Friday, May 4, 2012

Division of Labor

Ah, division of labor and gender roles. One line of a disturbing Dan Savage column made mention of the fact that a reasearcher he quotes was wrong in asserting that gender is socially constructed. He says little more about that, but the comments take off with all kinds of information and anecdotes about gender roles (hardwired? taught? both?)

All I know is that when I was a kid, my folks didn't adhere to traditional division of labor. Both of my parents worked. If Mom didn't work, my sister and I begged her to go back to work. My mom bored? Nobody wants. Trust me on this one. Otherwise, if a job needed doing around our house, everyone worked on that job until it was done, whether it was cleaning, cooking or doing the yard work. It was a big deal the day I graduated from trimming the fence line to getting to actually mow the grass. Damn, I'd arrived. Then I grew up, got married and promptly did my best to eliminate having grass at all. Mom was once heard to snap at a young man complaining that cleaning was women's work "The only thing that's women's work is having babies and that's because you don't have the right plumbing!"

That said, Keith and I have broken along more traditional gender role lines. We didn't at first. We both worked jobs in one aggressive tech company or another. Evenings and weekends were filled with chores and grocery shopping. We were miserable. Then a job change gave us a shot at trying out living as a one income family. I stayed home and became house manager while Keith worked. It seemed to work out pretty well and I wasn't bored, the way I feared I would be. I wrote a lot. Then Keith's folks got sick. We talked and decided it was time to move home to Washington state (we were in Nevada) and try switching roles. I went to work for a start up. Keith took over as house manager. His parents recovered.

Keith was miserable, again. He did go back to school to brush up on coding skills during that time, but the repetative, mundane tasks of dealing with a house, cats and solitude really got him down. The start up tanked. I was out of work. We swapped again. And we've stayed swapped. Which isn't to say it's perfect. Yeah. Have a look at the photo again. That was moving aboard the boat. It was pretty much all me trying to find places to put that crap.

We diverge from traditional roles when it comes to repair work. I'm all about that. Hand me that screwdriver and that wrench. I got this. Keith isn't keen on household repairs. He's far more invested in boat repairs - the man can totally rewire a 12 volt system. But for the most part, since I come from a family with no boys and I was the oldest, I ended up as my father's surrogate son. No, really. There was this study I read...someone tell me why I can remember having read this stuff but I can never recall enough about it to ever find it again, much less remember *where* I saw it? In any event, hanging with Dad, I got all the tutorials on stuff like repairing dry wall, hanging wall paper, measure twice, cut once and preferably not cut you. Useful stuff.

But I'm curious. Talk to me about gender roles. Are females more hard wired than males to care about clean? Or is that social conditioning telling us we're failures as women if we aren't caretaking?


  1. Good questions. Wish I had the answers. I will say that in the last year since my estrogen has plummeted I don't care as much about cleaning.

  2. Really? I could see where menopausal symptoms could make you not give a flying flip about much of anything. Do you feel like that's the issue, Julie? Or does it feel broader than that?

  3. We had this debate a lot when I was in college (I studied writing, philosophy, and women's studies, which means I'll never be rich but I can have a lively debate). I think ultimately both biology and society are powerful forces that shape us whether we want that to be the case or not. Maybe women are more likely to be happy as caretakers of the house because we, after all, are the ones who give birth. It's nature's way of making sure those important jobs get taken care of as well, and cleaning can theoretically get done while taking care of a baby. I say this because I have two children, and cleaning only seems to get done after they go to bed. Then, if we don't do what certain segments of society expect us to do, we feel the pressure to conform.

    I think it's wrong to assume taking care of the home runs counter to feminism. For me, feminism is about having the choice. If you want a job outside the home, fine. If you'd rather stay home and take care of those responsibilities, fine. People should do what works best for their families. Right now, I'm staying home, taking care of the kids, and writing as much as I can.

    Cleaning isn't "women's work" as that young man, and many others, claim. It's the job of whoever is there to do it.

    Wow. I said way more than I planned. That's happens a lot with me.

  4. I have never been a good housekeeper. I probably never will be. I simply do not care how thick the dust is. Society's plenty ready to tell me I fail at being female for that, but it's no different that my failures for being nerdy, not afraid of spiders, fat, and not particularly pretty.

  5. L.G. - I'm with you. Having the option to be the house manager (I cannot abide the term 'housewife' - as if I'd married the damned house) or the option to go back to work as a techie? Priceless. All praise to our foremothers for fighting the good fight.

    L. - I feel like society has always valued some really questionable stuff. There's this total inability to take someone on his or her merits. You're a woman who knows who she is, what she likes, and what she doesn't. That puts you light years ahead of most women who haven't examined their assumptions about what society expects versus what makes sense for their individual lives.

  6. So interesting about your switching. I think you're onto something with what you grew with being modeled having a lot of influence. Incidentally, I, too, am eldest of daughters and surrogate son!! I tagged around with my handy dad, though not enough, now that I am a homeowner. My husband had a non handy dad who fixed stuff by picking up the phone and calling somebody, and so my man knows nothing about fixing anything. So our roles now are: I fix the stuff, but somehow, feel like I'm doing what he should be doing. LIke dad!! But he does other manly things. like lifting heavy stuff, so that makes up for it. LOL. (kind of joking, but not really!) In terms of housework, we are utterly egalitarian. I think it helps not to have kids. I think our gender roles would've split more traditionally had we had kids.

    LG: So many people don't get that 1960s feminism was rooted in fighting to protect the rights of "housewives". Totally agree, it's all about choice.

  7. Hooo, this is one of my hot buttons. Coming from India I can totally tell you cooking & cleaning is hammered into girls right from get-go. Unfortunately for me, my parents are non-traditionalists and the men I met are.. well, not. So, what I got from every single boy I dated (I refuse to cal them "man") is: sure have a career as long as you make sure the house is perfectly taken care of.... No surprise then that I'm divorced and happy now than I ever was..

  8. PalOz - I'm catching up after being away, so I'm a little late, but I so admire you for breaking out of that. So glad you're happy now!!