Recent data confirm what we have known all along – women do more than their share of housework and child-rearing. Men take out the trash, and push their children on the swings on Sundays; but Mom does all the dirty work – diapers, discipline, and dregs.
Men are under increasing pressure to contribute more to the family, to relieve their wives of the scutwork of daily life. After all, women have their day jobs too, increasingly high-paying jobs as lawyers, accountants, and business executives. Why should they in these days of gender equality, come home from a hard day’s work and have to deal with squalling, hungry, pissy children?
Why? Because savvy men have figured out how to ‘have it all’, to turn gender tables upside down, and to remain top dog in the family.
These savvy men are not the stereotypes one thinks of when considering the gender wars. They are not the kings of bass boat and trailer home, beer-drinking crackers. They are K Street lawyers, Wall Street bankers, CEOs of profit and non-profit agencies alike. They are liberal – or liberal-leaning. They subscribe to the principle of gender equality and are concerned about catcalls, rape, and violence against women. They encourage women at all times.
What they have figured out, however, is that the weight of history has not yet been lifted from the shoulders of women. They know that the interminable and incessant noise in liberal journals, cyberspace, and the social media about the plight of women today only means that women are still under the yoke of their fathers and American social mores, which even into the late Sixties was still very much patriarchal. .
In other words, women are not yet completely sure of themselves; and men understand that success on the gender battlefield revolves around this uncertainty. Women are sure to find their footing, crack the glass ceiling once and for all, and rise to political, social, and economic equality; but until they do, men can still have a field day.
First and easiest is housework. Every man knows that pitching in more than the average results in disproportionate rewards. Since most men’s contribution to household drudgery consists of taking out the garbage, fixing the leaky faucet, and shoveling the front walk; anything above and beyond that bare minimum will be overvalued. “My John shares in the cooking”, said one delighted wife. “Mine picks up the kids from school and helps them with their homework”, said another.
The savvy husband, of course, picks up the children from school, brings them to the home of his mistress where the Salvadoran nanny is in charge, and spends a delightful cinq a sept in bed.
“No, dear. You have too much to do today”, says the savvy husband, pulling the vacuum cleaner out of the broom closet. “I’ll vacuum today.” His wife is so delighted with this unexpected and out-of-character offer, that she smiles, kisses him, and ignores his Saturday ‘work at the office’ afternoons.
There is no way that a modern American woman who has given birth to and breastfed her children can possibly cede all responsibility for child-rearing to her husband. Whatever feminists may claim, the very physical, biological link between mother and child is of a far more fundamental nature than any paternal sharing. In fact, most women would prefer not to trust their children to their husbands. They are bombarded left and right about male predation, abuse, and testosterone-driven irresponsibility. They may love their husbands, but they cannot completely ignore the feminist screeds which portray men as the enemy.
But women appreciate the offer, and therein lies the male advantage. Women are still in thrall to Elizabethan notions of love and romance; and are willing to suspend their suspicions about men’s wandering and infidelity for the sake of this ideal. Men marry for convenience, stability, and position, but certainly not for the love of Petrarch and the Romantic poets. Having a loving wife to come home to is but one piece of the male mosaic. The other colored shards are Marie from Accounting, Marta from Andalusia, and even Grace the Kindergarten teacher.
Keith Martin is a friend of mine who has played this savvy game for years. His wife talks about his involvement with the children, his help around the house, and his constant support to her in difficult periods of her career advancement; but it is all his smoke and mirrors. His wife is so convinced of his fidelity and his loving engagement with the children; so proud of his gender-equal participation in housework and child care; and happy that he has considered her an equal, that she doesn’t even blink at his lame excuses. Even the oldest saw in the books – ‘working late at the office’ – doesn’t ring a bell or set off the security alarm.
It is very hard for many men to put up with their wives’ complaints about whiskers in the sink and toilet seats up – and few see this hectoring as valuable capital. It doesn’t take much to swish out the sink; and there is nothing that will deflect a wife’s suspicions about tomcatting more than a spotless bathroom, scrubbed, deodorized, and finished with crisp, clean towels.
Keith likes to cook, but is not the arch-stereotype of the Modern New Age Man in the kitchen, chided for his attempts at coulis and food architecture. He understands food and how it should be prepared. His artful meals, attractively presented and served, are an expression of his love for cuisine, the variety and intrigue of new ingredients, and his gourmandise. His wife thinks that he is doing all this for her out of love, consideration, and plain affection. Everybody wins; but especially Keith.
Keith has successfully negotiated his way through the current gender wars. He has maintained his male integrity, his macho spirit, and his competitive edge by paying attention. Women dress up and want to be sexually appealing and desirable. They cry and need a male shoulder to cry on. They want to be listened to, respected, and loved. They sense that their primal purpose – childbearing – is not enough; but are still tentative and tenuous in their climb up the corporate ladder. Keith has always been there for them. All the women in his life have loved him deeply and all have thought that he, and he alone, understood them.
Of course Keith is simply a good meta-analyst, for whom sizing up women based on millions of bits of data on feminine behavior has not been difficult at all. “Anyone who still asks the question, ‘what do women want?’, hasn’t paid attention.”
Keith said he felt sorry for the legions of intimidated men who had bought into the aggressive feminist creed of the day, who had ignored millennia of male-female episodes, who never listened to Shakespeare or Strindberg or Tolstoy, and who ended up cleaning toilets with no ulterior purpose in mind.
He reserved his scorn for the feminist groupies of Washington who attended women’s conferences, wrote impassioned op-ed pieces on the glass ceiling and men’s role and responsibility for breaking it, and were on the front lines of protests against campus rape, unequal pay, and spousal abuse. “They’re like the Chickasaws who sidled up to Jackson and his Union cavalry, hoping to gain favor and reward. Jackson recruited them into his army to fight the British, then sent them packing across the Mississippi.”
Keith understood that the war between the sexes would never end; and that despite feminist arguments to the contrary, there would never be either equity nor female superiority. It was up to men to be as canny battlefield strategists as Napoleon and to win at all costs.
This is not to say that Keith was a misogynist. Far from it. He loved women, loved being with them, loved smelling their perfume, and running his hand over their smooth bellies and breasts. He loved them for being women – alluring, crying, and as tough and savvy as Margaret, Dionyza, Tamora, and Cleopatra.
He knew that that ‘war’ was a misnomer, for no one wants to annihilate the enemy they love. It is simply an exercise in sexual dynamics, one no different than any other historical struggle; and must be won.