Why the “Stickiness” of Gender Norms? Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Hello MOE Readers. Two recent articles have prompted this post. The first was posted by a friend on Facebook about “emotional labor” also known as the “mental load” of parenting, which has been previously discussed (albeit briefly) in this blog post. The second was in the NYT recently about a poll showing traditional views about gendered household labor persisting.

I have my own, rather pedestrian, opinion as to why these “problems” (I use quotes, because in the scheme of problems, this one ranks low, in my opinion) persist. And that is because us women keep modeling this behavior. It persists, because that is what our sons and daughters see us do.

Others have had this idea, too; I know it’s not unique. But the way I see it: boys/men do not learn to do household chores, because their mothers do them for them. Period. Simple. End of story.

If I was a boy, and all I saw was my mom doing everything for me, I would get the idea that this is women’s work, too. If my father never did anything except yardwork, I would believe that was what I was supposed to do. And if my mom never taught me how to cook and do laundry…again — no surprises here.

As an Obliger (see Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies”), as a person who sees projects and says, “Well, somebody’s got to do it,” as a woman, and as a mother of two daughters, I find this frustrating. Frustrating, because I model traditional female norms, partly by virtue of being a female who likes to clean and who likes being productive.

I’m not doing household labor because I am female. I am doing it because I am a person who lives here. As a person who lives here, I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to pitch in and help. As one of the adults in the house, it is my role to model behavior. I clean, because I abhor a filthy, dirty house. I also hate clutter. Ergo, if I want to live in an orderly, clean house, I have to keep it up. My husband also helps with these tasks, but I am generally the task-master. (See the first article linked above.)

My husband was raised by a feminist before her time. She taught my husband how to cook, clean, and do laundry. I have benefitted greatly from this. However, his father also taught him how to fix and take care of everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. The man can do electrical, plumbing, fix computers, gut and renovate rooms, install sprinkler sytems, install pool pumps…you name it. Guess who does not have those skills? That’s right: me. So, guess how labor gets divided around here? I get stuck with the more non-skilled labor tasks, and my husband does the more skilled labor tasks.

But….guess what else I get stuck with that my husband does not? That’s right: the Motherload. Now, that’s not to say The Hub does not help out with any of the planning and managing around here. But he does it for things that are related to the other tasks I previously mentioned. This is great. (Most of the time.) However, I am the manager of all things kid-oriented. Why?

Well, partly, I believe, it’s because my husband (and probably yours, too) was not socialized (or taught or trained) to believe that certain tasks are important. If you don’t train your son to write thank you notes, he is not going to. My mother trained my brother to write thank you notes. My mother-in-law did not so train my husband, and I have not tried. (You know what’s not sexy? Mothering your husband.)

The Hub is nearing half-a century in age. For a man his age, I think he is very progressive and feminist. He is not, however, much into shopping for his daughters’ clothes, braiding their hair (oh, that’s right, I’m not either), or remembering friends’ and relatives’ birthdays. So, if I want those things done, I have to do them. Just as if he wants to fix the pool pump (and not pay someone) he has to do it.

Is it a personality thing, a gender thing, or a “what was modeled” thing? I believe, it is largely the latter, and maybe a little bit of the first one, too. (Though, how much of our socialized/gendered norm roles go into our personalities is a big chicken-egg question.)

So, I have no real answers for the dilemma here. I had hoped to have some boys of my own, so I could train them for the next generation of women. As the mother of two daughters, I beg of you: if you have boys (ahem, Econ-Mom), I am begging you to do my daughters (and all future women) a favor and train them to take on some “traditional” female household roles. Of course, I realize, that it takes two to Tango. You need to get your hubby on board with this role modeling gig, too. And, that might be hard to do….which is why traditional roles persist. Monkey see, monkey do.

Econ-Mom: Yes, I totally agree with all of this! And I think many of us parents nowadays are raising our kids differently in all kinds of ways. I suspect you are trying not to limit your girls’ behavior in the name of being “ladylike” for example.

As for me, I am frankly not doing that fantastic of a job with chores for my boys, although I’ve recently been on a bigger push on that front – and as someone who has a husband who doesn’t know how to cook, I definitely see the importance of starting this training early!! However, given that there are so many things that my boys were not able to pick up as easily as other kids, I try not to compare my timeline with anyone else’s timeline, and cut myself some slack, if I’m not doing a perfect job on chores. We really will get there, though!!

I have, however, spent a lot of time and energy with them on managing emotions, and conflict resolution, and they hear all the time from me and others (at school, etc.) about consent. So I will absolutely not be raising boys who think it’s okay to use violence to solve problems, or to slap a girl on the butt (or worse), or to get angry at a girl who turns them down for a date. (Of course it’s okay to feel how you feel, but it’s not okay to get aggressively angry at someone for turning down a request–and, let’s face it, I’m sure almost every women my age has had that experience at least once.) And of course my boys will never think that a women/mother can’t also have a PhD! 🙂 So, I do feel like the wheels are in motion on many gender norms, even though it’s kind of like trying to turn a freight train!

Also one more thought — I recently ordered Hello Fresh, one of those meal kits that comes with recipes and the exact amount of each ingredient needed (although no prep – you still need to chop, etc.) I had a coupon, which is why I tried it, but I think the regular price was around $30 per meal. I’d guess that in most cases you could buy the ingredients yourself for half the price, if not less, which just shows you that meal planning and grocery shopping (long taken-for-granted tasks) do actually have a market value!!

Law-Mom: Thank you, Econ-Mom, for your laudable efforts! XOXO

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