Monday, August 18, 2008

On Post Feminist Angst: WWBD

HALLIE: Never mind What Would Betty Do, what would she think? We may be marching in a post-feminist age, but when my husband was packing up for a two-week trip and I realized I’d have to put out the garbage and mow the lawn, I found myself complaining, “But that’s men’s work.”

We have pretty strict divisions of labor. I shop for food and cook. Jerry loves eating (oh yeah, he does the dishes, too). I throw things away when they’re broken; Jerry retrieves them from the garbage and fixes them. Jerry navigates. I drive and yell, "Wasn't I supposed to turn there?"

Clearly, in this household at any rate, there’s men’s work and there’s ladies’ work.

From about the age of three, my daughter Molly had gender differences nailed. My husband was shaving in the bathroom, and Molly was there by his side, standing on a stool so she could herself in the mirror, her face slathered with soap bubbles. As she scraped off the suds with tongue depressor, she said dreamily, “Men shave. Ladies chew gum.”

At the time, it seemed like quite the epiphany.

How do you divvy up the work in your household, and how post-feminist is it?

JAN: We're not especially post-feminist here. I grew up with three older brothers, so its hard for me to even consider taking out the trash. Also because I like to cook, I cook. And because Bill likes to clean, he cleans.
I do all the paperwork -- paying bills, getting taxes organized, handing health insurance -- and he does all the heavy lifting. The cars, the garage, the basement, and the yard, are all his domain.

He also does his own laundry and my daughter and I have actually had to put signs on the hampers and machines forbidding him do do our laundry. (he turns everything pink or shrinks it.) The man has so much energy, he's tough to stop.

HANK: We're so post feminist, I almost feel guilty. Jonathan does too much. Which is maybe, post post feminist.

And I think writing my books started it all. Time I used to spend doing house things (minus dusting, which gets done on Fridays by the wonderful Susan) is now spent in front of the computer. As a result, Jonathan has a choice: either he can do the laundry, or no one will do the laundry. I do fold it, though, usually at 11 pm while I'm multi-tasking and watching the news.

Trash? Is funny, isn't it? When I lived by myself all those years, I was fine taking it out. Now, married, like Jan, it wouldn't cross my mind to do it. Cooking? I cook dinners (or, during book writing, figure out dinner, which may mean Paddy's Grill or Whole Foods actually cooks it.) Jonathan's in charge of dnner on Thursdays. Which is such a wonderful treat.

There was a bat in our house last week. I cowered, Jonathan got rid of it. He handles bugs and broken things. I handle birthday presents and family-occasion remembering. Social engagements. Grocery shopping in about four different stores. (A topic for anoother day!) Interior decorating. Home organization. Medical things.
Jonathan drives. I'm the designated heckler of other drivers. ("Hey, moron, don't even think of turning in front of us!")

How do we decide how to divvy it up? We never decided. It just was. That's nice.

ROBERTA: This is an interesting topic, though it makes me feel guilty too. Didn't we come of age during the time when we women were told we could do anything? then why am I willing to turn the finances over to John, also majority of the driving, and calling unpleasant home repair people. As you might remember, we're having major work done on our house this summer (yes they're STILL here.) The head man is very sweet and willing to talk with me about procedural questions, but he won't act on anything until he's talked to John.

John was worried that if something happened to him, I'd be lost with money matters. But now that I'm handling my father's affairs--plenty complicated--we both feel a little better: I could do it all if I had to, I just prefer not. And though I do most of the cooking, John manages to cook while I'm away, so I guess he'd be ok too:)

RO: I'm tempted to say that Bruce makes the money and I spend it, but that would make me sound like a princess and we know that's not true. But I AM the one to say that the oven doesn't work and we need a new one. Or the fence is falling get the picture. So in that respect I am the spender. He could - happily - live in a house that was crumbling all around him and as long as he had his New Yorker and a glass of scotch he wouldn't notice.

From March through October, I don't cook. Bruce grills or makes salads while I work in the garden (or these days on the computer) until he yells "are you thinking about food?" If he's out of town, it's not unusual for me to hang on the refrigerator door and stare until something reveals itself to me. In the winter I cook and bake.
I pay the bills, deal with lawn boy, pool man, tree guy, contractor, tile man, etc. I am also the official pillow arranger and furniture mover - two roles that are are neverending chez Harris. There was an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry raged on about all the pillows in his home and a hush fell over our living room. I have a lot of pillows.

Bruce is The Cleaner, as in he removes any creature in the house - living or dead - that is not our dog. He gets a LOT of extra points for doing this.

When pressed, Bruce will clean the garage or his office. It generally goes something like this "next weekend I'm going to clean the garage." Then he mentions it about a dozen times before doing it, while doing it and after doing it, to extend the experience. In the words of Colin Powell "tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell 'em. Tell 'em what you told 'em." Bruce travelled a bit with CP on his book tour and took this lesson to heart.
Everything else we do together. That way I can correct him.

HALLIE: Jan, in our house I'm banned from doing my husband's laundry as penance for turning it pink...again. And Hank, wish I could've witnessed the bat--sounds like the escaped lobster in "Annie Hall." Roberta, yes, isn't it amazing how we can all do "men's work" when we have to. And I'm with you, Ro. Correcting 'em is definitely "ladies' work" for this crew, though we *may* be a slightly skewed sample.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yikes! I sound really horrible! I should explain that I had just entertained 6 inlaws and was feeling a little whiney. My husband is like Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way. (Got that, honey?) We have a great distribution of labor.

    And I think of myself as something of a why do I like it when a guy lets me out of the elevator first or holds a door for me?

  3. My honey Pinckney is very, very good at picking up after himself and doing his own laundry, thanks to an OCD mother and the prep school from hell.

    Plus, he's in charge of audio/visual maintenance and all trash and wildlife disposal, though I buy and set the mousetraps. We collaborated on a blacksnake removal last week--nothing like a little together time with sticks and brooms. And he encourages me to find the best lawn guys, plumbers and remodelers I can. We're probably not very post-feminist, but I still feel very blessed!

    Uh, RO--Have you noticed that you have a lot of guys around your house?!

  4. It's interesting that the men seem to be in charge of removals. Here we are writing about murder and mayhem and none of us can seem to deal with a poor little dead mouse.

    Yes, Laura, there are a lot of men....and I have them all dress in tight sleeveless t-shirts with little Rs on the breast, except for the pool me who wear - no, wait a minute, I'm kidding!

    It's not that we have such a mansion or extensive grounds, but everyone in CT is a specialist. I had one guy tell me he only did trees he could reach from a six foot ladder. Which makes sense but requires you to have a shrub guy and a tree guy. My favorite "man" used to drop by whenever he could, no scheduled time, and every once in a while I'd see him and he'd tell me how many hours he'd been at my house so I'd know how much to pay him. Haven't seen him all summer. Adolfo, donde esta?

  5. It must be bat season--we've had two in recent weeks. The cats did their best with it (and almost nailed it a time or two), my husband wanted to find a tennis racquest, and I went for my camera. It was definitely a joint effort to remove the poor thing (alive).

    He does his laundry, I do all the rest (including daughter's and household). We each clean but only when we can't stand the grit on the floor and furniture. He does car stuff; I do home decorating, including furniture decisions. We both do trash; we both cook and do dishes.

    My biggest coup is gifting him with the privilege of cleaning the cat litter. This started when I was pregnant (issues with toxoplasmosis), and I conveniently never took back that little chore.

  6. When I was married, my husband was in a job that had just impossible hours, and so I pretty much did everything. Including home repairs and dead spiders. I'd get pretty furious if I spent all day cleaning and he'd come in and start tossing his dishes in the sink (what? you didn't rinse them and just put them in the dishwasher Which is Right There?), but otherwise, I did it all and was pretty happy to do so. Housework is so honest, to me. Kind of like working a ship. You do it because it needs to be done for things to work smoothly. The rest of my head time is so full of analysis that housework is a happy respite -- it's how I think up what I'm writing next! So actually our household got on famously for the most part.

    Sometimes a household job is beyond my skill set (or height or strength), and then I employ the GALMI method. A UK phrase -- Get a Little Man In. The honest,timely, all-purpose contractor. Now there's a man (or woman) worth the weight in gold!

    I'm not squeamish or afraid of critters of any sort, so that's never an issue. (I actually love bats and snakes and stuff, so gently handling them is a bonus for me.) I do of course still have the strong aversion to wet bread in the sink. But what are you gonna do? You close your eyes and deal.

  7. In my intra-feminist days, and then later in the post-divorce days, I took pride in doing all the Man-work stuff myself. It turns out that I did a lot that I wasn't quite big or strong enough for (I'm on the very short end of the height spectrum) and now my body is catching up with me and my joints are falling apart. Also now I am blessed with a tall, very handy boyfriend and two strong sons who, while not conventionally tall, are much taller than I am. So I just get one of the three of them to do things like mowing, bringing in the case of wine, or cleaning the gutters, even though it pulls at the back of my feminist brain. (I love saying, "Come be tall for me" when I'm too lazy to go get the step stool.) I still hammer nails, paint rooms, and garden, and hope I never become unable to do that stuff.

    I mostly cook, boyfriend mostly does dishes (nothing wrong with that picture!), and I do all our laundry and then hang it on the line by person and category. Really. It's very satisfying. He does the vacuuming because I am allergic (nothing wrong with that picture, either) and he does the repair stuff because he's good at it. We both take out the trash.

    I am also blessed by not having to do the cat box (we have 4 cats...)! Whew. And by having young-adult sons who are good cooks, know how to clean a bathroom, and absolutely do all their own laundry.


  8. Rosemary asks: "so why do I like it when a guy lets me out of the elevator first or holds a door for me?"

    Me, too. I also like it when a guy helps me on with my coat or walks on the street side of the sidewalk. Sure beats the old days when I remember a guy held the door for me and then apologized for doing it. Haven't we tortured them enough?

  9. Edith--some woman will be glad for your good training with your sons! Edith and Sheila, brilliant work on the cat litter box. I have not managed to foist that one off. We all used to fight about the guinea pig cage too:)