How to solve the gender domestic labor imbalance

Photo by Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash

When I was a teenager, my grandmother would insist that I hold the door for the females of our family, pull out their chairs, and insist upon carrying anything heavy. It seemed antiquated even in the 1980s, but my grandmother was from a different era, and rather than face her wrath, I complied just as I did when she insisted I mow the lawn in a particular fashion.

To this day, I still follow those habits. My grandmother insisted that a man should treat women, and particularly the women in his family, as queens. The man was there to hold her up on a pedestal for no other reason than that she was of the fairer sex.

I must admit, as a young adult, these habits sometimes got me in trouble. Young women fighting to establish their independence chafed at the image of a man treating them as somehow weaker or less capable. In reality, that was never my intention. I continued to behave this way just because otherwise, “my grandmother would roll over in her grave,” as I repeatedly said.

Interestingly, the time I was in high school represents the time back when men were taking a larger and larger share of the household burden. I remember movies like Mr. Mom coming out which revealed that men — gasp — could do household chores too. Since then, though, it appears that although men claim to be doing their share, movement toward that goal has stalled.

I was not alone among the young men of my generation being taught by the last survivors of the pre-sexual revolution period. Granted, the 1950s and before were repugnant for their institutionalized misogyny. But at least, back then, there was a division of labor everyone understood. The man was to provide, to take care of the garden and car, and to teach his sons baseball and to hunt. The woman was to keep the home nice and take care of the needs of the children. Given that the division of labor was not ideal, since it granted so much power to the man of the house, at least is was objectively reasonable. Everyone knew their roles, and to be a successful man, you knew what you had to do.

The generations following mine, though, were raised by the children of the sexual revolution. The grandparents who remembered the era of chivalry were no longer around. The old system went into the trash heap, but the problem is that nothing was there to replace it.

Ironically, where the sexual revolution was supposed to free women, it actually was a boon to male sexuality. Pre-sexual revolution, when a man impregnated a woman, he had responsibility for the baby. No longer. Sex was free and easy, just as the men liked it. But the women were always left holding the bag.

No longer was it OK to hold a door for a woman or carry her bags. Doing so was seen as a sign of disrespect. Women could do everything a man could do. The problem was, as women took on more and more, the men enjoyed the benefits without the responsibility. Even where men were involved in their children’s lives, they got to do the fun things, leaving the responsibility for arranging childcare, for example, to the women.

Women certainly need to be allowed to choose their own path, something the sexual revolution has made possible. But as our President has demonstrated again and again, misogyny is far from dead. The additional burden women take on in the home is largely responsible for the gender gap in pay, as women have to take time off from work to care for the children while the men get the promotions.

On the other hand, the fact that men no longer feel a duty to the women in their lives — and women in general for that matter — is something lost to a bygone era. Women should be allowed to do whatever they want, but the men, in return, need to temper their aspirations when the children come. That should not only be a burden the women carry.

Right now, my wife and I are taking care of our 4-year old grandson. He is a blessing to us, but, I must admit, he is a lot of work. Just the other day, my wife admitted that I had probably taken on the bulk of the childcare duties, even despite the fact that I am also the main bread-winner in the household.

Telling this is not to brag, and certainly my wife is a wonderful mother and grandmother with her own strengths, but I want to point out that I have made childrearing a priority. The reason for this is, yes, that I love my children, but more importantly, that I feel a duty to my wife. I love to give her the opportunity to sleep in, to engage in her hobbies, and to pursue her dreams, just as I have been allowed to pursue mine.

The reason I feel that duty is because of the training from my grandmother. After all, I don’t want her rolling over in her grave. As the woman in my household, my wife deserves to be treated as the queen, just as my grandmother demanded.

The misogyny that currently exists, even among many progressive men, is quite shocking. Saturday Night Live recently aired a skit in which young men wearing “I’m with Her” t-shirts approach young women in a bar. When the women refuse to go home with the men after they spout feminist rhetoric, the men spew invective upon the women. How dare they not sleep with a man after he has shown he is such a good feminist?

The fact that this skit resonates so well shows how completely society has internalized the lessons of the sexual revolution. We have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. While women have gotten more freedom, they have also paid a high price. Men, on the other hand, as always, got just what they wanted. Changing this may require us to teach at least some of the values of chivalry again.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store