Ward and June Cleaver revisited

Back in December 2004, I wrote a post over at my old blog site about how difficult life is in the 21st Century for June Cleaver. Since Blogger posts, after a certain period of time, lose all formatting, I’ll reprint it here, in an easy to read format:

I’ve been looking around at friends’ marriages, and wondering what makes some happy and some unhappy. And I keep thinking of Ward and June Cleaver, who have always typified for me the classic American division of male/female roles in a “married with children” relationship. She maintains the house; he pays the bills. They are polite to each other. She is the first line of defense for matters involving the children, but he is the final word, and all defer to him.

One could argue that, at least from the woman’s point of view, it’s a dreadful division, since she works hard, but he holds ultimate power. What’s weird, though, is that the couples I know who have returned to a Ward and June life-style have very happy marriages. Each knows his or her area of responsibility within the relationship, and that seems to take away from, rather than to add to, stress.

The other happy couples I know are those where they’ve truly mixed-and-matched the Ward and June roles. That is, both work, but both share equally in household management. Each seems to respect the other and there is a health give-and-take for responsibility. I know only two couples who have achieved this, so it seems to be a real rarity, at least in my circles.

The most angry marriages are those where the man clings to the Ward role, but expects his wife to be both June (household manager) and Ward (breadwinner). These are the households where the woman holds a full- or part-time job, and is also the primary caregiver for the children (when they’re not in school), as well as the chief shopper, cook, laundress, and house cleaner. Sadly, this is also the dominant model in my community, and I think it goes a long way to explaining the very resentful women I know.

The problem I’m observing is nothing new. Fifteen years ago, Arlie Hochschild wrote a book called The Second Shift, which examined relationships in which both man and woman work. I haven’t read the book since its publication, but my memory is that the women who carried the heaviest load were the yuppie wives whose husbands paid lip-service to an “equal” relationship in the marriage — a dynamic that precisely describes the married couples in my world.

What Hochschild discovered is that those husbands — even while claiming that, just as their wives added the Ward role to their June role, they too added the June role to their Ward role — were creating an elaborate fiction themselves. Their “equal” role in the house amounted to toting out the garbage once a week, or picking up the occasional milk. Those who laid claim to all responsibilities outside the house’s walls (that is, yard work), essentially mowed the lawn weekly. Meanwhile, their wives, who also held paying jobs, were handling shopping, cooking, cleaning, childcare, and all other miscellaneous stuff.

Ironically, those husbands who were most likely to provide real help around the house were the old-fashioned men who bitterly resented the economic necessity that forced their wives into the workplace. It was they who placed the most value on their wives’ work, and were therefore most likely to recognize the women’s sacrifice in leaving the home for the workplace. “Modern men,” with their views of equality, seemed to see traditional women’s work as valueless and were unwilling to sully their hands with it.

It’s interesting that, 15 years after I read that book as an unencumbered single, I look around my world and see that the book could just as easily have been written today, ’cause nothing’s changed. Apparently Ward and June were on to something….

It turns out Arlie Hochschild’s 18 year old conclusions and my three year old observations are still right on the money. More and more research is showing that, while men still enjoy a Ward Cleaver level of “life is good” satisfaction, augmented by more gadgets and better health than Ward could ever imagine, women are increasingly unhappy because of the burdens their Ward and June expectations impose on them:

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.

These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.

But researchers who have looked at time-use data say the second-shift theory misses an important detail. Women are not actually working more than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are instead doing different kinds of work. They’re spending more time on paid work and less on cleaning and cooking.

What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.

Mr. Krueger’s data, for instance, shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be. I imagine that the new American dustiness affects women’s happiness more than men’s.

For women, it seems to be damned if you don’t have the choices and damned if you do.  Either way, the to-do list is too long, and the rewards for effort are too small.


Men! Help out at home — for your kids’ sake

To toot my own horn, I am a very competent person.  I’m not overwhelmingly good at any one thing, but I can do most things fairly well.  My kids get to see this competence in action.  I do a lot of my legal work from home, so they see me in professional mode.  I also do all of the household stuff:  I cook, clean, do laundry, maintain the pool, help with homework, run the carpools, volunteer at their schools and extracurricular activities, and am still knowledgeable enough to have an answer to most of their questions.

Mr. Bookworm is also a very competent person, a competence he brings to bear on his professional life.  In fact, I’d go even further and say that he is extremely good at what he does, and is very respected by his colleagues for his work.  On the home front, however, he embraces incompetence, a tactic I think he purposefully employs to avoid any type of house work.  “I don’t know how to clear the table.  You do it.”   “I don’t know how to put leftovers in the fridge.  You do it.”  “I don’t know where the dishes go.  You empty the dishwasher.”  “I can’t fold this.  You do it.”  And I do it because he works extremely hard, because I work out of the home anyway, and because, if I push him into doing whatever “it” is, he does it so badly I have to do it again anyway.  When the children were young, this helplessness infuriated me, because I really could have used the help.  Now that the kids are older, and I’m less exhausted, I’m perfectly capable of doing everything without him, so his inability (whether real or feigned) to help around the house doesn’t bother me at all.

It did occur to me, though, that Mr. Bookworm is making a mistake by using incompetence to avoid helping out around the house.  As a I noted at the start of this post, not only am I a competent person, but my kids get to see me being competent.  The same can’t be said for Mr. Bookworm and the kids.  They do not see him at the office, where he is incredibly good at what he does and holds a position of power and respect.  Instead, they only see him at home, flapping his hands ineffectually and complaining bitterly when asked to recover something from the fridge or tidy something up.  In other words, the Dad they see is someone helpless.

Nor can Mr. Bookworm fall back on larger cultural paradigms to elevate his status in the children’s eyes.  It’s true that, in the pre-feminist era, men didn’t help out at home either.  Back then, though, the dominant culture conspired to present men as powerful, effective, knowledgeable beings.  Whether the kids were watching The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or Ozzie and Harriet, they were given to understand that, in the world outside the home, father was a very important man, too important to spend his time at home engaged in frivolous domestic tasks.  That cultural cushion doesn’t exist anymore.  In pop culture Dad is, as often as not, an idiot, frequently put in his place by his hip, clever children or much put-upon wife.  We don’t let our kids watch these demeaning (to parents) shows, but their ethos is the air, and the kids hear about them from other children.

As it is, I regularly try my best to make sure that my children understand that Daddy has an important job, and that he works long and hard for them.  I remind them that, although I contribute to the family economically, it his mostly his labor and time that enable us to live the quality suburban lifestyle we enjoy.   That’s very abstract, though.  They hear it, but what they see is a Daddy who does nothing — and in this way distinguishes himself even from the other neighborhood Dads, many of whom enjoy cooking, gardening, or other more visible domestic activities.

So Dads, if you think you’re being clever avoiding household work by relying on domestic incompetence, think again.  As a short term strategy to increase your down time, it may be a good thing, but as a long term strategy, you may be harming yourselves irreparably in your children’s eyes.

(By the way, I only just had this insight, and am working on a tactful way to bring it to Mr. Bookworm’s attention.  He adores the children and I think that, not only will it distress him once he realizes the path he’s taken, he may also act to change his approach to the very small number of domestic tasks I sometimes request of him.)

I am so not surprised.

It’s bad for the Moms; it’s bad for the kids. No wonder Moms are giving up on it. “It”, of course, being full time work plus parenting:

Working full-time is losing its appeal for American mothers.

In the past decade, the percentage of working mothers who say full-time work is ideal dropped from 32 to 21, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Now, 60 percent of them say they’d rather work part-time, up from 48 percent in 1997.

Likewise, only 16 percent of stay-at-home moms say they’d prefer to work full-time. That’s down from 24 percent a decade ago. Nearly half of at-home moms say not working at all is ideal, up from 39 percent in 1997.

Not surprisingly, 72 percent of fathers prefer working full-time.

Rating themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on how well they’ve done at parenting, 43 percent of at-home moms said 9 or 10. Only 28 percent of full-time working moms rated themselves so highly.

Finally, 44 percent of at-home moms think it’s bad for society to have so many mothers away at jobs, while just 34 percent of working moms think that.

The survey, conducted earlier this year and released today, involved 2,020 telephone interviews of U.S. adults.

The poll also highlights another obvious fact that intellectuals keep needing so see proved over and over again:  men and women are different.  While there are women who love to work full time, and men who crave full time parenting, the vast middle of both men and women tend to fall back on traditional spheres.

I’m not advocating, of course, Taliban-esque laws removing women from the workplace.  I’m just looking for an American mindset that acknowledges that we’re not all cookie cutter figures, and that the 1970s ideal of all women in the workplace all the time is not a healthy model to impose on society.


I could have told you this if you’d just stopped talking long enough to listen:

Another stereotype — chatty gals and taciturn guys — bites the dust. Turns out, when you actually count the words, there isn’t much difference between the sexes when it comes to talking.

A team led by Matthias R. Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, came up with the finding, which is published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The researchers placed microphones on 396 college students for periods ranging from two to 10 days, sampled their conversations and calculated how many words they used in the course of a day.

The score: Women, 16,215. Men, 15,669.

The difference: 546 words: “Not statistically significant,” say the researchers.

“What’s a 500-word difference, compared with the 45,000-word difference between the most and the least talkative persons” in the study, said Mehl.

Co-author James W. Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas, said the researchers collected the recordings as part of a larger project to understand how people are affected when they talk about emotional experiences.

They were surprised when a magazine article asserted that women use an average of 20,000 words per day compared with 7,000 for men. If there had been that big a difference, he thought, they should have noticed it.

They found that the 20,000-7,000 figures have been used in popular books and magazines for years. But they couldn’t find any research supporting them.

“Although many people believe the stereotypes of females as talkative and males as reticent, there is no large-scale study that systematically has recorded the natural conversations of large groups of people for extended periods of time,” Pennebaker said.

Indeed, Mehl said, one study they found, done in workplaces, showed men talking more.

Still, the idea that women use nearly three times as many words a day as men has taken on the status of an “urban legend,” he said.

Read the rest here.

Misogyny in cyberspace?

Phibian, blogging at CDR Salamander, picked up on something I’d missed entirely: the claim that the blogosphere is a haven for misogynists. I don’t know how I could have missed this because, according to Phibian, the august Washington Post, almost two months ago, opined on the subject:

A female freelance writer who blogged about the pornography industry was threatened with rape. A single mother who blogged about “the daily ins and outs of being a mom” was threatened by a cyber-stalker who claimed that she beat her son and that he had her under surveillance. Kathy Sierra, who won a large following by blogging about designing software that makes people happy, became a target of anonymous online attacks that included photos of her with a noose around her neck and a muzzle over her mouth.

As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms — a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said.


Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, said that since the letters section of her site was automated a year and a half ago, “it’s been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men.”

Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post site is among the most prominent of blogs founded by women, said anonymity online has allowed “a lot of those dark prejudices towards women to surface.” Her site takes a “zero tolerance” policy toward abusive and excessively foul language, and employs moderators “24/7” to filter the comments, she said.


Some female bloggers say their colleagues just need thicker skin. Columnist Michelle Malkin, who blogs about politics and culture, said she sympathizes with Sierra but has chided the bloggers expressing outrage now. “First, where have y’all been? For several years, the unhinged Internet underworld has been documented here,” she wrote, reposting a comment on her site that called for the “torture, rape, murder” of her family.

Report the serious threats to law enforcement, she urged. And above all: “Keep blogging. Don’t cut and run.”

But Herring said Malkin is in a minority. “There’s a whole bunch of women who are being intimidated,” she said. They include academics, professional programmers and other women normally unafraid to speak their minds.

I think the WaPo is right.  There is a lot of misogyny in cyberspace. There’s also a lot of anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism, homophobia, heterophobia, racism, anti-Conservatism, anti-Progressivism, and just about any other anti you can think of. There is no doubt that many people, writing with the freedom of anonymity, are going to express some of the deeper, darker thoughts that they would normally keep locked away in a face to face situation. Thus, while someone might say to your face, “I think you’re wrong to oppose same sex marriage,” that same person, hiding behind an anonymous email or comment, may well add “you disgusting, slime eating homophobe; I wish you’d die” as the final salutation to that same message.

In other words, I think Phibian had it right when he told his daughters:

[T]he Internet is just like a very large city. You have many great and wonderful things out there, but you also have some of the worst things man can think up. Evil lurks there – and you aren’t going out there without me being with you.

Incidentally, I have to say that I’ve never received threatening or sexually explicit comments at my blog, something for which I’m very grateful.  Certainly some people have disagreed with me, and done so strongly.  I’ve deleted three posts in almost as many years because they simply had too many obscenities for me to tolerate.  I flatter myself that those who come here, whether they agree or disagree, are trying to the best of their abilities to touch upon the merits — and when you’re talking about the merits, there really isn’t room for personal attacks.  Even those who like me least, and who fall back most on ad hominem attacks, level their worst slings and arrows at my political views, and not at my sex.

Ultimately, Michelle Malkin is right.  You have to have a certain toughness to tolerate the freedom of expression the internet gives to its users. And, just as the attackers hide behind their anonymity, the bloggers can too — I certainly have.  Lastly, it’s useful to know that the traditional legal process does give some protection to those whose attackers are genuinely threatening.  Blogger Lee Kaplan, who became the victim of a very frightening cyberstalke0r who set up a Blogger site aimed at harassing him, pursued the matter aggressively and won in court.  Kaplin is now pushing to have internet service providers act more aggressively to block those who threaten physical violence or who create situations conducive to physical violence.  As a lawyer, I would say that site providers would be wise to do as Kaplan asks.  Certainly (and God forbid), if any person is ever actually hurt by an internet stalker, and if the service provider knew of that stalker, I think the provider would be a sitting duck for a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

Whose common sense?

I like The Atlantic, which is an intelligent magazine that often manages to overcome the more obvious biases of magazines published for the self-selected intelligentsia.  It also has a really cool section every month called “Primary Sources,” that looks at various studies.  One of the studies at which it looked this month is a Rand Corporation study about military marriages.  Here’s how The Atlantic begins its story about the study:

Both common sense and informal surveys of U.S. soldiers and their spouses have suggested that longer, more frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the stress and uncertainty of combat, make military marriages more likely than ever to end in divorce.

I have to say, those “common sense” conclusions actually didn’t occur to me.  The women I know who divorce their husbands do so because the men are unfaithful.  Absenteeism for work — and a lot of these high income people get their high incomes because the husbands is never home, but is always away on business — doesn’t seem to matter. If you love someone, if that person loves you, and if you both are faithful and supportive, absence seems a less than compelling reason to get divorced.

I’ve also assumed that military people are more religious than your average citizen.  By that I mean that they go beyond just believing in God, and are the type of people who have an active faith.  My understanding of a truly religious marriage is that it’s a covenant, not a mere civil contract.  Covenants are for keeps, whereas contracts can be broken.  Although the reality is that covenants can be broken, too, I suspect people who enter marriage with that “for keeps” attitude are more likely to make their belief a reality.  In other words, military people might take their vows more seriously.

Given my assumptions (whether they’re right or wrong), I wasn’t actually that surprised by what the study really found:

The Rand Corporation recently prepared a study for the Pentagon on the effect of divorce on military performance and retention rates, and the results challenge the conventional wisdom.  The study finds no significant increase of divorce in the military during recent conflicts.  Researchers examined personnel records for every member of the U.S. military serving between fiscal years 1996 and 2005 (more than 6 million people), and found, to their surprise, that while the divorce rate has risen steadily since the state of the war in 2001, it’s still roughly the same as it was in 1996, when the military was under significantly less stress.

There was only one surprise for me in the Rand results, although, thinking about it, it really shouldn’t have been that surprising:

So, can married soldiers breathe easier when they’re parted from their spouses?  The men can, but the study found that the risk of divorce for female service members, particularly enlisted women, is several times the risk for their male counterparts.  Men, it seems, have a harder time waiting at home for the return of their soldier wives.

Think about it:  women at home have their social network and, if they’re like most mom’s I know, are completely bound up in their children’s lives.  Men at war have their social network and are in situations where, while their bodies may not always be faithful, it’s probably difficult to make deep emotional connections that will threaten their marriages.

The reverse is true, at least for the men, when the men are the ones on the home front.  Most men I know, while they may have “a buddy” or “a group” are less likely to have the solid social network that women I know have.  This is true even though the men I know are charming people and wonderful fathers who are deeply involved with their children.  Even if they’re the primary caregivers, they still seem to be more solitary “parenters” than their female counterparts.  More significantly, by being home while their wives are at war, if these men stumble and fall into a situation where they find themselves seeking (to put it delicately) “physical release,” they’re also in a situation where that relationship has more scope to develop emotionally, in a way that can damage the marriage.

My two cents.  What are your takes on this?

Manly men, Girly men and Peter Pan

I’m seeing pieces of a puzzle, but I’m having a problem discerning a larger pattern (maybe there isn’t one). Here are the pieces, and I’d like it if you’d chime in with what I’m missing.

It starts with Marines. The first piece of the puzzle is that Marine show I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. This was the unexpected PBS show that presented Marines as people of incredible training, strength and resolve. They’re mostly men (sorry, ladies) and they are men who get things done. As one of the talking heads on the show said (I’m paraphrasing), “Marines aren’t like other people. They’re trained to run to the gun.”

Somehow, having seen that show, I got Marines on the brain, and I started noticing things. First of all, I remembered how, in Iraq, the Marines are constantly sent in to clean things up, with Fallujah being the obvious example. You can rely on them to do the jobs others can’t do.

Next, I heard a small piece of a Dennis Prager show that focused on maturity. As the Townhall blurb sums it up:

Guest Dr. Steven Marmer, member of the clinical faculty at the UCLA School of Psychiatry and psychiatrist in private practice in Brentwood, CA outlines what it means to be mature. He asks three key questions of his patients: how much anxiety can you tolerate without having to do something destructive to yourself or others; how much are you able to live in the present; and do you like undertaking obligations.

I tuned in just as Prager and Marmer were talking about reliability. Prager mentioned that when he once had a call-in show asking women to state what they most value in a man, the number one answer was reliability. “Hmm,” I thought. “A mature man is reliable, he handles stress well, he’s willing to undertake obligations, and he lives in the moment. Sounds like the Marines on that PBS show.”

And the last thing in the Marine strand is something I’ve recently noticed about the contemporary romances I read. (And all of you who have stuck with me for awhile know that I have a weak spot for romance novels.) One genre of romance novel is the romantic thriller. I cannot tell you how many times, in a romantic thriller, the reader learns about halfway through that the mysterious hero who partners with the spunky heroine is either a former or current Marine. Marines are just shorthand in these novels for handsome, strong, reliable guys on whom you can always count in an emergency.

In other words, Marines are manly men. This doesn’t mean, of course, that every individual Marine is a manly man, or that other men, whether in the military or not, aren’t manly men. It just means that Marines seem to exemplify the mature male.

The thing is, I’m a little confused about where Marines stand generally in terms of educating our young men about male maturity. While we know that Marines stand for those virtues, and we know that women like the qualities Marines seem to embody, the world outside my door seems to be preparing two different kinds of man: Peter Pans and Girly Men.

The Peter Pan thing, I admit, is an observational thing. I think the way young suburban men (age about 16 -24 ) dress is infantile. They wear unlaced shoes, baggy pants that fall down, oversized t-shirts, and have their caps on backwards. It’s bizarre watching a bearded slacker wearing precisely the same clothes my son wore when he was 2 (minus the diaper, of course, unless the guy’s an astronaut). I wasn’t too surprised, therefore, to hear on that same Prager show the observation that young women complain that men in their own age group are exceptionally immature.

What’s most bizarre about this current fashion is that it originated with gang bangers — guys who pride themselves on being tough, cool and deadly. DQ thinks perhaps the original statement is that these guys were so bad, they didn’t need to worry about functional clothes that would enable them to run from enemies and law enforcement alike. If you can strut around with your shoes falling off and your pants falling down, rendering you incapable of escape, you’re not scared of anything. That toughness, of course, is totally lacking in the young men in my neck of the woods. They’re tough only in the fantasy world of video games, where toughness is a matter of running through a cyberworld and bashing people.

My last puzzle piece is the metrosexual. Actually, I don’t know if that’s a real piece at all, or just a chimera. As you may recall, last year (or maybe two years ago) the New York Times did a big article about metrosexuals — men who claim to be straight, but who preen like women. Yes, I know that’s nasty, but these are men who are pretty boys (what Ah-nuld calls “girly men”). As someone who has her haircare and make-up routine down to 10 frenzied minutes, I have my doubts about the pleasure I’d get out of a male company who likes luxuriating about with a cucumber face peel, clear nail polish, and eyelash dye. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but my instant response is “ick.”

You’ll notice that I’m just pointing things out, but I’m not going anywhere. The fact is, I don’t have anywhere to go. Are the above types of American guys just three strands in a huge modern society, strands that don’t intersect, and that really don’t portend anything? Are they the difference between red state and blue state? Are Marines the past, with the Peter Pans and the Girly Boys the future? I’d like to tie everything into a neat package, wrap a bow around it and draw a wonderful conclusion about male maturity in America, but I’m not sure I can. Do any of you have any ideas? I’d like to hear them.

UPDATE:  Maybe it does all start with Mom.  Check out this post about who raises a Marine.

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