Why Won’t He Clean? Sharing Authority Might be Part of the Problem

The Atlantic, as always, weighed in on the Mommy Wars today, in the wake of the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.  It has a nice, crowd-sourced, hook:

I asked a few ambitious, heterosexual working mothers I know to send me a list of the invisible tasks they do on their “second shift,” family needs that their equally ambitious, working male partners simply do not see. Within an hour and a half, I received a collection of lists that averaged around 35 items each, full of the taxing, the trivial, the short- and the long-term: sick child duty, travel planning, photo organization, holiday preparation, emotional support work, hairstyling, online searches for sports equipment, et al. Clearly, I had hit a nerve.

When I asked their husbands to comment on the lists, it was like someone had just asked them why they had refused to carry the baby. Some men wrote carefully crafted arguments about different culturally conditioned spheres of expertise and talent; some listed all of the chores they did—mostly garbage and yard work; and others were afraid to speak at all, for fear of taxing their already stressed marriages. Another nerve.

Judging from the radio silence that followed the men’s responses, the women were hoping for something different. I think they wanted their partners to pick up a broom.

I figure I will blow myself up by putting out there something that I have yet to see others observe: while males are primarily to blame for this state of affairs (and I speak from a “personal guilty as charged” experience), I am confident that in the vast majority of heterosexual couples women do not realize the extent to which they are sabotaging themselves?   What!?!?!

Consider this caricature of the middle and upper class, heterosexual American division of labor, circa 1955: he was responsible for income, house and car maintenance, the lawn and garbage; she for the home (aka interior), family, nurturing, and social calendar.  What is usually missing from this discussion is that in addition to having sole responsibility for their domains, he and she also exercised authority over the expectations about the process and outcomes within their respective domains.  The subordinate was free to comment or object, but not challenge that authority.

In light of that caricature as backstory, permit me to this piece of advice to that Ms. Sandberg offered last night on her 60 Minutes interview: if you plan to have a partner, the most important career decision you will make is choosing a partner who will do housework, child rearing and support your career.

To that, I wish to paraphrase the advice of a British midwife who sent  a former sister-in-law of mine home with her first born saying: it is important that you leave him with your husband and go out, and when you do, do not reprimand him for how he goes about it, even if you come home and find the nappy on the baby’s head.  The midwife understood something few heterosexual, partnered women I have encountered seem to get: if you are going to share the responsibility, you are going to have to compromise on both process and outcome.  Of course, you first have to accomplish what Ms. Sandberg recommends, and that ain’t easy!  But there is some endogeneity moving forward from there.

OK, go ahead: light me up!

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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One Response to Why Won’t He Clean? Sharing Authority Might be Part of the Problem

  1. Hein Goemans says:

    I soooooo agree.

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