Earlier this week, Glamour.com ran a piece by Lyz Lenz called, I’m a Great Cook. Now That I’m Divorced, I’m Never Making Dinner for a Man Again. Twitter promptly blew up with people — mostly, but not entirely men — telling Lenz that she was proof that feminism is destroying the American family and society and making women into joyless, heartless shrews.
This reaction is obviously ridiculous, but it’s also no big surprise. If you’re a woman on the internet, you get used to heaping helpings of abuse whenever you state an opinion, take a position, or produce anything for public consumption. But if you point out that our culture depends on women taking on a boatload of uncompensated labor to make things work, you’ll really be in for it.
Sometimes, I think that this is why it’s so offensive to so many people (again, mostly but not entirely men) to hear that women suffer from providing said free labor. The thing is, we don’t have more hours in the day than dudes have. The work that makes life possible – cooking, cleaning, managing schedules and priorities, worrying about people’s feelings and feeding relationships with extended family and friends – takes up a lot of time. These chores also fall almost entirely to women in most households, even when women work outside the home.
Don’t believe me? Look at the data. The American Time Use Survey, which is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and shows how Americans spend their days, shows that women spend 2.19 hours per day, on average, engaging in household activities, while men spend 1.41 hours on average. Women also spend almost twice as much time caring for household members (.68 hours vs. .36 hours) and about a quarter more time purchasing goods and services (.83 hours vs. .6 hours).
Men, on the other hand, have the edge on leisure time (5.53 hours vs. 4.98 hours for women). They also work more (4.32 hours vs. 2.89 hours) – a factor in the persistent gender pay gap.
But back to dinner.
Dinner is bad and we should feel bad about it.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that I’ve heard more venting about dinner from my female friends who have male partners than just about any other domestic issue. And that’s just talking about the women who are in relationships with good men, the kind who don’t automatically think of everything related to maintaining the household as “women’s work.”
I’ve also heard plenty of excuses from male friends with female partners. “She’s just better at it than I am” is a popular explanation. (Probably! But you can get better at almost anything with practice. Why not start tonight?) Or: “I don’t know how to cook.” (Son, you’ve got a master’s degree. I bet you can learn.)
The problem seems to be that in most cases, both partners grew up in a culture where men aren’t raised to “see” domestic chores. If you follow this issue, you’ve probably seen the arguments that suggest that the solution is for women to lower their standards. This is not workable, for the simple reason that women often have lowered their standards by the time the conversation of splitting chores more equitably comes up. How do you get lower than the current state of affairs? they wonder. Stop changing the sheets … ever? Get takeout every night? Let the kids skip school and stop making doctor, dentist, and vet appointments for all time?
Most chores can be put off, if not forever, then for a while. But daily chores like making dinner have to happen, well, daily — or people will starve or eat crap all the time. Plus, there are those horror stories, rooted in scientific research, connecting the decline of the family dinner with everything from obesity to drug abuse. Lower your standards for dinner, and you might feel like you’re lowering the standard of living for your family.
This is not to say that there are no men out there who enjoy cooking or feel a responsibility to feed their families. It’s just that – again, going by what I hear from friends – it seems that men who don’t enjoy cooking feel less responsibility than women to do it anyway.
Then again, maybe the men who holler at women who express a disinclination to provide free domestic labor just have mommy issues. I’m not a psychologist.