Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Is Much

Yesterday I read the very provocative Nancy Hirschmann "Mothers Who Care Too Much" article and its responses and the response to the responses in the Boston Review. Hirschmann's article is so powerful that I wish I could sign up for her class. I've had so many interesting conversations about the article, but I must admit that I kind of find the title a bit problematic. "Mothers Who Care Too Much" suggests that it's going to be an article about overbearing mothers, not about Care Feminist (do I cap this?) theory. Women are pigeonholed into the role of caretaker, furthermore into the dual role of earner plus main caretaker, or better yet sole caretaker. So why are these must-read articles framed with a title that more or less capitalizes on a mainstream, negative stereotype of women? My reaction here reminds me of the Atlantic Monthly's inflammatory title, from earlier this summer, that frames a very in depth and much-needed look at womanhood. I mean, The End of Men? Really? So, as discussions about women are ignited in a culture that rejects powerful women and shames women in need, am I supposed to glance at these titles and think, the end of men? Oh no! What about my future son! He's not going to be a pig! He'll be a pig over my dead body! Oh no! I'm a future mother who cares too much! I can't ever win. I can't ever get out from under the something that is the something.

I have a question about studies done about housework. This summer, more than one article from more than one source said that women typically do more housework than men. How are these findings obtained? I asked the old man if he thought I did more housework than he does and he said it was pretty even. Then he said it wouldn't be if he didn't include running errands. He is the errand runner of our house. So I might cook more often, but he's the one running to various farmer's markets and whatnot all the time. Do you count running errands as housework? My point is that these things aren't easy to ascertain and I feel really skeptical when I hear people cite this particular information. Who are the contributors to the housework studies and what are the questions? Are couples interviewed together? Are they always heterosexual? And are they usually married? Are they from the suburbs or in a city? Do they always have children? Tell me, how do you define housework and who does more of it in your house?

As an aside, I'd also like to know what findings show about men's attitude toward cleanliness as they age. In college a friend of mine left a half eaten box of pizza on his couch for months and whenever I went over to his house I used the rotten pizza as an ashtray so I wouldn't smell it. Because social norms allow young men to live like slobs, isn't it a given that their future partners would do more housework? Is the problem that women do more housework or that women play with dolls and then grow up to play real house? I wonder if these studies are merely quantitative collections of symptoms rather than findings that motivate change for both men and women.

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