Cutesy Feminism

Sandra Tsing Loh annoys me even more than Caitlin Flangan.

I wrote a post about her over the summer or maybe it was earlier fall. She is the writer who got tired of her marriage but instead of working on her issues, she had an affair which precipitated her divorce. She has a live in relationship now – and I won’t go into why I think those types of set-ups are usually doomed from the onset – and she finds herself, again, the breadwinner.

Her recent piece in The New York Times (read it while you can, they are putting the pay wall back up soon) is on needing a wife. Because every good feminist needs a wife to offset the uselessness of her husband, the stuck in the 1950’s Reagan-era nostalgic Neanderthal caricature  sperm donor her biological clock blinded her into breeding with.

I get tired of hearing this worn out bit of nonsense.

Oh, it’s not nonsense that while women have gained full-time employment outside their homes in near parity numbers with men over the last three decades, men have not picked up the home-making or child care slack at the same rates. In fact it’s not even a decent comparison when one looks at the numbers.

What is tiresome is the whining.

I hate to quote Dr. Phil here, but the man made a valid point when he said. and repeatedly,

“You teach people how to treat you.”

If your mate is not shopping, cooking, cleaning or caring for offspring in a share and share alike way, say something about it. Tell him/her what you expect. Why you expect it. Work out a compromise that is agreeable to you both.

But men can’t be reasoned with, women argue. And they should just see that work that needs doing and that I can’t do it all. What is wrong with them?

Nothing. Just as there is nothing wrong with women who don’t seem able to get their minds around the fact that men, despite evolution, still can’t read our minds or make the correlation between housework and foreplay.

I was the breadwinner in my first marriage and my late husband did the cooking. In fact, he insisted that grocery shopping be a bonding experience for us – something that made me crazy because he had to go up and down every single aisle in the store whether we needed to or not. Shopping took less time when I was a single mother wrangling a toddler who refused to sit in the cart than it did with her father.

He would have done the laundry too but his indifference to sorting my colors and materials would have totaled my wardrobe.

He got mad at me when I did yard work. I had summers off, being a teacher, and time to do it that he lacked. But he found yard work soothing and exercised his gender veto.

Our motto from the beginning was that nothing be stewed over. If someone had an issue, discussions needed to happen.

“I can’t read minds,” he told me.

Now I stay home. It’s just the way things worked out. Rob would be just as happy – happier really – if I was bringing home the bread instead of shopping for it.

If the majority of the cooking, baking, cleaning, shopping etc. falls on me, it’s because I have the time. Rob willingly chips in, and even more often, simply does things without my having to mention it at all. Laundry, cleaning (he does the bathrooms because my allergies don’t mix with harsh cleaning products).

And mind-reading is off limits, though we are so alike that sometimes I bet we could do it if we just practiced a bit.

You trained your husbands well, women will marvel. But truthfully I did nothing aside from open my mouth and express my thoughts on how a marriage should work. I did it more often with Will than I do with Rob, but I was Will’s first wife and Rob had 27 years of partnering tucked away in his resumé when I met him.

There are no abbreviations. Like children, spouses assess the lay of the land and act accordingly. Men and women. Dr.Phil’s hackneyed home spun advice is valid.

The whole “needing a wife” thing is cliché. What women need is to speak up, and probably screen men a bit more in the beginning to ward off that buyer’s remorse some many end up with.

9 responses to “Cutesy Feminism

  1. My husband does more housework than I do and is truly a progressive and involved father. But I still need a personal assistant. So when I say I need a wife, it’s not a reflection of the work my husband doesn’t do but of my inability to say no and my type A personality.
    I do agree that it can be annoying to hear from so many women that their husband doesn’t do x, y, z. I am frequently floored by women that I love and admire allowing themselves to be treated like doormats. But, I think it’s so much more complicated than just speaking up or demanding shared responsibility. Relationships, and the reasons we end up with the people we do, are so complex.
    I’m off to read the latest Loh piece now. I do remember her initial piece in the NYT and remember being annoyed by it as well. In part because, at the time, my husband and I were doing everything we could to save our marriage. It’s not easy and marriage is work. It’s hard to empathize with someone who’s not interested in doing that hard work. I had to wonder why in the hell she married the guy in the first place.

    • Having been a teacher for a long, long time, I noticed that it is the simplest things that are often the hardest to fix or learn.

      Women spend so long pretending to unattainable beauty standards and hiding their true selves in the pursuit of coupledom that we are often caught flat-footed years after the new has worn off and we are hip deep in the have it all we were brought up believing life should be.

      The communication starts from the very beginning and it’s not romantic, which is why I spent so long as a single woman. I told both Will and Rob what I wanted very early on. And they shared their expectations with me. And amazingly, or maybe not so much, there was plenty of overlap to build on.

      I think it is as simple as talking but the subject matter is sometimes not for the faint of heart or the starry-eyed hearts. Rob mentioned tonight that he can’t recall the conversation he had with his late wife in the early, early years that led them to the work divides on SAHM/Work Mom or the household/childcare issues. But that was decades ago for him, I have learned enough about Shelley to think that talks were held.

      Marriage is work. I worked much harder the first time for reasons I won’t go into, simply because he’s dead now and it’s not fair, but Rob and I work at what we have because it matters and it’s good and I don’t think either of us can imagine a scenario where you wouldn’t work on something you declared to each other was “it” and forever.

  2. i’m not sure i’d call her op ed piece “cutesey”… i’d call it “archaic”. i’m no expert on relationships – far from it. but despite the fact that my 25 year marriage ended by amicable and mutual agreement, we never had issues with division of responsibilities/duties. there were times when i earned more, and times when he earned more. household responsibility was divided by some algorithm of ‘threshold’, personal likes/dislikes/skills and who had more time and/or energy on a particular day…

    through it all? direct communication, discussion and negotiation of expectations. it’s not some mysterious ‘mars-venus’ thing. nor was it a function of societally expected gender behavior — he did the vacuuming because he had a lower tolerance for dog fur in the carpet, i handled the automotive repairs because i enjoyed it.

    i choose to be single, and am dating several gentlemen. but every ‘relationship’ contains that same negotiated discussion. they know there is nothing exclusive. i let them know what i expect, and they let me know what they expect. it works.

    Sandra Tsing Loh claiming to be feminist because she earns more money than her bedmate? i think she’s missing the point.

    • Her whole scenario is cliche. Being the breadwinner and having a younger partner was my life ten years ago and is hardly a new phenomena among women even if I was ahead of the curve by some fluke.

      The faux comic spin that puts female on top and male as clueless is hallmark of the genre (it’s a mommy blogging thing channeling Erma Bombeck) and it’s tired. Nothing new or helpful is added to the conversation. It’s just more whining from the upper echelon and isn’t relevant to the real decisions that couples have to make in the world of average people.

  3. I read the Times Op-Ed piece and I, quite frankly, couldn’t figure out what the point, if there was one, was she’s trying to make. It sounded like she want’s the ’50’s model but with herself in the “breadwinner” role instead of “homemaker”, but I couldn’t really tell.

    The lifestyle details she revealed, though, only illustrated (to me) how shallow her views are. Really, geometric stacking of tupperware in the fridge? This is a priority or concern? Geometric organization in the “icebox”? WTF?

    Your points about having discussions and (the lack of) mindreading are on the mark. Successful partnerships really rely on solid foundational bases like shared vision, goals and philosophies.

    • It is hard to follow her premise which is why I labeled it “cutesy”. It really adds nothing to the discussion. It’s cheap and lazy, and annoying when it comes from someone who is quite privileged in comparison to the average woman or couple. She has options aplenty, but whining is the American way.

  4. There are so many issues wrapped up in the “woman as breadwinner” issue. It’s so complicated. I agree that women need to communicate with their men. However, I think the changes in gender roles have things more difficult for a lot of us, especially the mothers who want to stay home to raise their children. For example, I have more education and work experience than my husband (and as such, the ability to bring home a higher wage), but I *want* to stay home with my young child. My husband believes that I should better our (financial) circumstances by returning to work.

    • I think the real issue is that how gender roles are perceived haven’t changed at all. What has changed is the economy and what it takes for individuals/families to survive financially.

      The real question then becomes, what do you want your life to look like and how much money is it going to take to pull it off? For most people, that means putting the most financially viable partner into the market place because we confuse our needs with our wants.

      • I agree that for the most part how gender roles are perceived hasn’t changed. We can all agree that the economy has changed. In many if not most families, both partners believe that they need to be in the marketplace to make ends meet.

        I am in the group of post-feminist women who want our unpaid work as stay-at-home mothers to be recognized as important and worthwhile. What has changed is that our society EXPECTS educated mothers to work outside the home (and still do the bulk of the housework), rather than respecting our choice to stay home and raise our children.

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