April 4 2017
“Our daughter wakes me up early; I make breakfast and get her dressed,” she says. “Sean sleeps in and then takes his time waking up, complete with a stretch session. After he’s good and limber, he hops in a hot shower for twenty minutes to loosen up completely. By that time, I’ve made lunch and there are two stacks of dishes. My stress level might be getting up there by this point, especially when he comes out of the shower, sits on the couch, and nine times out of ten pulls out his phone, completely ignoring the kid. And he knows I’m annoyed.” She sighs. “I just see this stuff as some sort of bad-boy act of defiance, and it’s enraging.”
I don’t know Sean and Marea, but I know many couples like Sean and Marea. And let me tell you, Marea never saw this coming. She thought she married a guy who believed that men and women are equal and that both husbands and wives should work and act as partners in raising kids. It turns out that he was either just talking a good game or that he didn’t realize what this kind of shared load really meant—and so now regularly attempts to flee from it.
Both are certainly possible. Few of us have any idea what it’s really like to take care of children before we have them. Maybe Sean thought this meant he would take the baby out in the jogging stroller occasionally or that he’d help their child with homework or throw in a load of laundry every once in a while.
Or maybe he is one of these male feminists that we have been warned about recently. In an essay for Cosmopolitan, Lane Moore describes how she “dated one such man for a thankfully brief period of time. His bedroom was lined with ‘Thank you for your consistent donations’ Planned Parenthood letters, we’d speak at length about our shared love of bell hooks . . .”
But it turned out that his feminism was kind of an act. “He’d be . . . angered by women who would sleep with other men but not him, and even admitted to me that one time he’d ‘technically had sex with a woman while she was asleep.’” Oops. Maybe all that support for abortion was actually not about female empowerment after all.
While Dunn devotes herself to the question of how to get the Seans of the world to pitch in and help—time management strategies, couples therapy, etc., etc.—the bigger question is this: What should women be looking for in a husband so that they don’t find themselves in this situation? Merely proclaiming that men and women are equal (if not the same) before marriage clearly means bupkis later on.
In part, this is because what women want often changes after they have kids. Not always, of course, but studies suggest that most mothers of young kids don’t want to work full time, for instance. This means that their husbands might end up working more outside the home and then assume that they can work less inside of it.
What women need is someone who shares their goals in life. Is the goal to be living in the nicest house? In that case it might mean that everyone needs to be working all the time and childcare is largely outsourced. Or is the goal having both parents spend as much time with the kids as possible? In this case more pitching in at home is necessary from both parties. Is it for one parent to be present as much as possible? Maybe both the work and home roles will be “unbalanced,” but still work for that particular family.
One thing these books and articles make clear, however, is that regardless of a person’s opinion on gender roles in the household, and regardless of gender, there are people who are perfectly comfortable sitting on the couch watching TV while others all around them do the manual labor that families require. These are the kind of people you definitely don’t want to marry.