#52 - Gender Wars

Disclaimer: This post is referring to the traditional roles of husband as breadwinner and wife as homemaker. Single parents, two-income families, etc. are a different matter that I'm not going to try to account for here.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. There are so many women out there who think their husbands have it easy because they don't have to stay home with the kids all day every day. They get to go to work for 8 hours, and then come home and put their feet up while their wife still has to make dinner, clean up, get the kids to bed, etc.

While I do believe it's true that most men don't understand how challenging it is to be in that role, I don't agree that they have it easier than us.

First of all, it really is a stereotype that when a man comes home, he just watches sports, plays video games, or whatever and doesn't pitch in to do any work. Even if they don't generally help clean the house or whatever, a lot of men are still doing a lot of stuff when they get home. Most of them are expected to fix things that break, mow the lawn, etc. There are a lot of them out there who coach their kids' soccer games and help with homework.

But, even if he did just rest in the evening while his wife continued to work, does that mean she worked more than him that day?

Let's be honest with each other here. Think about the time your husband is gone at work. Are you /really/ working that whole time? How much time do you spend reading books, hanging out at playdates, talking on the phone, watching TV, blogging, surfing the 'net, etc.?

Most of our guys go out there and work when they're at work. They're not hanging out at the water cooler shootin' the breeze. A lot of them do very physically challenging jobs. Many of them are doing very mentally challenging work. They have to deal with co-workers, bosses, meetings, paperwork, and all kinds of stress.

And, speaking of stress, how much pressure they must feel to know that their family is counting on them all the time. They have to keep productivity up if they want to keep their jobs. They have to worry about whether they're going to get a raise, how they're going to fund their children's college tuition, what they need to have saved up in case they lose their job. They have to be constantly striving to do better, improve their skills, etc. in order to get a raise or a promotion that will help them support their families better.

I'm not really trying to get on a soapbox here, because this particular box is way too high for me. I'm at least as guilty or more so than most of the people reading this. The biggest reason I'm saying all this is because I feel guilty. I spend way too much time on the internet, reading books, etc. After a load of laundry or washing a sink full of dishes, my back hurts and I feel tired and stressed. So I go and sit down for a little while. I'll grab a sandwich or something and sit at the computer to read blogs because I might as well be doing something while I'm eating. Of course, long after the last crumbs have settled on the plate, I'm still hunched over my computer, typing replies and laughing at my friends' jokes.

Maybe some of you really do work most of the day and your husbands really are lazy; just doing the minimum at work and sitting on the couch after they get home. But I can tell you that's definitely not the case over here, and I doubt if it's the case in most of the rest of your lives either.

My husband works /hard/. He is under constant stress at work, trying to solve difficult problems and get things to work. He is often asked by coworkers and his boss to help them solve problems as well. When there are deadlines at work, he has to work extra hours - sometimes a lot of extra hours. This isn't a 9-5 and then you're done. He has to get the work done before he's done.

It's true that a woman's work is never done. When you've just emptied the dishwasher and the last spoon is in the drawer, the kids come and make a sandwich and it starts all over again. You vacuum and the next time you turn around, there are more crumbs on the floor. It's frustrating that nothing you do ever stays done. But is a man's work ever done either? Yes, he finished that project and closed the file. He never has to do that one again. But there's a new one waiting. It's true that housework is mundane. But is that really worse than always having to come up with new solutions, always having to figure out new problems?

There's always a huge uproar if a man says that the money is /his/ money because he's the one who made it and the check is in his name. But I hear a lot of women say that they do a little job here and there, sell Avon, baby-sit, or whatever, so they can have their own money. Isn't that just as bad?

And in my house, my husband doesn't sit down and relax when he gets home from work. He always has projects he's working on. Right now, he's moving his office to the basement, helping me move my office and library to the basement, and cleaning out the garage so I can park in it again. Yes, when he gets home, I still have to make dinner, clean up, help the kids with homework and chores and baths and bed. But a lot of the time he's at work, I'm avoiding doing what I should be. Is it really fair to read blogs while he's working, and then expect him to help me make dinner or vacuum when he gets home?

Oprah, Dr. Phil, et al. do these shows where they make the husband take over for the wife for the day. She gets to go to the spa for the day because she just really deserves a break because of all the hard work she's done. The husband is shown as a bumbling mess because he can't keep everything together, get the kids everywhere on time, make dinner, change diapers, etc. At the end, he admits that he really didn't understand before just how hard it was to do her job.

I'm probably going to get blasted for this, but I really think if we switched places for the day, we'd learn our lesson just as much as our husbands would learn theirs. What if the husband was sent to the golf course for the day while the wife had to do his job? She'd be just as overwhelmed and just as humbled as he would be in her place. But that's just so not PC to say.


  1. Yeah, I've thought for a while now that one job is not harder than the other, they're just....different. The monotony of our job is tough, but I can't imagine the stress of providing for the family. I think my hubby would die if he had to do the housework over and over again, and I think I would crumble under the pressure of providing. I think I would choose my role over and over, given the choice, and he would choose his.

    My hubby doesn't come home and watch TV or play video games either, never has. He usually helps me or pays the bills or plays with the kids. Lately, I've been trying to go out and help him a lot with the big projects he's doing out in the yard, trying to see us more as a team. A team that has the same goals in mind for our family.

    The one thing I'll admit I miss though about working, is that sense of accomplishment that you get from bringing home a paycheck to contribute to your family. It's harder to feel that sense of accomplishment by changing yet another dirty diaper or sweeping the floor one more time. I think they also feel valued from their position at work and praise from bosses or co-workers. We get a lot less of that. I think the lack of sense of accomplishment and not enough praise is what makes us say, "Well, what am I doing another load of laundry for?" I'll just go check my email and read a few blogs.... Escapism of the mundane, I call it.

    One thing is for sure...the more attention they get at the end of the day, the more sweetness and love they feel from us....well, they are so good about making sure they reciprocate that ten-fold.

  2. Good post and I agree with a lot of it.

    I agree with the comment above that is the mundane-ness that really gets to me. If I were working outside the home, you can guarantee it wouldn't be as a housekeeper! I think solving new problems IS better, because you are constantly learning and doing new things, not just doing the same thing over and over again, with no one praising you for your efforts (at least, my kids rarely do. It really helps when they occasionally say thanks.)

    Which is why I am so glad for the internet. If I need to escape, to learn, I can jump on and read the news. (Or if I'm tired, just play a mindless game.) ;) And even if I'm not always "working" per se, I am always always always "on call."

    And yes, if I were to trade jobs with my husband, I would be at a complete loss. But I haven't had the specific training he has. It doesn't really take specific training to put laundry away or sweep the floor, or take the kids to soccor.

    Really, though. Both staying at home and being provider are tough. Just in different ways that are pretty hard to compare.

  3. Melanie, I like what you said at the end of your reply. You really do get a lot more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Not to compare our husbands to insects. ;-)

    Kimberly, it is true that we're always on call. That's a big reason my life feels overwhelming sometimes.

    We've been talking about how housework is mundane and working out there in the workforce is more challenging, with new things to learn and do all the time, but I was thinking about it just now, and I don't really know that things are that different for us. Yes, we do have to do the dishes and then do the dishes again and then do the dishes again. But most jobs out there have that same kind of mundane repetitiveness as well. Someone in construction has to do the same kind of thing every day, even if it is in a different location and with different materials. Someone in accounting has to keep adding numbers and doing expense reports and filling out the same kind of paperwork day after day after mundane day. A nurse has to keep taking people's blood pressure and giving immunizations and filling out forms. There's a lot of mundane repetitiveness no matter what the job is. (Melanie, we've been friends for so long, I forget sometimes that we used to work together. As I was writing this, I was thinking about how mundane coding was.)

    We also have the aspect of learning new things and having to change what we're doing as our kids grow up. There are always new challenges. And no two kids are alike. We have to figure out different strategies for how to parent each of our kids through each of the different parts of their development.

    Even with housework, there are new challenges and problems to solve. Lately, I've been trying to improve my methods for removing stains from clothing. I never used to care as much, but as my kids' uniform clothing has started getting stains that won't come out, I've grown frustrated because I can't just have them wear something else. There are a limited number of uniform items in their drawers, so it's more important to keep them in perfect shape.

    I hope it doesn't sound like I'm arguing because I totally understand what you guys are saying. I just think it's interesting that the more I've thought about it, the less I feel like either job is harder than the other. As you said, Kim, it's hard to compare the two because they're both hard in such different ways. No wonder men and women don't understand each other. :D

  4. ITA Jennifer. I used to feel this way - that my job was harder and all that - but I've gotten over it. Now I KNOW I would not want to be out in the workforce all day dealing with all the different personalities, constantly worrying about one-upmanship among my coworkers etc., etc.

    I think you nailed it on the head. Give our men a bit of respect, right? They work hard so we can read each others' blogs!

  5. I think we both need to appreciate each other's jobs and sacrifices. Of course if there is no respect, and helping along the way, we start to feel sorry for ourselves. The pressure to provide is pretty intense and takes a lot emotionally and mentally. But on the other hand, dealing with the house and kids 24/7 almost drives a person insane. I think the "best" moms have things that keep them sane (for me, reading and writing). I think--what do I want my obituary to say? That I kept a very clean house? Not. LOL!


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