Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pendulum Swing

Back in 1963, Betty Friedan published a ground-breaking work of American feminist literature, The Feminine Mystique. In that book, Friedan suggested that many American women felt trapped as housewives, in part because the vast majority of housework (the expected primary occupation of women) could be accomplished by an 8-year-old child. She decried the infatalization of women and the several intellectual systems (including Freudian psychoanalysis and certain social sciences) which created a belief in society that women were less capable than their male counterparts.

The Feminine Mystique is not without its problems. It over-simplifies the issues, has a marked middle-class bias, and the writing could be better. But it raised an important point, than now, in watching the early seasons of AMC's Mad Men can be seen acted out in lovely costumes and exciting plot lines. Women were treated like small children, first by their fathers, then by their husbands. Anyone who existed outside this mold was likely a lesbian or otherwise mentally ill.

In the nearly 50 years since the publication of that book, society has changed. Women now have higher rates of achieving university degrees and have access to fields they didn't in the 1960s. Our mothers were told they could have it all, by the women's movement, then later by the manufacturers of hair colour and cigarettes.

As women have taken more responsibility outside the home, however, something odd has happened. They haven't let go of their responsibilities in the home. Instead, many women work what has been called "the second shift," coming home and bearing the responsibility for kids and household. And our popular culture represents men as idiots.

That's right. Watch any family sitcom, listen to any stand up comic who talks about his family, and... well, if the space aliens are learning about us from our television, they must assume that the average married American male is functionally retarded.

This clip is just one of dozens of examples.

My point is this: we've gone from treating women like infants to treating men like infants. We find it funny when men can't manage to change a diaper or clean a kitchen, but a woman must do this in heels, while supervising everything her children do and holding a full time job.

If said woman fails at any of these things or asks for help, she is a failure. I know dozens of intelligent women with university degrees who spend much of their time trying to keep all of these plates spinning.

But I don't think I should have to ask for help. Simply put, when I have to ask my husband to help, that is one more bloody thing I have to do. Furthermore, it creates an unequal power dynamic. All at once, it sets me up as the weaker party: I am coming to him because I cannot handle my role in the household. (As opposed to his role which is to bitch about the water bill and overstimulate the baby.) It also, however, sets me up in a supervisory capacity for things that regard our child-- he does it and asks me if he did it right.

And I'm supposed to be proud of him for getting a diaper on right, or not letting her drown in her bath, or cutting her nails without damage to either party involved. I'm just over it.

We need to treat men like adults.

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