My father was born in 1922. He died just over three years ago, at the age of 85, and I can honestly say I never once heard him tell my mother what to do in her own house. Yup, that’s what I wrote: her house.
Technically, it was their house — my father did make the payments, after all — but he would never dream of telling my mother how to decorate it or how to situate the furniture. And he certainly wouldn’t tell her how the kitchen should be organized, what utensils should be used, or how to load the dishwater. My parents’ home was, with the exception of the garage and basement, my mother’s domain.
That’s the way things were back then: The house was her job, the office was his. This arrangement had its bumpy moments — she would complain that he didn’t “help out” enough in the kitchen,” and he would try to be of assistance, only to be told he wasn’t doing it right — but for the most part, it worked.
Today this family model has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Husbands and wives are expected to do everything 50/50. That’s how couples, men in particular, prove their status as enlightened beings. But is the 50/50 marriage — in which both spouses work, cook, clean, and raise children together in perfect harmony — superior to the old way? And does it even work?
In theory, perhaps. In reality, no.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for sharing duties, and that’s generally the way things work in our home. My husband and I rarely fight about who does what because we’re both self-sufficient and respect each other’s role. (Full disclosure: My husband works full-time and pays the bills; I write, as you know, but also take on the lion’s share of household and child-related matters). And our marriage dynamic has become all the more evident since we moved my 81-year-old (and still vibrant) mother into our home.
Oh, sure, my mother knew my husband does the dishes every night; she’s seen that many times. And she remembers his doing his part in caring for our two children when they were babies. But it wasn’t until my mother moved in with my family that she saw the extent to which my husband got involved on the home front.
When she wants to put certain utensils in a certain drawer in the kitchen, I might respond, “Well, you-know-who doesn’t like it there.” Or if she wants to prepare a dish (I do most of the cooking, but she helps out) a certain way, I might say, “Well, you-know-who doesn’t like such-and-such prepared that way.” At which point her eyes will open wide while she desperately tries to keep her mouth shut. But I know exactly what she’s thinking: My father would no more have had an opinion on these matters than he would fly to the moon. And he would eat anything and everything my mother put on his plate. My husband, on the other hand, has lots to say — so much that it makes my job that much more difficult.
The 50/50 marriage feminists have been touting for decades is supposed to be a recipe for the old model. Their argument is that women like my mother were unduly burdened, while husbands got off scot-free. But is this accurate?
My mother quit her career as a stockbroker (yes, women had careers before feminism came along) when my sister and I were five and three, respectively — and was never employed after that. As a result, her time was her own. Once my sister and I were in school full-time, my mother was free as a jaybird to do whatever she liked.
My father couldn’t say that.
Does my mother’s life, or mine, seem oppressive to you? That’s what feminists and the women they’ve enlisted in their cause believe — and what they want you to believe. Consider this shocking statement by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook: “We still haven’t achieved the goal of real equality for women in the workplace and men in the home. Women continue to need protection not only globally where many women lack basic civil and human rights, but also here where the most dangerous place for an American woman is still shockingly in her home.”
The most dangerous place for an American woman is in her home. Wow.
With this belief firmly planted in their brains, feminists tout a new model for marriage — one in which each spouse is expected to do the exact same thing. Sandberg explains that she and her husband share everything right down the middle: care of their two small children, full-time careers, cooking, cleaning, etc. What she doesn’t mention (as most high-profile feminists don’t) is that somewhere in the background is a full-time nanny who’s doing the hard work — some might say the real work — for them.
Most women, most parents, don’t want to give up the precious years they have at home to rear their children so they can pursue demanding careers that place them at the mercy of hired help. Much to the dismay of feminists such as Sandberg, most women — despite all their so-called gains — still choose to work part-time, if at all, once they have children. In doing so, they acquire a type of freedom men don’t have.
Husbands don’t have the luxury of leaving their jobs temporarily, and then when their babies are old enough to go to school decide whether or not they want to go back to work, change careers, or get part-time jobs. Millions of men don’t follow their dreams because they know women want husbands who are willing to carry the financial load. My husband is an academic at heart, an intellectual of sorts who’d spend his days reading and writing poetry if he could. But when he was in his 20s, he realized his dream to become the next Pablo Neruda would not provide for a family — so he gave it all up and went into sales instead.
It is men’s consistent work — full-time, year-round, all throughout their lives — that allows women the freedom and flexibility to find the balance they so desperately crave. If that kind of life, that kind of devotion to the daily grind, were recognized as equally taxing as “women’s work,” as it used to be before feminism came along, the idea that women are unduly burdened would seem downright laughable.
The 50/50 marriage is a fraud. No marriage is ever equal on any given year — and too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the soup anyway. No one dares admit this lest they be labeled a throwback who believe women “belong in the kitchen,” which is so ridiculous. But the greatest problem with the 50/50 model is that in order to follow it, the children of America can’t be raised by mom and dad — and the majority of parents, thankfully, don’t want that.
The 50/50 model is a feminist utopia. It works in their dreams, but not in ours.