On mothers’ groups and men-bashing

“Yeah, my husband will change diapers when I ask him to, but only if we have the man-friendly/easy-to-use ones clean.”

“Sure he says he’ll clean the bathroom, but he’s a man, it’s like he doesn’t see the dirt.”

“My spouse is such a GUY — fifty things to do before my family comes over, and he spends an hour on one that’s not even on the list.”

“Bloody men!”

I hate hearing phrases like these. Hate. (Loathe might be a more accurate word.) They drive me absolutely up the wall, and occasionally send me to a safe space (or Twitter) to rant about how much I cringe upon hearing them — and I do, seemingly inevitably though to greater or lesser extents, any time a group of women (especially mothers) gather together.

A short list of the problems with these and similar phrases:

  • They extrapolate from one man to all men as though men are a monolith, each identical to the other. (Sometimes this is “reduced” to “only” straight men — because “gay” and “straight” are two discrete categories, and within each all individuals are the same.)
  • Related, they extrapolate from “once” (or, granted, a historical pattern) to “always”, thus encouraging (which is not to say entirely creating) a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • They assume inadequate performance is due to inherent incompetence rather than cultural learning (or lack thereof).
  • They assign said incompetence to gender — or sometimes, explicitly to (inevitably cissexist) symbols of gender, such as cocks or Y-chromosomes.
  • They excuse, and thus encourage, said incompetence — after all, he can’t change that he’s a man/guy/has a penis; plus, who wants to do more of anything that gets them berated?
  • They exclude men from the domestic sphere, leaving women as the ones who must be competent at home, thus denying them the freedom to move into the public sphere.
  • They’re wrong, both factually an morally, for all the above reasons.

Yet — I almost never say anything when they’re said. What could I say? I’m one of the “lucky” ones1, so any protests would read as either bragging, preaching, or rubbing their noses in what many others don’t have and I do. Yet murmur vague concurring noises, and I’m agreeing to sexism — not “reverse sexism”, but the logical sequela of women-need-to-stay-at-home misogyny. Go off on a rant about society and the damage of kyriarchy, and I’ve both lost my audience (a minor issue) and completely ignored the emotional content of my friends’ complaints (a rather more major one).

For there are reasons women complain about the incompetence of the men in their lives, not least because it’s true — if not as a generalization, then for them, in their lives. And it’s crappy, and of course they want to complain and vent to a supportive audience of their peers, many of whom experience similar personal aggravations and injustices. These phrases do reinforce misogyny and sexism, both personally and culturally, but ultimately it’s not women’s job to make sure men do theirs, not our job (alone) to eliminate sexism, and in many relationships it’s just not as simple as stepping back and changing our words and trusting that suddenly, magically, the men will step up and do their share.

I wish that were always the case — and it sometimes is, and I invite you to decide to what extent that’s true in your relationship, because I surely am not going to attempt to — but sometimes leaving things up to a woman’s partner puts her children at risk; sometimes ceasing to excuse him increases the antagonism at home; sometimes it increases verbal/emotional abuse, or risks turning it into physical abuse. Complaining, though often counterproductive, is sometimes a woman’s only coping mechanism in a situation where she has little power and a very small set of crappy options. Furthermore, generalizing those complaints to “men” instead of her man places her in solidarity with other (male-partnered) women rather than (falsely!) placing the blame on her and her “bad choice” of a partner. I can’t — won’t — deprive someone of their coping mechanism, won’t condescend to presume even that such is true for every woman I’m listening to, won’t offend by assuming ill-intent or laziness.

And so I cringe, say nothing, and think of my child — self-declared boy, statistically likely to be straight and one day woman-partnered — and I hope that he never gives his lover cause to evoke these phrases, never is hobbled in his parenting or partnership by these all too pervasive cultural ideas.

ETA: And just in case we needed evidence this is hardly a mothers-started idea, making it even more pointless to blame individual women, here’s evidence of just how pervasive the-incompetent-dad idea is.

  1. A phrase which itself silences the few complaints with my partner I may have, because then not only would I be placing myself as “perfect” — hah! — to his “imperfect”, I’m also not “appreciating” my “luck”.
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34 Responses to On mothers’ groups and men-bashing

  1. Glad you won’t deprive me of my coping mechanism… =/

    Will you at least agree that the “useless around the housework” male is the dominant paradigm of perception of how men are in this country? And perhaps give some ideas for what those of us with male partners who act as described in the above complaints can do to ensure our boy-type children do not turn into more of the same?

    That might be nice.

    • zellion — Absolutely it is the dominant perception (not least because it is all too often true, though not usually to the extent that, eg, TV portrays it). As for ideas how to change it for the next generation — other than being specific in one’s complaints (so as to reduce our boy children’s exposure to the idea that men = domestically incompetent) and doing as much as one can to try to create balance in one’s relationship (which, again, shouldn’t be women’s responsibility, and may not be possible much or at all), I don’t know. I wish I did.

      Counter sexism when we can. Point it out when we can’t or don’t have the energy to counter it. And hope for the best. (This is, alas, me at my most optimistic.)

    • zellion — when I was ranting about this on twitter, another friend asked me what I would suggest instead, especially when one is in a relationship where the man really ISN’T going to spontaneously start helping out if the woman were just to “change her attitude”, or what I would do in that place, and I really don’t feel comfortable answering, because that’s not my experience. I am, to put it one way, highly privileged in this aspect, and it feel icky to me to try to put myself in someone else’s place, and would be far too easy to be flip and pretend I could change it all through willpower alone. I know that isn’t true — which is why there isn’t much in the way of conclusion or suggestion to this post.

      This is me working through my aggravation with a phenomenon and trying to remind myself that it’s not as simple as my knee-jerk reaction against it would make it out to be.

  2. House Husband

    I dunno if my wife ever complained like this, but she could have. I did change diapers, but not noticing dirt was a problem. But I do more housework now than she does. Not because I reformed, because I am retired and she is not.

    But the reason I am responding is to note that Arwyn, as usual, has picked a good issue to write about here. And to second her wish that the boy never learns the cultural bias that housework is woman’s work. I have spent decades trying to unlearn that childhood lesson, with only partial success. And to point out that both parents bear (partial) responsibility for being a better example than I had (or was). Partial because the boy will also pick up attitudes from other households and from his peers.

    Good luck Arwyn.

  3. You said this how I wish I could. Clap clap clap.

    And stabby stab stab. :)

    Thanks for linking to me. Photographic proof things aren’t right.

  4. I used to hear a lot of those at mother-and-toddler groups when xCLP was a bit smaller. I mostly used to silently seethe, because I didn’t trust myself to get through the argument without opening the Giant Can o’Worms that is my being a man and a full-time parent. Most of the mothers seemed reasonably happy with their partners, so my sense was always of some sort of bonding ritual, where they signed on to the same complaints as everyone else so they would fit into the group.

  5. Dammit I can’t leave it at that. This post obviously hit a nerve for me, and I’m sorry. I know i am guilty of man-bashing with my female coworkers and I know it is wrong and unfair to men.

    Not all of my husband’s behavior can be attributed to being raised with traditional “gender assigned chores” in his head. See, it’s really good you have your husband who can do so much for you since I’m sure there are days when you can’t do those things. You’ve always been very honest and straightforward in this blog about your disabilities and history with them. You have your husband. My husband has me.

    My husband has physical and psychological disabilities that mean that – most of the time- he doesn’t have the spoons to do more than go to work and come home. And since we need two incomes to survive right now I do everything else, because I can. I do it all, including the traditionally “male” things like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, because my husband’s physical disabilities prevent him from doing a lot of those things.

    And when there are things that he *could* do but was not raised to do like dishes or folding laundry or helping the toddler bathe and getting him dressed for bed that he does not because he doesn’t think “hey this needs to be done” it causes marital tension. I do get resentful that I seem to do as much work as the single moms I know because of my husband’s disabilities.

    And when I’m talking with my coworkers and they wonder why I’m the one mowing the lawn and paying the bills instead of my husband it’s too damn long and hard of a process to explain the spoon theory to them.
    (Perhaps it’s more socially acceptable to be married to a man who is “lazy” rather than “broken”?)

    • zellion — Other than offering you a load of all-too-useless internet hugs (which I do, if you’d like them), my only question is, why would you make his (understandably frustrating, for all that it’s understandable) lack of work around the house about him being a man? (At a guess, I’d say because, as you allude, it’s more “acceptable” to have a such-a-typical-guy “lazy” partner than one with disabilities.) Although I was afraid it would fail, and it apparently has, this post (I) was attempting not to make anyone feel bad about going along with culturally-prescribed memes and explanations for their relationship dynamics but to both suggest that we rethink it, and to explain that it’s just as wrong to shame women for saying these things as it (so obviously to privileged-me) is to say them in the first place. And in your case in particular, no amount of magical thinking or language change is going to make your husband* suddenly start doing “his share”, and no one — least of all me — should make you feel bad for not believing otherwise.

      Regardless: for the pain I’ve caused you, I apologize.

      *A note: The Man is my partner, not husband.

  6. I can totally relate to this. I find myself sometimes not saying too much about what my partner does because I don’t want the mom’s I’m talking with to think I’m bragging or feel bad in comparison.

    I had written a bunch of other stuff and then I cut it because I realized I was writing a whole freakin’ post, so I guess I’ll just say great post and leave it at that.

  7. Oh yes. Oh yes, so much.

    I’m also one of the ‘lucky ones’(!) who might occasionally put up an indignant but apologetic squeak about how it’s not a ‘man thing’ at all (either because my man doesn’t, or quite often because in our house it’s actually me that does the complained-of behaviour…)

    What drives me MAD is that women don’t seem to realise they are perpetuating the cycle by talking this way. It strikes me that it’s not only a coping mechanism to deal with the frustration itself, but actually a mental attitude useful for trying to rationalise why one is still likely to be the household drudge even though we’re no longer supposed to need feminism: a sort of ‘well, OF COURSE it’s left to me – men are useless at it’ justification (and an attempt at pride in our assumed tasks, i suppose, with denial at the core and reinforcement of ridiculous stereotypes as the result). Meaning of course that men are literally being let off the hook all over the world because we tell them it’s their nature to be shit at this stuff. I’m willing to bet that, beer in hand naturally, they must be laughing all the way to the TV-oriented sofa.

    • Piana — “I’m willing to bet that, beer in hand naturally, they must be laughing all the way to the TV-oriented sofa.” Maybe, and I’m sure some are, but I know some men are also frustrated and hurt that they are excluded from this part of their lives. And many think they like it, but are missing out on so much by not being involved around the house and (especially!) with their children, and would be happier all around if all of society (including, though hardly limited to, their partners) didn’t say domesticity isn’t for them.

      It’s a little like saying women really love being “kept” — after all, they don’t have to go to work or earn any money! Well, maybe some. And maybe some think they do. But being forced into a narrow role whether it meshes with one’s desires or not is never actually a good thing, even if it has “benefits”.

      • Oh sure, I agree completely and apologise for not making myself more clear – I meant the ones who are still uber-sexist, who do think that women are there to look after them and don’t belong in the workplace. Of which there are a surprising and horrible number in my social network. My man HATES that people assume that as a man he defaults to ‘incompetent insensitive beer-sodden football lout’, and of course also hates these men-bashing sessions he overhears – not least because it’s so ubiquitous I think he suspects me of joining in too :(

        As for ‘women really love being “kept” ‘ (shudder), I had an enlightening discussion about that recently. To directly quote the happily ‘kept’ one: “Well i know I’m better off…..had 2 cups of coffee in bed this morning…can use his card to buy creams etc off QVC, have got 2 lovely sons…2 beautiful granddaughters….a lovely home and garden….i don’t need to be equal I’ve got love and happiness that’s all need in life”

        Aaarghh.

  8. Okay I have more. I was at a playdate the other day with a stay at home dad of two. I asked him, “I know that with stay at home moms we tend to take on all of the thinking and planning and decision making for our kids but I’ve always wondered how that plays out with stay at home dads?” This led to a very interesting conversation about the fact that even though he’s the one with the kids all day and he’s the one getting up in the night with them (their 5 and 2) she still criticizes and questions his decisions. She’s even taped up a very specific menu of allowed foods broken down by meal so that he doesn’t feed them off script.

    This more than anything speaks volumes to me about our cultural scripts and schemas when it comes to parenting and marriage. While he understands that it’s hard for her to let go of maternal control he’s hurt by the fact that she doesn’t trust him and doesn’t give him his fair share of the thinking work of parenting.

    It seems that in many cases when men are taking on their fair share they are either lauded as the exceptions that prove the rule or they are still seen as the secondary parent, even if their the primary caregiver. Someone should really do some research on stay at home dads.

    Okay, I guess I wrote a whole post anyway.

  9. Lets see – I went back to work full time when first child was 6 months old, on birth of second child Husband changed work so that he could stay home with the children and I could work full time. This didn’t change with birth of third child. He has been at home looking after all three since the second was born – second is now at school, third starts school next year. Yes I have been studying for the last 4 years and so have also been home – but next year I will be working full time again, guess who will be doing the school run?

    The list above drives both of us batty, totally and completely. However the attitude is there and is slowly changing but very slowly, there are a few more dad’s doing the school runs, being part of the classroom activities but still you will hear from the teachers “Now thank the Mum’s for coming in today…”

    Yeah the are things he does better around the house than I do, but equally there are things I do around the house better than he does. And neither of us gets it right all the time…

  10. I dunno, Arwyn. I kind of disagree with you here. The men bashing annoys you, and that’s fine, but I don’t think that it is always a generalisation or that it always is meant to apply to *all* men. When I complain about my partner, I complain about HIM. I do not assume that all men do the things he does or that he can’t help it because it’s genetic. I do, however, always bear in mind that society tends to subtly reinforce such behaviour in men. That’s not to say that they are all slaves to it, it’s just acknowledging how our culture creates gender roles. And I think most of the women that I talk to do the same. It is not a case of “my partner doesn’t do this because he has a penis,” as much as it is “my partner doesn’t do this because he was raised as a man in this fucked up kyriarchial society but whatever the reason he doesn’t do it, his not doing it really drives me up the wall.” But that’s a mouthful so what comes out is “My partner is such a MAN!” with the societal issues, etc implied.

    Many of us are stuck in situations we feel powerless to fix. Our partners will not (can not?) understand what they’re doing for whatever reason (nurture is a strong force in shaping us) and this “men bashing” in women’s groups is our only outlet. It’s not always ignorant of the subtlties of culture, upbringing, etc. Give us some credit.

    Note: I’m not denying the validity of your feelings of annoyance at the practice. That would be stupid and insensitive of me. I’m just … I don’t know what I’m doing. Possibly just trying to defend myself and the other women I know who have done this, who do this on a regular basis and who need this as an outlet or we’d fucking explode from the situation in which we find ourselves. We understand there is more to it all than “he is genetically male, has a cock and is heterosexual, therefore he can’t do this stuff,” even if the wording we choose doesn’t necessarily spell that out.

    • Kareena — The problem is, whether you intend it to or not, it DOES communicate that some men’s incompetence is because they’re male and generalizes it to “men” as a group (making it the default, even if the speaker would allow for “exceptions”). And it creates a hostile atmosphere for men who aren’t like that (as Nick related), and, when we do it around our kids (which, granted, is not necessarily the case in all mothers’ groups), it perpetuates the idea to the next generation. That’s true regardless of whether the speaker is using it as shorthand for “the man in my life has been adversely affected by kyriarchal gender roles”.

      Do I think everyone who’s said anything like that really believes that the y chromosome or the presence of a penis or whatever they believe makes a “man” physically blocks the capability to meal plan and shift the laundry and fold a diaper? No, and I didn’t mean to imply that. And for all the reasons you pointed out why women say it, I’m going to continue to not say anything and to work on decreasing my cringe reflex. But it’s what’s being communicated, and that’s why it bothers me — not just personally, but culturally, and for my kid, and for all the children who will grow up into men in this world.

  11. Interesting post. I’m thinking about comments (or tweets) I may have said/written in the past. I have a 100% co-parent in my husband. Sometimes he does more/less and vice versa. We cover for each other whenever one of us comes up a bit short for whatever reason. I do feel that the buck stops with me for the “final” parenting/householding decisions. This is perpetuated both because he expects it and I like/hate it that way. I spend more time reading and researching this whole attachment-natural parenting thing, which is alien to the way either of us was raised. So, that is also part of the reason I’m the final say. Whenever we don’t quite meet up on expectations or tasks, my comments-as-coping on twitter or irl convos can tend toward the stereotypical probably because they’ll garner greater comiseration than the reality.

    Thank you for giving me something new to examine and grow up a bit about. Neither he nor I deserve to be spoken about that way. I certainly wouldn’t want my 3 boys to grow up being limited by such. *entering behaviour self-modification mode*
    (Typing this nak on my cell, please excuse typos)

  12. If I indulge in this kind of thing — rarely about my husband’s ability to do housework, because honestly? He’s much better than I am at it — I do it not from a “Husband’s doesn’t/cant…” but a “Andy doesn’t/can’t…”

    For instance, I dropped our son off with my mother in law for an overnighter today, who only knew that we were going out — because Andy tends to gloss over small details like we’re going to be 3 hours away, or what we were actually doing. He’s just not a small-details person.

    I understand the frustration, and agree entirely that the blanket bashing of men/husbands is a problem, because it doesn’t perpetuate that if men “can’t,” then they shouldn’t try. And honestly? There’s so little my husband is unable/unwilling to try, and none of that has to do with his gender.

    At the same time, I do think that the venting serves a healthy purpose. I wish the phrases would change, and the animosity knocked down a level.

    Honestly, I’m much more bothered by the one-upmanship of, “I make my husband/I would never let my husband” that seems to be prevalent in all marriage-related discussion. I don’t like what it says about the state of a partnership at all.

  13. I agree. And I cringe when people say these things around my kids — especially my boys. And I wonder what their little brains think of comments like these. (On top of the “oh-poor-you-you-have-three-boys-comments.)

    Amanda
    (mama to three great boys and a fantastic girl)

  14. Hmmmm. I’m not at all sure what to say about this one, to be honest. While your argument, Arwyn, makes perfect sense to me intellectually, I also find Kareena’s counter quite resonant with my actual lived experience. I do complain sometimes about the things my partner does / does not do, but I do frame it as “things HE he does / does not do” rather than “things all men do / do not do”.

    That said, some of the things he does / does not do are predicated on his enculturation as a cis-gendered heterosexual working-class traditionally-reared male in Australia, so I suppose I *am* complaining at a meta level about that particular bundle of attitudes and what it leads to – about what, in my social and cultural circles, would be instantly tagged by most hearers as “man” behaviour.

    So I guess I would ask whether it’s possible to recognise that there are some shared behaviours, attitudes and so forth that provoke much of the “so like a MAN” thread in womens’ talk. In other words, when women talk like this, are they complaining about the same general things? Are, in fact, a significant strata of female-partnered men manifesting the same kinds of behaviours? Similarly are women enabling and excusing this behaviour precisely *by* complaining about it in safe spaces and not recognising the degree to which they are complicit in it?

    I’ll think on it more. A great food for thought piece, as always.

  15. This post touches on something which has been annoying me a lot lately. I play an online game which is directed at children, but has many adult players. We ‘friend’ each other, we care for monsters we have adopted, visit & rate each other’s rooms, & leave notes with messages to let each other know we have visited. Most of us have friends of all ages & both genders, all reading each other’s pinboards. There is one Australian gentleman who is on my friends tree who rates me & a lot of other people, including children of both genders. He likes to be ‘funny’ & leave jokes on his notes. However, virtually every joke he leaves is one which reinforces gender stereotypes & trots out the same tired old beliefs about how ‘awful’ marriage is, how incompetent women or men are are various things BECAUSE of their gender, & things which, for at least 90% of us, are not only untrue but hopelessly outdated, such as a ‘successful wife is one who marries a man who can afford to keep her in the luxury she demands”, etc., making me think that this man, who is my age (61) is living in the 1950′s or an alternate universe. These ‘jokes’ offend me personally & I also believe that they send a very unfortunate message to the little boys & girls who read his notes. There are others who occasionally drop real clangers in their jokes, such as the man who yesterday wrote something about “never get into a fight with an ugly person because he has less to lose”, but this particular man is a daily offender. I asked him once if he really hated his wife that much & he responded, “In real life, I love her deeply”. So what is it about the culture around us that makes someone like him believe that talking about gender characteristics & roles this way is not only acceptable, but the natural thing to do, as well as hilariously funny?

  16. great article! I was going to comment on various points, but looks like your other readers have said most of what I wanted to (:

    Thanks for posting it, I definitely see now how I was raised differently from my siblings (who are both male) and it really bothers me. Like when we go to my parents, my mother will cook most of the food (unless it’s something to be bbq’d) and then afterwards my brothers will not help clean up at all unless specifically asked, while other people (female) are. It’s totally ridiculous, but my mother never taught that behavior to them, so they don’t even think about it.

    I feel so bad that my mother was taught this was right, and ends up burdened if there aren’t women around to help her. Oddly enough, one of the few men that do help is my father! He see’s helping anybody out as correct in that situation, but he never thought to teach my brothers that, I suppose…?

    Now my mother is a grandmother, and my brother has a girl and a boy. The boy is still very young but you can tell he has a different personality from their other child already. Of course my mother says “well boys are different…” and it just kills me. PEOPLE are different!

    So I’m trying my best to offer some gender neutral playtime with auntie, without stepping on too many toes in the process.

  17. My first response was: I so don’t do that. I roll my eyes when the man (or woman) bashing starts. When I complain about my spouse, I complain about *him* and not his gender generally (and oh yeah, I don’t do it publicly). My complaints are seldom domestic, either; he has far more to complain about in that department, and it’s more about me and our household arrangements than anything more general. My husband is an excellent partner and co-parent.

    But then I thought a level deeper. I giggle and blush and gloat about his excellencies – such as his appreciation of hand-knit purple lace socks, as an example of his security in himself. Isn’t this the flip side of the same coin? By extolling his virtues, aren’t I reinforcing expectations for “typical guys”?

    I want to take this further, but I’m not sure where to go.

    • Katie,

      I know what you mean, and I do see that as stereotyping men as well. I used to do the same thing until, like you, I realized that it was also reinforcing gender expectations. Now, before I say a comment like that I re-examine it and think “what am I really saying here?”

  18. Well, I mentioned this on Twitter, but what’s always made me feel a little self-conscious in those situations hasn’t so much been that I’m a “lucky” one (eek) whose male partner cooks, bakes, does laundry, vacuums, cares for his child, etc. (all work he had no choice but to do during his years as a single parent living on his own). It’s that, somewhat like zellion’s husband above, I sometimes have trouble “pulling my weight” when it comes to domestic work due to lack of spoons.

    I am currently able-bodied, but I often have less physical energy than my partner, or it runs out more quickly, and my mental disabilities often prevent me from having the presence or clarity of mind to be as productive as I’d like to be. Despite this, I try to take as much responsibility for domestic tasks as I can, because I do have more time at home than he does. (Although as we also noted on the twitterz a while back, simply being at home more often does not obligate one to do more domestic work, and in our case, just because I have the time doesn’t mean I can actually do more.)

    (On a bit of a tangent, I also do traditionally “male” domestic tasks such as minor home repairs, snow-shoveling, etc. to the extent that I am physically able–not only because in our particular relationship, I seem to be the one who enjoys those tasks more, but because I see all “at-home” work as being fair game for anyone who happens to be at home. For example, I use our cordless drill far more often than my partner does.)

    So the “men = incompetent with domestic work” meme makes me feel weird on more than one level, not only because of the greater implications you mention above, but because it doesn’t reflect my own experience in the least–it sets up an expectation that just because I’m the woman, I’ve got to be the one with my shit together in the domestic and parenting sphere. And I’m conscious of the fact that quite often, that’s just not me.

    Anyway, I know you’ve mentioned you feel this post was not up to your usual standards, but I’m glad you wrote it (I’m also glad you wrote this one along similar lines). I feel that a whole lot more “rethinking the norm” needs to be done when it comes to our expectations surrounding gender and household economy.

  19. When our oldest was a baby, I completely ate up the moms groups. I went to every single one I could find and reveled in connecting with other parents (mostly moms, every now and then dads) at the same phase.

    But a several months in I noticed something was off. I noticed lots of comments like “My husband can’t (blank) because he’s in school.” or “Her dad can’t do much at home because he’s in his last year of law school.” or “My partner’s writing his dissertation this year, so I really have to do all of the baby care.” I was there in the middle of the day, doing the bulk of my daughter’s daytime care that semester, AND it was my last year of work on my PhD in Mathematics (which I finished when she was a year old). And the kicker is that I didn’t even give birth. My wife did. So in a lot of ways I was no different than those dads (I wasn’t nursing). But we saw my work as flexible enough to allow me to care for her and assumed I was perfectly competent to do so because I’m a woman. My fellow moms weren’t necessarily man bashing. They were explaining things that seemed obvious to them, just “how things were” and needed support. Only there was living proof right in the room that they were wrong. But it still took me several months to notice (and I was the proof). This stuff runs really deep.

  20. I’m a mom who works outside of the home and my husband is a stay-at-home-dad. This situation is still so unusual that I’m not sure if I’m “one of the lucky ones” or not! When I tell people that my husband stays home with our daughter, I get two basic reactions: either they are practically in awe that I’ve married such an incredible man OR they ask if he’s -ever- had a job, as if he’s just a bum that I’m supporting. Apparently there is no middle ground where stay-at-home-dads are concerned. I’m also never sure whether either of us are doing as much as we “should” do. He does a lot more than most men do, so I’m a lucky one…but he does a lot less than most stay-at-home-moms do. Is he getting off easy because he’s a man or is he doing his fair share and I’m just a slacker? I really don’t know. I’m grateful that he’s home and that I don’t have to worry about doing a lot of things like laundry or getting dinner ready…but then I can’t help but wonder why our house always looks like a tornado picked it up and threw it when he’s got 2-3 days per week when our daughter is at school (6.5 hours each day) to get some of it organized. SOmething inside of me wants to scream that women have managed to do all of this stuff and more for hundreds of years, so why can’t he? My mother had 2 kids (we have only 1) and she babysat other kids for extra money, but she managed to do all the cooking (real cooking, not just heating stuff up), cleaning, laundry, mowing the lawn, buying groceries, doing banking, setting appointments, shopping for clothes, volunteering at the school when we got older, etc. She actually IRONED the clothes and put them away; my husband washes clothes and delivers an unfolded basket to the bedroom when he’s done. He’s a good man and a great father; I don’t mean to take that away from him. I just really, really don’t have a clue whether we have a balanced relationship or if one of us is riding on the other’s coat tails…and IF one of us is, I don’t know which one it would be. It’s hard to sort things like this out when the cultural stereotypes are so ingrained. Things are -mostly- working for me the way they are, but I don’t know if I should say anything about what isn’t working because I don’t know if my complaints are reasonable or not.

  21. I guess I’m the odd woman out on this one, not least because my husband and I tend to be in pretty traditional gender roles. I am a stay at home mom, I do 95% of the housework, cooking, etc. I do about 66% of the child rearing because I am present in the home more, since I am not the one working full time and attending college full time. When I was working in the corporate world, I still did a good portion of the child rearing, but did very little of the housework. I brought in most of our family’s income, and as such I felt a sort of entitlement to sitting on the couch when my husband got up to do the dinner dishes. So perhaps our concept of men being lazy (housework/child rearing wise) has less to do with man’s nature and more to do with homo sapiens’ nature. Perhaps it is more about being in a position of financial control. Since men have traditionally held financial control, so perhaps that same sense of being above housework has been conditioned into men for generations. Just a thought, and not something I had considered before.

    So overall, excellent post. It’s forced me to look at the concept in a way I never had before. As the mother of a son, I hope that sexism is not something he has to contend with.

    *I’m functioning on little sleep, so the above might not make sense. Hopefully I expressed my personal revelation well enough to get the point across.

  22. Having a son has definitely given me pause on a lot of the complaining that happens. For some reason, even though I live in a relationship where the balance seems to be different than the norm (?), I don’t feel as defensive of my husband as I do of my son. I don’t want him to constantly hear that men are incompetent. If my daughter hearing that women are incompetent would enrage me, then why should this be any different?

  23. I am late to the discussion, but…

    I agree with you, Arwyn, and I do not now regularly hang out in coffee clatches where women tend to denigrate their ‘menfolk’ and their fumbling, useless ways. And yes, the baby group that I was part of, and of which I am still on the periphery as those first babies are now 9 years old, was very much about this. Where I live (we moved here shortly before children for work) – rural, semi-isolated, ultra-conservative – this seems to be the norm. However, there are enough other families that I have found – imports mostly, like me – that I am not inundated with this chatter, nor are my two sons and daughter. Some of the chatter, I agree, is a vent by the mothers about their particular partners, but what really, really exacerbates me, and makes me sad/furious/angry/irritated at the same time, is that forced juvenile role of ‘useless male in the house’ being taught, actively taught!!, to their son(s) as they parent these last 9 years, through the lack of instruction on how to do ‘women’s work’ and to take responsibility, and by talking about their partner in such negative ways in front of their sons!! I hear, and their children hear “Oh, he can’t do that!’, or ‘he’s useless at that’, or ‘there’s not much point in even asking him to TRY to do that’, while never once realizing that she is denying her children so many opportunities to learn how to perform chores, and to witness their father try and succeed (or fail) at things. Nor does she allow them the benefit of seeing that different methods work, and are tolerated.

    *exhale* This is a bit of a sore spot for me. (You may have guessed (; ) Thank you for starting the discussion…

  24. Arwyn, thanks for this.

    I don’t have a solution, but I’d like to offer support, particularly regarding your child. It’s about the implied message and that the message is self-prophetic. When people make sexist jokes or rant about “that’s the way men are” or “that’s the way women are”, the message I and many of my peer group (30 year old men) took away is that “they’re talking about it, and everyone seems to get the joke or understand the statement, so it must be true”.

    It’s like appending “so say we all” to the end of rants, and then everyone else chimes in “so say we all”. Now think of a small boy growing up, knowing that he’ll probably grow up to be a man, but not really sure what that means. What message is he going to listen to? For my part, and for several of my peers, the message we took was that it’s pretty shitty and undesirable to be a grown-up man. Some guys never heard this message or decided to rebel against it, and I’m happy for them. But quite a few took it to heart and today are dealing with a lot of self-hatred.

    Putting it another way, contemplate this: sit down with your son, and tell him 10 times: “Men are all stupid”. How about sit down with your daughter tell her 10 times: “Women never amount to anything”. It’s actually far worse than that, because these statements happen over a lifetime. Man, I just bummed myself out, that’s really sad.

    Anyway, thanks again for this. I appreciate it :)

    (ps. Subscribing (got here from offbeat mama))

  25. I think I can’t help but complain about the person I share 90% of my adult-communication with, not to mention our home and finances; but I really hate when I bring his gender or sex into it. This is complicated by the fact that my husband comes from a VERY hetero-normative family, so it is so tempting to blame issues on his idea of maleness. But I totally kick myself when I realize I’ve insinuated that its because he’s a man that he drives me crazy; I know clear as day that more than anything, its because he’s a human and so am I.

  26. Like Jonathan just pointed out, it’s the repeated example that gets into people’s subconscious. How do you change things? By setting a good example and by teaching kids that their subconscious can pick up on both positive and negative words.

    The first, setting an example, needs to be done by parental figures of both genders. It will help children to see ‘people’ doing chores, not ‘men’ or ‘women’. We focus on telling our children that it is each person helping to clean up after themselves, rather than one or two people doing all the work.

    The second is harder because it is teaching a child an abstract thought, which they will struggle with until they are teenagers. We actually had this conversation recently with our boys (aged 7 & 9). We tend to make silly jokes about being ‘fatheads’ or ‘turds’, etc. – the general potty humor that kids love. However, we pointed out that there was a part of their brain that would hear those words and think it was completely real, so we needed to only make jokes about others or ourselves like that occasionally. This will keep their subconscious from thinking that they are stupid because they joked about it one too many times. Then, my husband gave them the example that, when he was a teen, he used to make jokes about being stupid and, after a while, he felt stupid. So he made the decision to start making jokes about being awesome, and it worked! He even started doing better on his tests.

    We can’t change how someone else speaks about themselves or others, but we can use those times when we hear things to point out the language to our children. They are sponges and will remember these lessons. I still remember the things my parents taught me.

    (I came here from Offbeat mama too.)

  27. So I’m a lady, and in my relationship, I’m the one with the “domestic blindness”! (My partner is also a lady, but you know.) I always feel the need to point that out when I can… ;)

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