history and in the historical profession, so far be it for me to suggest a Whig narrative for Western women’s and gender history.  But–does anyone find it a little weird that this story is a stunning newsflash worthy of several pages in the New York Times Sunday Magazine?  (Hat tip to Historiann commenter Indyanna.)  People, this is 2008.  Why aren’t you writing urgent stories about the millions of men who are letting their female partners down by shirking housework and child care?  I guess dog bites man isn’t a news story, so we have to go with “man bites dog, then changes diaper.” 

Also, while it’s nice that Marc Vachon and a few of the other men in this story help make things work around the house, I wonder if they are really worthy of a 10-page magazine spread?  (Talk about evidence of the low expectations that our culture has for heterosexual men!  Man Microwaves Dinner for His Own Children–film at 11!)  Are decent, thoughtful husbands really like exotic zoo animals?  Why are egalitarian heterosexual couples being covered by the New York Times like they’re members of a secretive tribe recently discovered by anthropologists?  How do these kinds of media representations of heterosexuality shape young men’s and women’s expectations of partnerships and/or marriage?

More reflections on the conference to follow…but I’m feeling the urge to retreat into the eighteenth century, especially if men like Marc Vachon are Big News in 2008.

12 Comments »

12 Responses to “BREAKING: Man shares parenting, housework equally with wife!”

  1. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Feminism v. Economics on 16 Jun 2008 at 11:13 am #

    [...] y’all probably saw this NYT article about the division of labor in the home. In response, Historiann weighs in here, snarking: … does anyone find it a little weird that this story is a stunning newsflash [...]

  2. Indyanna on 16 Jun 2008 at 12:14 pm #

    Great picture. (Compare with the two-page color ad in front of the mag for the $7.5 million condo on 92nd St, with dad frying eggs on a c. 20′X 35′ mahoganny kitchen floor!). In fairness to Lisa Belkin, she’s not generally too wide-eyed or triumphalist in her daily columning on balancing work and life. But everything in the Times has that imaginary Manhattan-to-Montclair-to-New Canaan sort of audience in mind. I wondered if the measuring of contributions by a “to the minute” method with a lawyer’s 6-minute timer was a pretentious device, a way of being honest rather than rhetorical, or just missing the point altogether? I spent a nice hour this morning in Rittenhouse Square decompressing from the conf and trip. At the Goat, where nannies and fancy strollers convene, moms (several tag-teaming with *their* moms) with kids outnumbered dads with kids by a factor of maybe 15-1. Just your basic “impressionistic evidence/(non)participant- observer” methodology, it should be said.

  3. New Kid on the Hallway on 16 Jun 2008 at 2:33 pm #

    Heh. When I worked at Rural Utopia, a student of mine asked if she could interview me about my marriage for her psych class, because mine was the only one her professor could think of in which the man and woman’s career interests were equally balanced. It was very weird.

  4. Historiann on 16 Jun 2008 at 2:43 pm #

    Well, this just confirms what we all have felt impressionistically about the post-9/11 and George W. Bush years: backlash, baby! I think things were better, or at least feeling like they were getting better, back in the 1990s. But, maybe that’s just because I was in my 20s and very early 30s then, and now I’m in my later 30s and am so much wiser and more perceptive…?

    New Kid, you might have enjoyed one of the sessions I chaired at the Berks on the Dual-Career Academic Couple (session #22). One of the things that emerged in that discussion is that this issue of prioritizing one career over another is really structural, when you consider that so many institutions of higher ed are located in “rural utopias” (or rural nightmares, depending on your point of view) where the college or university is the only game going. If institutions like that won’t offer dual hires, then of course the people they’re going to hire are likelier to remain whiter, more middle class or upper class, and more male than the pool of applicants, IMHO.

  5. Tara S on 16 Jun 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    That was long.

  6. Rad Readr on 16 Jun 2008 at 5:59 pm #

    I don’t know about the cultural turn here. The NY Times and social expectations become the whipping boys — but let’s go after the real evil institution. So he’s a little Eurocentric, but Mr. Engels had it down: “It was the first form of the family to be based, not on natural, but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property. The Greeks themselves put the matter quite frankly: the sole exclusive aims of monogamous marriage were to make the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own.” If anything, the NY Times also gave us an article on Sunday pointing out how gay marriages can be just as sucky as the rest. And perhaps the magazine piece can serve as a warning to those who wander unsuspectingly into the master’s house.

  7. Knitting Clio on 17 Jun 2008 at 4:43 am #

    As a natural slob married to a Felix Unger on steroids, I have to say I found this article very interesting. It would be helpful to know how many other straight men out there have higher housekeeping standards than their spouses.

  8. Historiann on 17 Jun 2008 at 8:45 am #

    Rad–as a vulgar Marxist, of course I agree with you entirely. Private property is at the heart of it–but marriage doesn’t necessarily have to work the way it currently works. (And, I seriously doubt that western feminism is going to bring on the anti-capitalist revolution–there are too many women who benefit from it and from the exploitation of other women’s and men’s labor, quite frankly.)

    KC: I think it’s pretty common that straight men cooperate or even excel in housekeeping. Why doesn’t the NYT want to highlight the many manly satisfactions about mopping the kitchen or vacuuming under the couch cushions? I wonder…

  9. Notorious Ph.D. on 18 Jun 2008 at 9:07 am #

    Stories like this infuriate me. I can’t blame the men involved, because as far as I know, they’re just going about their business, equitably sharing the household duties with their partners. But the fact that some idiot decided that this is “news” activates my “somebody wants a cookie” alarm. And the fact that it’s NYT, rather than one of the outlets you’d expect this from, is even more alarming.

  10. Historiann on 18 Jun 2008 at 9:16 am #

    But–the New York Times is one of the outlets you should definitely expect this from, Notorious! E.J. Graff published a study in the Columbia Journalism Review last year called “The Opt-Out Myth” that illustrates how the Grey Lady has been pimping the “return to domesticity” for women since the 1950s!

    I like that expression: the “somebody wants a cookie” alarm! I may borrow that for a future headline, because you know there will be more silly stories like this one.

  11. Tara S on 18 Jun 2008 at 10:24 am #

    “I seriously doubt that western feminism going to bring on the anti-capitalist revolution.”

    Hallelujah! I have heard so many straight-faced, unironical discussions about what a wholly feminist and progressive thing it is for mothers to be able to follow professional career paths. It IS a very good thing, but it is in no way wholly woman-empowering. Who watches the kids? Very often, Filipino women with children of their own, half a world away.

    What would make a more interesting NYT article, perhaps, would be how many equal-partnerships are enabled by purchasing child-rearing and home-making labour from less-privileged women.

  12. Historiann on 18 Jun 2008 at 10:49 am #

    Hi Tara S.–you’re right. However, I should stipulate that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having nannies, housekeepers, etc., so long as they’re well-compensated and have their health insurance paid for, etc. Very few people are in the position to “do it right,” however, and what makes me even angrier are the people who have the dough but still refuse to pay more than $8-10/hr. for child care.

    I once discussed this with a woman who runs a local nanny employment agency, and she sees it all of the time. (People who can afford nannies who don’t understand why you still need to pay your nanny’s salary when they choose to go on vacation, for example; or people just being unwilling to pay people a decent living wage.) Her theory was that because most people at some point in their lives do some kind of child care, it’s not percieved as something that requires special skills or knowledge. I agree with her, although I think it’s more complicated: I think that middle-class women and men are unwilling to pay nannies what they’re worth because that would acknowledge the dignity and importance of the work, which would enhance the guilt that many middle-class mothers especially feel about leaving their kids with someone else. It’s really screwed up, but I think that if they can pay as little as possible, that implies that the job isn’t that important (as well as that anyone can do it), and that may allieviate guilt (or at least not enhance it further.)