Back in the early days of feminism -- the 1970s -- the theme song of the wife who had a career outside the home was the Enjoli perfume commercial:
I can bring home the bacon,
Fry it up in the pan,
And never, never, never let you forget you're a man.
Now, 30-odd years later, it's more like:
I slog home with the bacon,
But you won't fry it in the pan.
Why won't you do your housework share, you sexist man?
Yes, the theme song of today's working wife is "Overwhelmed."
That also happens to be the title of the latest book-length lament from a female career woman who probably earns a six-figure salary -- in this case Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte: that husbands won't pitch in with the chores and the child care the way they should. When husbands get home at night from their own six-figure-salary jobs, they might pat themselves on the back for emptying the trash and changing the blown-out light bulb, but then they want to crash out on the couch and watch TV when they could be folding the laundry, baking cupcakes for the school Valentine's Day party and checking little Jayden's math homework. Schulte calls the wives' plight "the overwhelm."
This two-career cri de coeur has been going on for decades. In 1989, Arlie Hochschild, a since-retired sociology professor at UC Berkeley, published her bestselling “The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home.” A review of Hochschild's book in the New York Times noted:
"Women, Ms. Hochschild reports, bear the brunt of what she calls a 'stalled revolution,' one that got wives out of the home and into the first shift of paid employment but resulted in surprisingly meager change during the domestic second shift. The wife, her research confirms, typically is still the primary parent and remains ultimately responsible for keeping house.… The additional hours that working women put in on the second shift of housework, she calculates, add up to an extra month of work each year."
The title of that New York Times review was "She Minds the Child, He Minds the Dog."
The upshot of "The Second Shift" was 25 years of nagging by high-status wives to get their husbands to do more housework, and 25 years of complaining by high-status wives that their husbands still weren't pitching in.
For example, a recent survey of Harvard professors (and you can't get much higher status -- or higher pay for academia -- than being a Harvard professor) revealed the following:
“Men and women with partners and children report working roughly the same number of hours (60), at both the junior and senior faculty ranks.
"But where the survey found differences was in the hours worked on household duties, child care and adult care.
"Women at the assistant and associate levels who either have a partner who works or are single spend an average of 40 hours a week on such duties. That's twice the number of hours Harvard men in the same circumstances spend. Full professors (who would be likely to have older children) have the same proportional gap. Women who either have a partner who works or are single report spending 20 hours a week on the household, child care or adult care -- while men report spending 10 hours.”
Also, you can't get much more feminism sensitive than the painfully politically correct professoriate at Harvard.
Now, I admit that I haven't read Schulte's book, but I did read her 2010 article that became the basis for the book:
"There was the Tuesday I flew in late to a meeting with school officials about why my son was floundering in fifth grade; I dragged along my second-grader, still in her pajamas and slippers because she had stayed home sick, and I kept glancing at my BlackBerry because I was in the middle of reporting a fast-breaking deadline story about a Chinese student who'd had her head chopped off. Then there was the Thursday that the amount of work I needed to do pressed like a heavy weight on my chest, but my heart just about ripped apart when my daughter's big blue-gray eyes started to water because I had said no when she asked, 'Mommy, will you please come with me on my field trip today?' I spent three hours in the woods with her -- and my BlackBerry and my guilt over not being at work. I worked an extra four hours after she went to bed that night."
And I also read Elizabeth Kolbert's review of Schulte's book in the New Yorker:
"Schulte singles out for censure two men in particular. These are Pat Buchanan, who, as an adviser to Richard Nixon in the early nineteen-seventies, persuaded the President to veto a comprehensive child-care bill, and her own husband, who's referred to only as Tom (but who a quick Google search reveals is the NPR correspondent Tom Bowman). Tom doesn't even know where their kids' dentist's office is. He almost never takes them to the pediatrician. He is 'supposed to do the grocery shopping' (the italics are not mine), but he refuses to take a list and often returns having forgotten such useful items as toilet paper. One Thanksgiving morning, when Schulte is preparing a multicourse dinner for eighteen, Tom grabs a six-pack of beer from the refrigerator and heads over to his friend Peter's house. This holiday fecklessness triggers a crisis, which Schulte claims is therapeutic and eventually leads to a more equitable distribution of household chores."
My take on all of this: You can lead a man to a "more equitable distribution of household chores," but you can't make him do them.
I'm with Kolbert when she wonders: "As for why, deep in 'the overwhelm,' [Schulte] has chosen to cook an elaborate dinner for eighteen, she never really explains." If my husband had been Tom, he wouldn't have grabbed a six-pack of beer and fled. He would have made it a 12-pack.
There are two things to consider here. One is that it's impossible to have a full-time career and also, simultaneously, be a full-time homemaker, baking cupcakes, taking your children to the pediatrician, fretting over the running toilet. You just can't. Twin six-figure couples can afford housekeepers. And if you feel guilty about not going along on your daughter's field trip with her, "comprehensive child care" isn't going to do it for you.
Second, no, men aren't in to doing housework. Most of them lack women's standards of household tidiness, women's social connectedness that leads to fancy meal-planning, and women's maternal empathy with small children. Why not, for once, give husbands credit for the things they actually do to help the household along: from cleaning the drainpipes to mowing the lawn to running the finances? Those count too.
Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times