Thursday, September 1, 2016

Gender Stereotypes Forever

If you consider all the time and energy that feminists have put into railing against gender stereotypes and the traditional division of household labor, you would expect that people would have gotten the point.

In fact, they have gotten the point. They have learned to ignore the rantings of feminists. As it happens, most people still divide household chores by gender. For all we know gender stereotyping might have a rationale that goes beyond social construction. Perhaps it has something to do with the biological difference between the sexes. Perhaps it has to do with economic efficiency. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that members of one gender are more competent at performing certain tasks.

Slate reports on an Indiana University study:

If an actual glass ceiling breaks in a couple’s home, which partner sweeps up the shards? According to a new study from Indiana University, most Americans would give that duty to the woman. Study participants who read sample marriage scenarios assigned more chores in general—especially traditionally “feminine” chores such as cleaning, cooking, and child care—to women, even in scenarios that described straight couples where the woman earned more money than the man. Nearly 75 percent of participants thought women in straight couples should be the ones to buy groceries, cook, do laundry, and clean the house; nearly 90 percent thought their male partners should do the auto work and outdoor tasks.

Note that the study does not specify the gender of the respondents. This suggests that couples agree to the normal division of household labor. Does this mean that the feminist project of gender neutering all Americans is failing? We can certainly hope so. Does it mean that, however successful the campaign to gender-neuter everyone’s language, people are going through the motions. Just think of all those texts that use the generic feminine pronouns or that ban the word “man” are any variant. Could it be that these texts are manifesting a syntactic affectation?

Anyway, the unfortunate IU researchers not only discovered that gender roles are not a social construct. They discovered, to their added chagrin, that even in relationship between people of the same gender, household chores were still divided according to masculine and feminine characteristics.

Slate reports:

Gendered housework stereotypes run so deep that even members of fictional same-sex couples got assigned certain chores over others based on how feminine or masculine their interests were. A man who likes shopping and rom-coms, for instance, would get stuck with washing dishes and grocery shopping, while his basketball-playing, guns and explosions–loving husband got to breathe the crisp fall air as he mowed the lawn.

Of course, some have argued that it’s not about gender. They believe that it's about who is the breadwinner. The person who is not working outside the home or who is working less than the other will be assigned more household chores. Feminists believe that once men and women are equals in the workplace they will divide chores equally at home. In fact, they have produced some pseudo-scientific studies demonstrating their point. Still, it’s an illusion, but don’t tell your neighborhood feminist.

Anyway, Slate tells us that the research has shown that breadwinner status does not count for very much either:

The authors of the study were taken aback by the results; they expected income to play a larger role in housework division. “Most research on housework suggests that couples divide housework along different axes; for example, lower-earning partners do more housework than higher-earning partners,” study author Natasha Quadlin told the Huffington Post. “Instead, our findings suggest that [gender] is by far the biggest determinant of Americans’ attitudes toward housework.”

And also,

Female breadwinners were still expected to do more household chores and child care than their lower-earning male partners; 75 percent of participants said the straight female partner should take care of laundry while only 57 percent assigned it to the lower-earning partner. The only aspect of child care that a slight majority of participants assigned to men was discipline.

Slate continues:

In scenarios involving straight couples, participants had gender outweigh gendered interests when it came to divvying up chores: Women who loved sports still had to do more feminine chores than male partners who baked cookies in their spare time. Among gay couples, lacking a traditional mold in which to shape household labor division, participants’ brains shorted out and defaulted to other recognizable stereotypes: They tasked the more feminine partner of either gender with meeting the physical and emotional needs of children.

To be fair, the author of the Slate article finds this all to be very upsetting. She does not like the fact that gender norms are far more deeply entrenched than she would like.  In itself this tells us that feminist zealots have no real interest in allowing reality to intrude on their illusions. Thus, we are grateful that she is reporting them fairly. That she draws the wrong conclusion—well, nobody’s perfect.


Trigger Warning said...

I really enjoy articles like the one you cite. They always remind me of an incident between my wife and I early in our marriage (we've been happily married 25 years). To add a bit of context to the picture, she is an Ivy League attorney and I have a PhD in physics from a top-tier technical university. More stereotypical white-collar career differences would be difficult to imagine.

Anyway, we went on a wilderness trek for two weeks, portaging through the Quetico backcountry. We did not carry a gas stove, so it was necessary to build a fire every night for cooking. Early days, I built the fire (we had a bit of rain, OK?) and my wife cleaned the dishes and pans. Needless to say, she became concerned about sex roles. A few days in, she demanded that we share fire-building and pot-washing. I was perfectly agreeable. The next evening, it was time to build a fire. She asked me to show her how. I explained that if I "showed her how", then I would be building the fire and washing the pots. I explained that I would happily do one or the other, but not both. Darkness was rapidly approaching (it's very difficult to cook in the pitch dark over a fire), and after a bit of fumbling and a vast waste of matches (match stubs so plentiful I was able to use them to supplement the kindling), we decided that, henceforth, I would build the fires and she would wash the pots. As she discovered, building a fire with damp wood looks easy, just as figure skating or catching a fly ball looks easy. On the other hand, washing a saucepan and two plastic dishes actually is easy.

Reality is hard. Not hard as in "difficult"; hard as in "unyielding".

Truth is what works.
--- William James

AesopFan said...

Interesting juxtaposition of articles this morning - surely FGM is the ultimate in gender stereotyping?

PS to TW - loved the story, but although there is some evidence that male/female brain wiring accounts for "expertise" in chores, I think most of it really is just cultural tradition and family upbrining. If you get more practice at something (for whatever reason) you get better at it, and then you confuse learned skill with innate ability. I know plenty of female camping aficionados who could build the fire just as handily as the guys.

Even if some skill-potential is hard-wired, the chore charts undoubtedly follow the usual overlapping of male & female distributions: that is, some explosion loving women mow lawns, and men bake cookies, but the odds are higher for the reverse.

My rule for couples concerned about division would be: whatever floats your own boats.

Trigger Warning said...

I did not intend to suggest that fire-building was a "male" talent. My youthful interests were simply different from hers. I was not the one who complained about sex stereotypes. It was the echoes of gender indoctrination in her head that complained. As a single man to the age of 40, I was perfectly capable of, and delighted to, wash the dishes.

As it turned out, so was she.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

"Nearly 75 percent of participants thought women in straight couples should be the ones to buy groceries, cook, do laundry, and clean the house; nearly 90 percent thought their male partners should do the auto work and outdoor tasks."

I wonder if gardening is considered an "outdoor task" or does that fit with cooking? I kept a vegetable garden for nearly 20 years in various sibling/roommate situations, while when my girlfriend moved in, I let her take over the garden and cooking. As well, she's content to take out the trash and recycling.

And since my girlfriend doesn't like the basement, its been my job to get clothes washed and dried, while she folds and puts them away. So there does seem to be gender specialization, while not exclusive to a given household function.

As well, the women I've known in general haven't seemed high in bathroom standards, and although my standards are not high, I'll tend to clean surfaces as I observe they need cleaning.

My long bachelor kitchen standards are efficient and simple, tending to reuse a single bowl, plate, spoon, fork, cup with different meals, and just rinsing them off with minimal effort (unless something oily needs some soap) and leaving in the drying rack. My girlfriend on the other hand, between cooking uses a lot more dishes, and tends to leave them in the sink unrinsed for extended periods, which from a sibling I'd complain about, but I see she prefers to hand-wash them all at once and puts them away, so as long as they're not stacked too high disallowing my rinsing, I let her be with that. And we almost never use the dishwasher which I installed when I had roommates.

Overall I think the lesson is clear "Whomever has higher standards does more work" in a given function, and if that creates a gender specialization, it may or may not create a problem.

That is resentment can arise when someone else's standards are lower, so you have to allow things to be undone, or done badly if you don't step forward, but really that's the only way to find out differences and encourage the other to pay attention to what they can do. Work does tend to be reduced when the same person who makes messes also has to clean them up.

Coincidentally my sister claimed yesterday her husband didn't know how to run a clothes washer. She also mows the lawn because he has allergies. I think he's a scam artist.

Or he's like another friend (male) who confided his life advice "Never get too good at any job you don't like doing."

Passive-aggressiveness might be a virtue in the land of Minnesota Nice, depending on who's on the upside. There might be a few good reasons women initiate most divorces.

Home economics could use a raise in status, at least Wendell Berry says so. Its surely hard to feel good about household chores in a world of constant advertisements talking about labor saving products that encourage more wasteful behavior, like single-use disposable dishes or whatever.

Can you imagine how much we could raise our GDP if the government decides to extrapolate a market cost on all unpaid home labor performed. Sadly, they probably already do that. That's how they keep saying productivity keeps rising while wages have been stagnant. We're all wasting more time and money wasting more things we don't need, so we can avoid doing other things marketers say are beneath our dignity.

Trigger Warning said...

"Home economics could use a raise in status..."

I agree. I think everyone should know how to change out a light switch, fix a leaky faucet, and replace a set of windshield wipers.

Oh yeah, and start a campfire. :-)

Anonymous said...

Back in the day when I was raising two little kids, I wanted my son to have the option of being in touch with his 'feminine' side, and for my daughter to have the option of not loving pink. To that end, one Christmas I bought my son a doll and my daughter a truck.

I was wrapping the presents with my dad. I was cutting, folding, taping and he was 'tagging'. When we got to these two particular presents his face dropped when I offered my explanation for the seeming mismatch.

I guess he couldn't believe that his eldest child was so schtupid. "Honey, You're fighting mother nature. The kids are what they are and no amount of idiocy on your part is going to change that."

Sure enough, Christmas morning, my daughter was cradling her truck like a baby, and my son was running the doll, face down on the rug, making truck sounds.

That was my last social experiment.

As it was, my son turned out to be a fabulous baker and does all the cooking in his household. My daughter is quite amazing with tools and figuring out how to fix things and shares those 'duties' with her husband. Seems it's all about individual interest and commitment to excel.

Trigger Warning said...

"Home economics could use a raise in status..."

I agree. I think everyone should know how to change out a light switch, fix a leaky faucet, and replace a set of windshield wipers.

Oh yeah, and start a campfire. :-)

Sam L. said...

The Battle Of The Sexes is fostered by someone on the sidelines saying "you and him fight!"