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Men and Women

The Eternal Questions: Laundry, Basketball, Yawns and Lawns

Two amusing articles today, this one by Kathleen Parker and this one by Ruth Marcus, take on the big questions surrounding the eternal inequalities faced by women with respect to basketball and laundry.  Feminists, of course, would argue that basketball (particularly when it's an all-male game with the President) represents "access" to power and laundry is but a metaphor for the continuing oppression of women within their own domiciles. 

Marcus is right to note that women will "smile" when they read that the winner of the Nobel Laureate for Medicine was folding laundry when she discovered that she had won the prize for medicine at 5 a.m. one morning.  And they will smile more when they hear that this now famous doctor noted that she did not expect the same could be said about what our President was doing when he got notice of his award.  I did smile, broadly, and with knowing recognition of the sentiment.

But Marcus is probably right about another thing:  women are reluctant to share these domestic burdens with their spouses for a variety of reasons.  I think she gives too much credence to the power of generational habit, but she rightly notes the issue of control:  female confidence in the fact that men will screw things up if they take charge of things that, traditionally, have been our domain.  There is, certainly, some of that.  And, with notable exceptions, it is entirely rational.  I might mention a couple more.  One is that shared burdens usually go two ways in a marriage.  If I expect hubby to do laundry, then maybe he'll expect me to mow the lawn or, worse, change the oil.  (Fill in your own blanks for these jobs . . . I understand that these things vary from marriage to marriage and this is the variety that we used to call the "spice" of life.)  The point is, we all get comfortable with our own forms of drudgery and we also get comfortable about the right to complain about them.  They amount, in a sense, to a kind of guilt power.  It's not a very noble kind of power, I'll admit, but it has its uses.  And, no doubt, it flows two ways.  It is the kind of thing that people used to develop a sense of humor about and, today, people instead have to write long-winded editorials about in order to explain it to a denatured population.

Parker rightly notes this last phenomenon with a pronounced, "Yawn."  It is boring to have to explain the obvious.  And yet, here we are.  One wonders how the likes of Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress will continue to find interested audiences for reports like the hackneyed, warmed-over, feminist pablum she served up in her report, ""A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" when people wake up to fact that we've been talking with relentless obtuseness about the same alleged "problems" for decades.  Perhaps there is no feminist end of the rainbow . . . perhaps this is just, well, life.  And the smart money is with our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who, when faced with life, learned how to laugh instead of whine.  There's an awful lot of power in laughter too.  
Categories > Men and Women

Discussions - 7 Comments

Bah. Fiddlesticks. I do the laundry around here, because 1) I'm usually working from home, but also, more importantly, 2) I'm a strict constructionist and fanatical textualist when it comes to labels. They put 'em on there for a reason, people!

We can't treat the question of fairness in the distribution of housework without also considering the source of the requirement that housework be done. Women have higher standards, not because they are objectively valid, but because their image is at stake in a way that a man's is not.
Suppose I invite a friend to stop over for a drink after work. I will pick up after myself - not because I am ashamed of a little mess but because it reflects on my wife or she thinks it does. How many times have I painted a room that doesn't need painted because my wife wants a different color scheme? Women do more housework, in part, because they want more housework done and they want it done to a different standard.

With respect to laundry, women's stuff is vastly more complicated than men's. For general use, I have two colors of socks all in the same style - partly because I don't want to mess around folding them. My underwear is pink because sometimes I don't separate dark colors. The sheets never get folded, they go back on the bed they got stripped from. For the most part women don't think like this.

Only a woman physician would be folding her own laundry at 5am instead of entrusting this "essential task" to a maid or laundry service.

All generalities have deviations. Ben chooses to do his laundry. In my case, contra Charles, it is the man of the house who sets the standards for cleanliness. But then, he IS an engineer. No woman's standard of clean can compare to that of a guy used to working in "clean rooms." In these things, I agree with Dr. Laura. The one who cares the most should be the one to take on the burden of making it happen or else it's no fair complaining.

The standard for a man who helps around the house and one who does not often seem at variance. However, I have known stay-at-home moms who complain that their husbands do not help enough with housework after the man has been out of the house for 10-14 hours of the day. I just roll my eyes and wonder what the single moms in my classes would say.

In our case, I can keep the house clean and orderly, but am leery of doing the plumbing, dry-wall, insulation and other major repairs that my husband also does not do. Yes, I suppose in some areas my husband sets the standard for the house's cleanliness and order, but I might choose to exceed the standards when I can. My husband does not paint, neither does he sew.

However what the original post made me think about was that feminists cannot escape femininity. I had thought about that earlier today while listening to Hillary Clinton speak in Islamabad about terrorism. She addressed terrorists in a tone that I have heard mothers use on three year-old children, especially little boys. Did you hear her? It just did not seem like a heavy voice of authority, mostly because it sounded so female in both tone and substance. We just are what we are.

Julie, once again, you have made things too complicated. The Laundry Controversy boils down to one word: lycra. Women's clothing, I have learned lately, contains a surprising amount of it and in surprising items. Additionally, as I also have since learned, it shrinks fantastically when put in the dryer. Some things are best left to those who know.

Good to hear from you old friend!

Yes, it is all entirely too complicated. That's the trouble with having to explain the obvious.

As for Lycra in women's clothing . . . TMI, my friend. General rule, however: if it stretches, line dry it. Hope you stay out of trouble.

Laundry is easy; just do what Ben said.

On reflection, I liked Charles saying he paints rooms that do not need to be painted just because his wife wants it. I found it very noble, also Ben on washing the laundry. I was reflecting because this morning I bumped into woman who was relating to me the depression of a mutual friend whose husband is not working steadily, by his choice. Therefore she is supporting the family. He does not help with housework as that would be demeaning. Demeaning!

Then I was thinking, too, about the song from The Music Man, "My White Knight"? I point out that a man wrote it. Here it is:

MY WHITE KNIGHT
(c) 1957 M. Willson

My white knight, not a Lancelot, nor an angel with wings
Just someone to love me, who is not ashamed of a few nice things.
My white knight who knew what my heart would say if it only knew how.
Please, dear Venus, show me now.

All I want is a plain man
All I want is a modest man
A quiet man, a gentle man
A straightforward and honest man
To sit with me in a cottage somewhere in the state of Iowa.

And I would like him to be more interested in me than he is in himself.
And more interested in us than in me.

And if occasionally he'd ponder
what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great,
Him I could love till I die. Him I could love till I die.

My white knight, not a Lancelot, nor an angel with wings.
Just someone to love me, who is not ashamed of a few nice things.
My white knight, let me walk with him where others ride by
Walk and love him till I die, till I die.

----------------------------------------------

What if he had also known how to keep his whites white? There would have been a whole other verse.

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