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.