The End of Gender Wars?

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama famously declared the End of History with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Liberal democracy had won, and the communist experiment had lost. Are we also witnessing the end of the gender wars?

In “The Case for Filth,” Stephen Marche says that men still haven’t stepped up their game with the housework, but women may have stopped caring.  Nobody is cleaning anymore.

Think of all the other changes that men have undertaken in the period between 1980 and 2010. Taking care of kids used to be women’s work, too, but now the man with his kids is an icon of manliness. Foodie snobbism has taken on a macho edge in some circles, to the point where the properly brined Thanksgiving turkey can be a status symbol of masculine achievement.

So why won’t men pick up a broom? Why won’t they organize a closet? Why can’t housework be converted — as the former burdens of food preparation and child rearing seem to have been for some men — into a source of manly pride and joy? Why would housework be the particular place to stall?

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it.

On Wall Street, women executives are supported by stay-at-home dads. Commercials for kid’s diapers and toilet cleaners feature men. Dads are showing up to PTA meetings.

Are we done? Is there nothing left to fight about? What is a strident, humorless feminist like myself to do? Take up golf?

I attend monthly meetings of book group of our local Newcomers Club. I’m an odd duck in this group. Most of the women are much younger than I am. Their kids are toddlers, and I sit patiently as they discuss pre-schools and potty training — long off concerns for me. But I keep going, because they’re nice people and I like to drink a glass of wine, while chatting about cheap novels.

A couple of months ago, we read Lean In. Just so you know, I had to work VERY HARD at sitting in the circle without jumping up and giving a long lecture on the topic. (Actually, I have to work hard every week from going into professor-mode and turning the group into my personal seminar. Nobody likes Ms. Smarty Pants.) At one point, the conversation turned to the issue of whether or not they should let the stay-at-home dads into the toddler play groups. The women didn’t want guys into the group. They said men would wreck their girl chat. One woman was actually worried that the guys could be child molesters, because all child molesters are men.

My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe that these younger women were so conservative. I dropped my “Nice Girl, Not-a-Blogger Face.”

“WHAT?,” I said. “Don’t you want your children to see that men, as well as women, can be care-givers? Don’t we want to encourage more men to take on care-giving jobs? Don’t you want to socialize with men and not live in the mommy convent?”

I may have also called them “big meanies.”

Everybody smiled at me and then moved on. Changed the subject. Adjusted the pearls.

I think the biggest gender war we have is within ourselves. For men to take on traditional women’s work, we have to let them in. We have to cede some power and some control. We have to trust them. We’re not there, yet.

58 Thoughts on “The End of Gender Wars?

  1. I think a book club full of smarty-pants women would be a lot of fun. For many reasons, including no one would say something stupid about men being child-molesters. How did you not smack her?

    I had a weird experience with a dad in a play-group. I am 100% in favor and liked this particular guy. But it was really uncomfortable! Something about sharing that particular space with a man that wasn’t my kid’s father or other close family member felt strange. I don’t know why.

  2. You are so awesome! You have perfectly identified my problem with book group — I have such a hard time restraining myself from providing ‘context’ to the book by giving a mini-=lecture about post-colonialism that I no longer go. I wonder how many more of us there are out there?

    I belonged to an international play group in Europe about 18 years ago where there had just been a to-do about men in the playgroup. One very progressive Dutch couple with two dads had merrily sent the kids along with Dad to the playgroup when they were told that he was not welcome. Honestly, though, this one was hard for me. My oldest was only three months old and I was really squeamish about breastfeeding in public,etc. It would have been really hard for me with a dad there at that point in my life. When you’re talking about infants, most of us moms are such newbies that we are still at the stage of relating our childbirth stories and talking about epidurals. Of course, back then you never heard the word Vagina on TV, either, so maybe times have changed. (I was freaked out by the comment in the NY TImes story, though, where the woman had explained that the guy couldn’t help out with the PTA giftwrap sale because her husband wouldn’t let her have strange men in the house while she wasn’t home. It made her sound like a ten year old whose parents had left with instructions about not opening the door to strangers.)

    I thought one of the other themes in the housework story, though, was that at base cleaning up after other people will always be demeaning and can’t really be “glammed up.” Making dinner can be rebranded as ‘engaging in the culinary arts’ but I’m not exactly sure how you would do that for cleaning the bathroom.

  3. scantee on December 9, 2013 at 10:13 am said:

    The women didn’t want guys into the group.

    I think this sentiment is pretty common among SAHMs, in my experience at least. My friends who are SAHDs are almost universally shunned and it can be very isolating for them. I think women-only spaces are valued as “safe” but I don’t think the benefits of that always outweigh including dads who are often much less judgey and more easy-going than moms.

  4. scantee on December 9, 2013 at 10:19 am said:

    On the work front, there’s still a long way to go. I work in a field dominated by women so I don’t have to deal with challenging gender dynamics on a day-to-day basis but on a recent work trip I was sexually harassed by a coworker from an office in another city. First time ever! I didn’t feel threatened and when I told management they dealt with it swiftly, mostly I was shocked that there are still men out there who think it’s ok to go on at length, in front of other people, about how very, very long their female coworkers legs are.

    • scantee on December 9, 2013 at 10:24 am said:

      I take it back, it wasn’t the first time I was sexually harassed at work. I was also sexually harassed in a completely over the top fashion as a teenager by a teenage boy I worked with. While it was very painful and embarrassing at the time, in retrospect I have a small (very small) amount of sympathy and understanding for him since he was quite young at the time. The dude in my current job should know better.

  5. ” have such a hard time restraining myself from providing ‘context’ to the book by giving a mini-=lecture about post-colonialism that I no longer go. I wonder how many more of us there are out there?”

    Me too, me too. I wonder what a book club of us would be like? Would we all give mini lectures or would it be an awesome seminar with lots of different expertise.

  6. A fabulous conversation I’ll always remember was a group of male colleagues speaking eloquently of how they were moved and affected by the birth of their children. I’ve always thought that given the right context and opportunity, men would feel just as deep a connection to their children as women and consider that transformation to be one of the great changes in our lifetimes.

  7. Christiana on December 9, 2013 at 11:17 am said:

    Stephen Marche’s column annoyed the crap out of me. Household management is key to efficient use of resources (time and money). Maybe not caring about tidying up is yet another privilege of the well-to-do. I can’t lose my son’s shoes under a mound of clutter because it’s the only pair he’s got. I can’t afford to let food waste in the unorganized fridge because that’s throwing part of our food budget out the window. A lot of us are still cleaning, and, incidentally, teaching our sons and our daughters that cleaning up after themselves is the first step to becoming a responsible citizen.

    • Marianne on December 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm said:

      Yes, I remember being shocked at the reckless way many students did their laundry when I first went to college. I had no expectation that clothing I ruined would be replaced and I was taught to take careful care of my possessions. This was true of most families in the community where I grew up. We were also probably “greener” than the somewhat looser way I live now, due to my middle class income.

    • Macaroni on December 10, 2013 at 12:14 am said:

      Ditto! Amen! Bravo!

    • Amen!

      There is so much middle class squalor out there that I think it is deeply irresponsible to encourage more of it.

      Kids get so much more out of their stuff if they go through it regularly to tidy up and sort it. Whenever my kids do a big room organization, they always find stuff they love that they had forgotten about.

  8. I find that attitude very offensive and antithetical to real gender equality. If we want women to be allowed to do what men do, we’re going to have to allow men to do what women do, even if it’s join breastfeeding circle. It’s also why I have zero sympathy for successful women who complain about being single but demand a man who earns more than they do. If male CEOs can marry their secretaries, then female CEOs can do the same thing. I’m also on the page that men and women can be very close platonic friends and talk intimately about things they would discuss with same sex friends, without it having to carry inappropriate sexual connotations. Some of my best friends are men (I just wanted to type that). I would also have no qualms about breast feeding in front of a male friend, because bodies are bodies and there’s no reason they have to be sexualized all the time. I’m also perfectly fine being naked in mixed gendered settings in platonic contexts (e.g. saunas). I feel like maybe this might be a cultural difference between Scandinavians and Americans though.

  9. I sent my husband along to a “moms” group in our neighborhood, with no thought that a parents group would be all moms, I was so unused to environments where there was any expectation that there would be anything less than a minority of women. (I also tried to get my husband to make the initial appointments with the OB when I was pregnant — that really doesn’t work :-). Apparently I was the only one who was pregnant.)

    I prefer co-ed groups, and it’s only recently, as a mom, that I’ve had the experience of being in single sex groups (since HS). I’ve actually been surprised to realize how many women have done most or all of their socializing in single sex groups.

    I’m not comfortable being naked in co-ed platonic settings, but, frankly, probably I’m not all that comfortable in those settings if they are single-sex, either. But, I was completely uninhibited about nursing.

  10. Maybe not caring about tidying up is yet another privilege of the well-to-do. I can’t lose my son’s shoes under a mound of clutter because it’s the only pair he’s got. I can’t afford to let food waste in the unorganized fridge because that’s throwing part of our food budget out the window.

    I really do not understand this attitude. Tiding up so that you can see your kids’ shoes is one thing. But there’s a huge amount of “discretionary” housework out there that’s not a matter of hygiene (this isn’t the 1920s anymore). Dusting more than very occasionally, vacuuming (within reason), cleaning the tub once a month vs every other, etc.? These really are not necessary. If you really want to do them, knock yourself out. But these choices have consequences, and time you’re dusting is time you’re not seeing friends, or studying, or spending with your kid. Seems like a silly choice to me.

    And the Gawker comments are characteristically terrible, as is the post. Why (some) women consistently believe that (some) men secretly want a pristine house so long as they have someone else do it is beyond me. No, really, many of us could not care less. I’m a bachelor, I live alone, my house is “tidy”, but damned if I’m going to waste my time dusting, and I’m not waiting for a woman to come along and clean up for me.

    • Christiana on December 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm said:

      Time spent dusting *is* time spent with your kids if your kids are doing the dusting while you are mopping the floor. Why can’t you chat while taking care of your space?

    • Chris said:

      “No, really, many of us could not care less. I’m a bachelor, I live alone, my house is “tidy”, but damned if I’m going to waste my time dusting, and I’m not waiting for a woman to come along and clean up for me.”

      I think what you’re missing out on is that a household with 2-5 people living in it, dressing, tossing off clothes, bathing, and creating poopy diapers needs a lot more maintenance in order to stay habitable than a bachelor apartment does. With a family home, you have to run pretty hard just to stay in place, particularly when some of the junior members are not pulling their weight.

      Take, for instance, my 14-month-old. She eats at home about six times a day in her high chair. There’s a continual spray of cheerios, waffle bits, chewed up apples, and various random debris in the blast zone surrounding her high chair. I am not a particularly fussy housekeeper (I have twice a month help, thank goodness), but if I let that go, I’d quickly have a landfill in my kitchen.

      • Definitely true with regard to housework and children. I’m not saying “look at me, I don’t have to spend much effort to clean my place, what’s wrong with these women?” Occasional tidying up doesn’t work with toddlers, I get that.

        But you said it yourself: “I am not a particularly fussy housekeeper.” But there are people who are fussy housekeepers, and my only point is that that is a choice, and that choice has consequences.

        My mom spent a long time taking care of my dad with Alzheimer’s while, for much of that time, working. That’s a second shift issue worth caring about and a very legitimate feminist issue. Jessica Grose insisting her husband clean up magazines before letting her father-in-law see her house, despite the fact that they had just spent 36 hours cooped up during Hurricane Sandy? That strikes me as fairly absurd, and I do think the world would be a better place if we didn’t somehow equate high cleanliness standards with virtue (or feminism).

        Again, if that’s what people want to do with their time, fine, but I don’t particularly see why I should feel bad about the consequences of those choices, one of which is that you have less free time.

      • “Jessica Grose insisting her husband clean up magazines before letting her father-in-law see her house, despite the fact that they had just spent 36 hours cooped up during Hurricane Sandy?”

        Cleaning up garbage and debris is not unreasonable. I would personally find it terribly depressing and demoralizing to be surrounded by “magazines, beef jerky wrappers, and empty soup cans.” I understand perfectly why Jessica Grosse did that. I personally have a track record of coming home from the hospital with a new baby and immediately hitting the laundry and picking up toys. I almost have to hold myself back. (This never lasts, but while the hormonal surge is on, it’s amazing.)

        Environment does affect mood.

        “Then you look around your messy house. And you feel worse. You feel more depressed, because now you’re exhausted and hopeless and can’t pull yourself out of bed, and on top of that, your house is a shithole. Which makes you feel useless on top of everything you were already feeling, and then probably overwhelmed on top of that, and quite frankly, having that many feelings at once during a depressive episode is like being crushed by a ton of bricks. So your depression gets worse, and your mess gets worse, and the two keep feeding on each other and it seems like there’s no end in sight.”

        http://persephonemagazine.com/2012/07/unfuck-your-habitat-the-depressionmessy-house-cycle/

        It’s also not at all unnatural to wish to put a best foot forward with your in-laws. Years ago, when we were newlyweds, terribly busy grad students, and expecting a visit from my MIL, my husband innocently took at face value his mother’s protestations that we didn’t need to do anything to get ready for her visit, and we could just make big piles of stuff. Well, sure enough, she was critiquing the cleanliness of our bathroom sink within an hour or two of her arrival. When that sort of thing happens, you remember it for the rest of your life.

      • Cleaning up garbage and debris is not unreasonable.

        I’m sorry, harassing your husband into picking up magazines (“debris”) after 36 hours trapped inside during a hurricane is unreasonable by almost any realistic standard.

        It’s also not at all unnatural to wish to put a best foot forward with your in-laws.

        Sure, when you’re newlyweds, you might put on a show when they come to visit. If you’re worried about your mother-in-law gossiping about you after a decade of marriage, that’s another story.

    • Chris said:

      “Why (some) women consistently believe that (some) men secretly want a pristine house so long as they have someone else do it is beyond me.”

      I just realized that I have a perfect specimen in my own near social circle.

      The husband works really long hours in a high-pressure field, the wife is an SAHM, and they have two little kids who are generally home (except for the many expeditions to various therapies for the disabled one). The wife is an amazing cook and puts huge amounts of effort into it (and of course, the more you cook, the more mess it makes). Unfortunately, the husband 1) is a bit of a slob, always setting things down and forgetting them 2) kinda stingy and 3) wonders why the windowsills aren’t dusted. Meanwhile the debris collects and the longer this goes on, the further and further behind my friend gets, no matter how hard she works. His mom worked and she did just fine without a cleaning lady, so why does his wife need help? Why can’t she manage all by herself? The husband is a genuinely nice guy, but he’s got a huge blindspot. If it were him at home, there is no way that he would be meeting his own expectations (or even half of his expectations) regarding cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

      The only workable suggestion I was able to make to my friend was to suggest that she keep a tally, and every time she picks up one of her husband’s discarded personal items, with each tally being valued at a dollar, and then when she reaches enough tally marks for cleaning help, that she bring them in. That may be a little too passive aggressive, but what other realistic option is there, other than to stop cooking?

      • Well, when my first husband wasn’t doing his (only) household chore, my therapist asked me to figure out a way to make it his problem. His chore was taking out the kitchen garbage, and I couldn’t clean when the garbage can was already full; but I didn’t want to do his chore on top of all of mine, and he already complained that I was nagging him if I asked even once a week, and that I was emasculating him if I did his chore. So I bagged it up and put it in his car. That way I hadn’t done his chore and it was his problem to deal with. (I should probably point out that a few years later we got divorced.)

        How could that woman show her husband that it’s a relationship issue? Maybe ask him to put his droppings (I mean the stuff he sets down and forgets, not literal droppings) on the window sills so they obscured the dust?

      • cranberry on December 11, 2013 at 9:20 am said:

        Other realistic options? She could halve her cooking efforts by cooking larger meals, then saving half for the next day. There are also stores which offer the option of putting together casseroles which one then freezes at home. If he asks or complains about the change in the family menus, she should calmly explain she’s saving time to clean.

        She could place all his items in one place. I suggest his place at the breakfast table. No need to think about the proper place for the item to put it away. It’s his, he can put it away.

        She could spend a weekend (or a week) away from home nursing a sick relative. Preferably one of his relatives. Leave the children at home, with their father.

        She could sell one of his presents to her, to pay for a cleaner.

        I would bet they have too much stuff. Targeted decluttering can cut down on the amount of stuff to dust and keep in order.

        I also think it’s likely his mother did not have a disabled child. If he is “setting high standards” for her work, have they had a real discussion of the added stresses in their family? These high standards could be a way of denying there’s a problem. He’s working long hours outside the household, but she’s the parent who deals with the doctors, school, and therapists. They need to set family priorities.

      • Cranberry said:

        “I also think it’s likely his mother did not have a disabled child. If he is “setting high standards” for her work, have they had a real discussion of the added stresses in their family? These high standards could be a way of denying there’s a problem. He’s working long hours outside the household, but she’s the parent who deals with the doctors, school, and therapists. They need to set family priorities.”

        Yes and yes. There is a certain amount of denial in the air. I don’t think he realizes how far developmentally behind the disabled kid is. (My relative the psychologist says that denial about kids’ disability is very common among fathers.)

        I would add that it makes a difference when you’re home all day with little kids, versus when everybody is out of the house all day. Things stay way cleaner with less effort when nobody’s home.

      • With regard to mom-did-just-fine-what’s-wrong-with-you?, another point that comes to mind is that five-year-old and under kids are not really well placed to judge whether mom is or isn’t a great cook and housekeeper. By the time kids are old enough to accurately assess that kind of thing, they’ve gotten big enough not to drink Windex and big enough to clean up their rooms and to pitch in elsewhere around the house and to be left alone, so it’s a completely different world.

  11. “One woman was actually worried that the guys could be child molesters, because all child molesters are men.”

    Actual crime statistics do tend to back up the spirit of her claim, Laura. (It’s fine if you don’t want to be her book club BFF. It’s also fine if you intentionally misquoted her by paraphrasing for the sake of good blogging.)

    According to the research, she’s not per se “wrong.” More offenders are male than female, though the percentage varies between studies. The percentage of incidents of sexual abuse by female perpetrators that come to the attention of the legal system is usually reported to be between 1% and 4%. [at M. S., Denov (01-AUG-2003). "The myth of innocence: sexual scripts and the recognition of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators". The Journal of Sex Research 40 (3): 303–314.]

    Studies of sexual misconduct in US schools with female offenders have shown mixed results with rates between 4% to 43% of female offenders. [See http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf

    Maletzky (1993) found that, of his sample of 4,402 convicted pedophilic offenders, 0.4% were female.[http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00856862]. Another study of a non-clinical population found that, among those in the their sample that had been molested, as much as a third were molested by women. [Tomeo, Marie E.; Templer, Donald I.; Anderson, Susan; Kotler, Debra (2001). "Comparative data of childhood and adolescence molestation in heterosexual and homosexual persons". Archives of Sexual Behavior 30 (5): 535–41.]

    The real question, though, is what on earth are you doing being in a book club where you can’t really be your authentic self? One of the best things about being over 35 is we don’t have to play these reindeer games anymore. ;)

    • scantee on December 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm said:

      I’m not sure I believe I have an “authentic self” but experience has shown me that people, that is women, don’t really like the “real” me. For a while I thought I was doing a good job with the other bus stop moms but then I told one of them a story about swallowing a bunch of gnats while running and now they won’t talk to me anymore.

      • scantee on December 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm said:

        On a related note, can we have a thread devoted to complaining about the phenomenon of Brene Brown? I was ambivalent about her at first but now I’m really starting to dislike her and everything she stands for.

  12. But, most men are not child molesters, even if most child molesters are men.

    • “Most men are not child molesters.” Clearly. How is that not obvious? That’s not what anyone here has said, and neither did the lady at the book club.

      • That was implied, by not wanting a father in the group. I assume she lets her kid leave the house, even though car accidents also all occur outside the house? That she lets her kid bathe, even though all drowning occurs near water?* I didn’t read the all the articles you linked to, but it appears the part of the discrepancy lies in reporting rather than occurrence, with men far more likely to enter the formal justice system as offenders. We’re trained not to see women as sexual predators (or as casually sexual in any way), so I imagine much sexual abuse isn’t processed as such even by the victim. This is particularly true with young children, where we see intimate touching on the part of women as part of care taking, but by men as deviant. E.g. We had a family friend who married a fundamentalist Christian and who ended up locked in a custody battle from hell. Among other things, she accused him of being a child molester because he bathed with their toddler age son. Rather than seeing this as gender-equal parenting, she saw male nakedness as threatening and inappropriate for children. The reverse was not true.

        *This is a separate issue, but I’ve read studies that not exposing one’s children to minimal risk actually puts them at higher risk later. If children are taught that all unrelated males are scary and to be avoided, they don’t learn how to read cues that signal creepy vs. not creepy. Moreover, it creates a false sense of trust towards the males they are around. Most children are molested by a family member or authority figure. If the woman doesn’t want her kid molested, she needs to keep her kid away from all male relatives (inc. the child’s father), priests or religious figures, and male teachers or administrators. I bet she won’t have her kid transferred to a different class if s/he ends up with a male math 6th grade math teacher though.

  13. It would be this comment section, no?

  14. Sorry, my comment above is a reply to bj’s first comment. It’s very annoying how the “Reply” feature on this blog only works half the time.

    • Do we all give mini-lectures? I thought only Laura had that right! But, yes, you’re right, this comments section (and the posts) come pretty close. It’s good that it’s co-ed, too.

  15. Surely there’s a wide range of opinions on the various questions of taste raised above. Some examples:

    I have never been a SAHD, but my office was closer to my daughter’s school that my wife’s was, so I went to a few daytime parents’ events. I found gatherings where I was the only man boring and uncomfortable, so I stopped.

    I suspect both my wife and I would be uncomfortable if the other was home alone with a member of the opposite sex of our age and class (or in my case, someone younger), although she would probably be even more bothered than I.

    I really do want a pristine house (e.g., polished doorknobs), although this has been achieved by having a housekeeper rather than by browbeating my wife.

    My wife didn’t like breastfeeding in public or in the presence of anyone male, and never did it.

    So work it out, I say, and do not put yourself forward as a model for people with different tastes in these decidedly unimportant matters.

    • Western Dave on December 9, 2013 at 9:28 pm said:

      Great! Easy fixes. Multi-kid playdates. Don’t breast feed at playgroup. Problems solved. I’m typically more available than my wife for almost all child related activities and I’d be pissed as hell if i got shut out from stuff just because I’m a guy. Then again, my social skills are kinda lame so I just butted in at the playground and if people were giving me the cold shoulder I didn’t really notice. Plus, I live in an area with lots of heavily involved dads and almost no SAHM (or dads) because everybody works.

  16. My husband was a SAHD beginning in 2001 and stayed home for ten years. There were several other SAHDs in the neighborhood, it was not a big deal. My husband *ran* the neighborhood play group for a long time. He routinely went to other people’s homes where he and the other mom were the only adults home, without the slightest bit of comment. I have to say, there were a couple of moms in the neighborhood that really paved the way, just invited him and didn’t blink an eye. Everyone got used to it very quickly.

    The very idea of him being disinvited to an event because he’s a guy is kinda shocking to me. This whole thread is making me really appreciate my neighborhood.

  17. From the Wall Street SAHD article:

    “On the home front, the women cast the deciding votes on major financial decisions. “It’s not like when you and I were growing up and Dad made all the decisions, but I still control the purse strings,” Ms. Black said.”

    Gah. Actually, double gah.

    • cranberry on December 10, 2013 at 11:28 am said:

      Why gah? No matter the gender, I’d expect the spouse who works with money on a daily basis to have a better grasp on the relative value of spending decisions.

      On another line in the discussion, I’ve been in two play groups which had male members. It wasn’t a big deal. The actual play group members are the children, aren’t they?

      It might be easier in this area, because quite a few families have two working parents, often working as consultants, artisans or in a position to schedule their hours. Quite a few dads are working, but in a position to schedule their hours to permit school volunteering. Or they volunteer while in between jobs, or projects, or whatever. Quite a few moms aren’t able to volunteer during the day, because they must be in the office.

      • I think “double-gah” is right when one spouse appears in the newspaper saying “I still control the purse strings.”

      • cranberry on December 10, 2013 at 11:54 am said:

        But don’t you think the reporter had a list of questions for the interviews, one of which would have been, “Who controls the purse strings?”

      • MH said:

        “I think “double-gah” is right when one spouse appears in the newspaper saying “I still control the purse strings.””

        Yeah, “I still control the purse strings” is a sentence that should never cross your lips when speaking about your spouse, even if it’s true. The quote about her dad also bothered me. It sounded very “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

        ” “I’m gonna be like you dad
        You know I’m gonna be like you”

        cranberry said:

        “I’d expect the spouse who works with money on a daily basis to have a better grasp on the relative value of spending decisions.”

        Really? Why should they have their finger on the pulse of such questions as whether the kids need new shoes or how long they can get by without new pants or when it’s time to get a new car seat or which neighborhood is nicer and more convenient? While a banker might genuinely have a better feel for big picture stuff like how much house they can afford or how much in retirement or college savings they’ll need, I think the working-outside spouse is just not going to have a good feel for the small picture stuff.

      • cranberry said:

        “But don’t you think the reporter had a list of questions for the interviews, one of which would have been, “Who controls the purse strings?””

        Ah, that’s very astute. A lot of time the verbiage that pops out in interviews has been more or less spoonfed to the interviewee by the reporter.

        How hard is it, though, to say, “We make financial decisions together”?

  18. Steve makes the money, but I control the purse strings, because I spend the money. He’s at work, so I make all decisions about clothes for the kids and house maintenance and kiddie activities. My mom, who stopped working after having me in 1965, controlled the purse strings, because she also did the taxes and the bills. I’m not even sure if my dad signed his own checks.

  19. cranberry on December 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm said:

    The reply to the Gah comment has gotten very long.

    The article stated, MAJOR financial decisions. New shoes, new pants, etc. are not major financial decisions. There’s probably a household account for normal household expenses. There’s probably a joint credit card. Major decisions, such as, “can we afford that house,” should involve the spouse who understands interest rates.

    • I think that taken together, the little stuff eventually adds up to a major financial decision.

      Cranberry said:

      “Major decisions, such as, “can we afford that house,” should involve the spouse who understands interest rates.”

      Should involve, but should not be the exclusive domain of the spouse who understands interest rates.

      You would not believe how many “financially savvy” spouses drag their families down into financial hell because they’re just so gosh darn sophisticated.

    • The difference between saying that decisions “should involve the spouse who understands interest rates” and “I control the purse strings” is huge.

  20. Um, really? Who doesn’t understand interest rates? And if I’m a spouse who doesn’t, I’d think I’d want my spouse to explain them to me rather than pat my head and say, “Leave this to me.” There are tons of online calculators and even some decent loan officers willing to explain ARM vs Fixed mortgages.

    I handled all the finances in our house–everything from investments to our mortgage to the college fund as well as daily spending. That doesn’t mean we don’t discuss stuff or make joint decisions, but it’s easier if only one of us is handling stuff on a daily basis.

  21. geekymom said:

    “Um, really? Who doesn’t understand interest rates? And if I’m a spouse who doesn’t, I’d think I’d want my spouse to explain them to me rather than pat my head and say, “Leave this to me.” There are tons of online calculators and even some decent loan officers willing to explain ARM vs Fixed mortgages.”

    Yep.

  22. and yes.

  23. cranberry on December 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm said:

    (regards smoking wreckage of US housing market.)

    It may surprise you all, but financial literacy is not widespread.

    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~alusardi/Papers/Lusardi_Informed_Consumer.pdf

    • Financial literacy will be much more common than marriages that last through buying a house or picking an IRA if spouses with more financial knowledge insist on controlling purse strings solo.

      • Thank you, MH. Yes, I realize that many people were burned by not understanding how their mortgages worked, but in many of those cases, I suspect neither spouse knew how interest rates worked. Most smart women I know would not stand for full spousal control of the finances whether they understand interest rates or not.

      • Oh, and people were misled in many cases, given mortgages without having enough income to cover payments, etc. In many cases, people trusted the “experts” which is what a lot of people do when faced with complex decisions. It’s not entirely their fault if the experts lied to them. Should they have done their homework? Maybe. But I’d probably trust an expert on physics, for example, and not be able to comprehend the advice.

  24. It seems that geekymom and I have basically the same arrangement: my wife and I both make the money (about evenly), we obviously discuss major financial decisions, but I do all the day-to-day financial management (although not the investing: we each invest our own money). It works for us, just like not breast-feeding in public worked for us (or for my wife in particular, in that instance).

    But I can imagine a dozen workable arrangements, based in part on, but hardly determined by, who makes the money.

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