Monday, February 23, 2009

the standards don't measure up

OK, before you label me a misandrist (which means man-hater, by the way. I just learned this word and wanted to use it) and femi-nazi, I want to explain that this post is not a criticism of my husband or men in general. It is more a comment on societal expectations...

When I first got married, my mother made a lot of comments that indicated her opinions of a wife's duties (I meant housewifely duties. Get your mind out of the gutter, people!). Despite working full-time while Bil finished his degree, my mother expected me to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry all while requesting no help from my husband, who happened to eat, wear clothes and make at least as much of a mess in the apartment as I did. When I talked to her on the phone one Saturday, she asked me why I was reading instead of doing laundry. After informing her that Bil was doing the laundry that week, the phone went silent. One Saturday when she and I went to a craft fair, Bil made dinner for us all and my mother about had a stroke, she was so impressed.

He made a pasta dish with chicken that was delicious, he didn't sculpt a masterpiece. Now, don't get me wrong, I do really appreciate it when my husband cooks or does any other household chore--he is a very agreeable man who willingly helps whenever I ask--what got me was my mother's reaction. She could not get over the fact that he cooked a meal for me. Never mind that I cook for him nightly. Have I ever gotten praise from her for that? Oh, no. Of course not, because it is my job. But just because he happens to be a man, all of a sudden my husband cooking dinner is worthy of a neighborhood parade. And my mother is not the only woman to swoon when she discovers my husband occasionally cooks for me. Yet, none of these women have ever passed comment on my many, many, many meals for him.

I know my mom comes from a different generation and all us kids would have had a stroke along with her had my father ever willingly plunged his hands in dishwater. Things were different then, but what interests me is that she is not the only woman out there (or man, for that matter) who deep down has much lower standards for men than for women. I mean, when was the last time someone expressed surprise that a mother spent all day Saturday at the park with her kids? Yet, get a father out there playing with his kids and people will ooh and ahh over what a great dad he is.

I have friends who routinely comment on how great it is that I have a husband who every so often will load and/or unload the dishwasher, who will sometimes even take out the garbage without being reminded. When was the last time Bil's friends told him how lucky he is that his wife does his laundry? Cooks his meals? Even makes his doctor's appointments? For that matter, I would probably think my mother or a friend were crazy if she gave me praise for a floor well-swept or for keeping the house clean.

It makes me think of my wonderfully funny sister. When I was in labor with Danny, she was my birthing coach, along with Bil. At one point, Bil started rubbing my shoulders in an attempt to lessen the pain (yeah, I know kind of like trying to stop Hurricane Katrina with a couple of sandbags, but he tried). When the nurse entered the room, she exclaimed, almost giddily, "Oh, how sweet. Your husband is so wonderful!!"

My sister glared at her and said, "That's the least he can do. She is the one in all the pain, after all! The one doing all the real work!" I loved that she said this, because now when I remember it and all the agony that was still awaiting me, I wonder why no one made that big of a deal over the labor and childbirth. I mean, really, don't you think each and every woman who has ever birthed a baby should receive a parade or diamonds, or heck, even some really decadent chocolate treat? Seriously. Where is the equity here? All a man has to do to impress a lady is rub his wife's back (and yes, I know it was a totally altruistic backrub, since Bil knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this particular massage was not going to earn him any favors, if you know what I mean), but a woman could push 8 pounds of writhing baby from her exhausted and pain-racked body and no one bats an eyelash.

What is up with that?


Amy Jane said...


I completely agree with you! What also bugs me is that while Brian is a wonderful husband, like Bil, who does plenty to help me, it never occurs to him to thank me for running the household or keeping the house clean or buying the groceries, whereas I'm always thanking him for stuff. Grrrr.

Denise said...

AMEN....enough said!

Elizabeth Channel said...

Neighborhood Parade?

Plunged their hands in dishwater?

Golden stuff! I love the way you wrote this!

The hormones are kicking in, aren't they.

I can't wait to see all the posts prior to the birth if they are all going to be this great!

B1L said...

You know this is so right on... There was a memorable quote from "Chinatown" where someone asks private detective Jake Gettes "What did you do in Chinatown?" to which he programmatically replies, "--as little as possible."

As a guy, I feel like there is a chemical, biological, nearly universal agenda, to do as little as you can possibly get away with. Sorry guys, the secret's out. Of course, I can't speak for all guys, but it just seems to be our nature to push against responsibility rather than embrace it. There are just so many fun things to do that compete for our attention.

Case in point, there have been many nights where I was simply asked to do the dishes, and I farted around for hours twiddling on the computer and then did the dishes in a mad rush at the last possible moment before Patty got home...and it showed. Lately, I try to do the dishes first before I retire to man-land.

At the same time, while I feel kind of angry to be grouped in with guys who never lift a hand to do anything, I don't feel like the little things I do deserve any great hoorah either. Women really get the short end of that stick, but guys are also shortchanged in that when they are not expected to deliver, they don't.

My name is Bil (Patty's dh) and I approve this message.

Anonymous said...

Patty I can relate to a lot of this. My DH is terrific around the house, seriously. He can clean like nobody's business (but he also makes a mess like nobody's business either).

My family is always saying how lucky I am because I got Michael. One day I said, "Does anyone think Michael was lucky to get me?" Of course he piped up, "Michael does." (Sweet!) But for a long time I had been feeling like I was this supremely lucky woman who better watch herself because my husband cleaned and helped with the laundry.

Pre-kids, we divvied up the chores. I did all laundry, he did all grocery shopping. People used to tell me how lucky I was he did the shopping. I would respond that he's lucky that every time he opens his closet he's got clean clothes and his dresser is full of clean undies.

There is a weird double standard (or whatever you want to call it) out there.

A great post, Patty! Think what a great example Bil is setting for Danny.

mrsbear said...

It's so true and so well said. I love my husband to death, he will always help...when I ask, but if I don't he will not lift a finger to aid me in whatever household chore I'm being overwhelmed with. Even if he sees me struggling and hears me cursing or grunting or whatever, he almost never come to my assistance. He needs very specific directions and he'll always tell me he doesn't mind, but the look on his face says different, trust me. On his behalf, he has always been vocal in his awe of my birthing abilities.