If you listen closely at any social gathering, you’re bound to hear it. It’s starts off as a joke, a knowing look, an eye roll.
I‘ll never forget that time I walked into a conversation my girlfriends were having about how incapable their husbands were of doing menial household tasks. One friend sent her husband to the grocery store because she had been working long hours and didn’t have time to make the weekly trip. She complained that he bought all the wrong stuff, too much junk food, and she ended up having to go back to the store. The other two chimed in. One suggested that she “train” him better; he failed on purpose so she wouldn’t send him to the store again. The other friend empathized because she had similar experiences with her spouse.
I stood there, sipping my coffee, thinking about how humiliated their husbands would be if they heard the way they were talking about them.
It seems to me this phenomenon is not new. Women all over the world have long united over their idiotic husbands. They laugh behind their backs about how they can’t find the can opener when they are out of town, and how they ruin their clothes when attempting to simply dry them. It is an ongoing narrative.
I have only done surface studies of women’s history, but through observation alone, I know there is a problem in our modern, American culture. When women began to enter the mainstream workforce during World War II, a lot of these women found careers rewarding. For the first time they were able to contribute to the household income and provide more stability and better livelihoods for their families. However, when this transition happened, there was no grand paradigm shift of household responsibilities. Women still did the majority of the work in the home: the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing.
Today more women are receiving an education than ever. Females actually outnumber males in colleges and universities! Women are making more money than they have before, although still not as much as their male counterparts, yet women remain the primary caretakers of the home and children. Of course lots of men do housework. Lots of men take care of their children and cook–as reported by this Pew study conducted with dual-earning families. But primarily, these burdens fall to the wife. It seems to me there is a huge cultural shift that has yet to take place and this secretly makes women resentful and bitter. So we do what we do best: lash out in hilarious, passive-aggressive banter with our girlfriends.
We see this in mainstream culture as well, not just with our friends and neighbors. Deborah Verone famously and hysterically ridicules her husband for his lazy behavior. She has to beg him to take the kids to the park for thirty minutes, and when he does he forgets their coats and gloves. Ray fulfills this role of the idiotic, negligent, husband and father. He is uninterested in housework and school projects, and although I love his character–this portrayal of the American male bothers me. The truth is, if I stumbled upon a group of guys talking about their wives and laughing about how they couldn’t do simple household tasks, I would call them chauvinist pigs. I would abhor them disrespecting their wives in that way. But for some reason though, it’s okay for women to talk like this about their husbands.
There are three culprits in this equation worthy of blame.
We figured out a way to divide household responsibilities evenly. When was the last time you saw a Swiffer commercial with a man dusting and swiffering? And when was the last time you saw a movie where a mother was building a tree house with her children? Of course gender roles are helpful. They give us preset guidelines for responsibility division, but these gender roles I’m referencing here have very little to do with ability. Men are extremely capable of dusting and likewise women are capable of building tree houses. Although we want to consider our society progressive and modern, these gender roles are still quite rigid. But unfortunately they no longer serve our society adequately. From a structural-functional perspective, the structure we have built no longer functions for us optimally. Thus, the structure must change. And this change has yet to occur.
I have no problem at all with a wife who chooses to stay home and raise her children. I’m one of them! If she wants to do all the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing that is her preference and prerogative. However, I do have a problem with a woman who chooses to do all of this and then complains about how her husband cannot iron a shirt or make mac-n-cheese for the kids. Because the second culprit in this scenario, is (I hate to say it) women. We believe we can do everything. We believe that we have been endowed with secret super powers and we can in fact work nine-hour days, come home to cook like Rachel Ray, and mother like Mrs. Cleaver. We fail to ask for help. We fail to include our husbands in early child-rearing responsibilities, and we fail to communicate the need for support. Instead we do what our mothers did–we endure. We make due. We internalize. And we nag like it’s our job. Perhaps the worst part is that we feel like this is okay. We fail to see that this behavior is detrimental to our husbands, our marriages and our souls.
And this leads me to the third variable and problem in my equation: Men. It’s far too easy for men to perpetuate this cycle. They follow the pattern laid out by their fathers whose fathers came back from World War II with depression and PTSD. If I could tell the men of America one simple truth it would be this: You can do it. You can be an engaged, doting father. You can learn how to iron a table cloth and maintain your manhood. You can parent and nurture just as good as your wife. Baking a birthday cake will not wound your masculinity. Just because your dad didn’t do these things, doesn’t mean you can’t.
Taking into account all three facets of the problem, it boils down to the simple truth that husbands and wives all too easily fall into a trap perfectly set by our culture.
We are like dumb little deer walking into a clearing–ignorant and vulnerable. And progressive Christian culture has provided no real solution to this problem. In most Christian circles, men are belittled if they choose to stay home and women are snubbed out of the stay-at-home circle if they choose to work.
The truth is this: for any marriage to work and thrive there has to be a sense of shared responsibility, coupled with a deep understanding and respect for the other partner and what they are contributing to the unit. Personally, I would have never confronted these issues if I had not been forced to. For years my husband has been pointing out that men are constantly painted as idiotic husbands in pop culture, while women get away with being nagging and rude. It was only after his urging that he be involved with every aspect of our son’s infancy that I realized how flawed our modern system is.
Simply put, I believe there is a better way. And it starts with couples abandoning everything they know about gender roles and household responsibilities, taking a thoughtful look at what works best for them, and then respecting and defending that structure. In turn, I believe this honors God. It strengthens the family unit when both partners feel validated in their roles. It provides stability for children and an understanding that yes, mommies can build tree houses and daddies can bake birthday cakes. Furthermore, it eliminates hidden resentment that can come from both spouses about inequality of labor division. I believe that when parents engage in a co-parenting style that foremost glorifies God and meets the needs of their family, they are accomplishing something that most people only dream of–a peaceful, happy home.