But what about Dad?
Salon had a couple of angry letters this week in response to an interview with Judith Warner about the burdens of motherhood and her dismissive response to the idea that a lot of women's problems would be alleviated if men did their fair share of the housework and childcare. One of the letters is a self-congratulatory letter from a man who says that he does his fair share of the work, and he wants a cookie for doing what he's supposed to do.
My wife and I have two children, ages 3 1/2 and 18 months. We are both attorneys; she works for a private firm and I work in the public sector. While my schedule is less flexible in terms of when I am where, it is more regular and allows for more generous sick time, family or otherwise. As a result I do the majority of the daycare drop-off pick-up and sick time with sick children, and care at home is very much a joint effort. I would argue that the same is true of my immediate peers. I would be interested to see the statistic that shows that this generation of "lost cause" fathers devotes the same or lesser efforts to their children's well-being than those in the past.
While there is no question that across the board the situation could not be defined as equal, I would hazard a guess that significant progress has been made in terms of fathers' active involvement in meeting their children's day-to-day needs. Characterizing this entire "generation" of fathers as a "lost cause" is as insulting as healthcare professionals who assume I do not know my children's medical history, daycare providers who refuse to address issues to me and instead wait to see my wife, whom they see far less frequently, or individuals who practically give me a gold star for correctly stating my children's birthdays.
One wonders if he's not looking for praise for doing his job as a father why he wrote in to brag on himself. I assure you there are far more pressing problems in the world than a doctor who can't understand that dad does doctor duty. The ugly truth is that while men on the whole are doing better, they aren't doing their fair share yet. And the recent uptick in men's housework hours that has pushed men's work into being a little more than half of women's probably doesn't mean that men as a whole are doing more, but just that the few that do their fair share are pulling up the numbers and making everyone look better.
Salon cleverly published this Cary Tennis letter next to the letters of complaint. The letter-writer's partner has pushed all the domestic duties onto her, including care for her two and his two children. Not surprisingly, she is tired and miserable all the time, but whenever she tries to take a break for herself, everyone in the family complains. Cary sensibly advises that she make her strikes stick--capitulating at the first complaint is making them realize that all they need to sacrifice is some whine time and they will get her to do everything. Well, and her partner has sacrificed sex and the pleasure of having a happy partner. It's hard from the inside to see it, but from the outside it's easy to see that a man who will give up sex and a good relationship with his partner in order to avoid doing some housework is someone who isn't going to just up and do the right thing after a mere one-day strike on her part.
It's an interesting letter and answer, but Cary drops the ball when he characterizes feminism as a philosophy that ignores economics.
Now, the slogan of the 1970s that launched a thousand domestic arguments was not "The personal is economic!" but "The personal is political!" A slogan must sound good to work right. "The personal is economic!" doesn't sound good; it trippeth not pleasingly on the tongue. Plus economics was not a sexy subject like politics. So you had men and women battling about the distribution of household labor in intimate relationships as though they were political adversaries rather than actors in a marketplace. If the battle cry had been "The personal is economic!" maybe there would have been less zero-sum political bluffing and calling of bluffing and more businesslike partnering toward mutual profit and "win-win" situations all around, including lunches at the Copper Penny and occasional gift certificates to Staples. Or maybe not. I'm just saying.
I guess he forgot about Marxist feminism. But the sad thing is that I think that liberal feminists tried to make housework and childcare a political issue instead of an economic issue precisely to avoid zero-sum thinking. The sexiness of politics and the possibility of a complete overhaul of the system we have now seems the only way to get men on board--they aren't going to "lose" anything if everything is different.
But economics is a dry exchange and the losses are all too apparent. For instance, the letter-writer's partner knows exactly what he stands to lose if he picks up his share of the domestic work--his time and energy. Hey, he sees how busy and tired she is all the time, so how could he not know how much time he could lose to this?
Cary is being coy, but he knows that striking is the last resort of workers after negotiations have ceased to work. And it does get read by those who are losing the cheap labor as disloyalty, so I'm sure it's even harder when the boss/worker relationship is also an intimate one. Anyway, reading this letter I realized that I would be a really bad union organizer. My first thought when the letter-writer said that her family complains when she tries to strike is to laugh at them and remind them how much they demand from someone who knows where they sleep. An ominous laugh might help, too. Yep, I would be giving protection money to gangsters in no time.