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Wifework- I don't get it...

(202 Posts)
louloutheshamed Mon 12-Aug-13 18:41:11

I have lurked here for a while and thought I'd try and boost my feminist credentials by doing some reading. So i read delusions of gender which I loved, I felt it articulated a lot I what I feel and experience in my life.

I have moved onto wifework and I'm just a bit baffled by it. It's Fascinating and coherently argued but the thing is I just don't recognise her description of marriage in my own marriage or those of many of my friends and peers. A typical husband as she describes would be generally accepted as a useless sorry waste of space by me and my friends, we just would not accept it. obviously I know these types
Of husbands/marriages exist but they are generally accepted to be crap. So many threads in relationships describe unequal
Partnerships but then there is always virtually a unanimous Condemnation of this behaviour by other posters.

I accept that I am slightly unusual in that I work full time and my husband went pt on the birth of my son. He does huge amounts of what is described as 'wifework' in the book, probably more than me. Moushart often starts sentences with 'I don't suppose there is a woman alive who hasn't experienced this..." and I am Screaming "well I haven't!!"

Perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule but it doesn't feel Like it in my experience. I don't even recognise my parents or in laws marriages in it as much as she suggests...

I also think, having read delusions first, that Moushart relies a lot on 'essentialist' (not sure if that is correct term) differences between genders rather than social constructs. I find it all a bit negative and bitter. When she describes how when she first got married suddenly felt like she had to be a domestic goddess type-??? I just felt like saying 'more fool you!'

Can anyone enlighten me as to what I am missing?

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Tue 13-Aug-13 22:17:24

zut - glad it made sense!

In general, I think it's pretty important to remember this stuff is very, very, very ingrained.

So much so that petey (hope it's ok to use you as an example, but you seem a pretty robust type so I figure you will not) is holding two positions simultaneously. She's thinking 'wow, DH and I must have such a cool equal relationship! We don't struggle with this stuff, amazing!' and she's also thinking 'my mum was strident. I was selfish and lazy. Other women have been putting up with this for 20 years - that's a long time to wait'.

This is what's called cognitive dissonance. I can't explain it that well, but basically it is a coping strategy. It's where you have to believe two contradictory things, because if you admitted they were contradictory, you'd have to think about what was going wrong.

Women who want equality aren't 'strident'. Waiting 20 years for a relationship to be equal is a teeny, tiny blink of an eye when you look at what's going on in wider society. Yet we force ourselves to believe these things - that mostly, women are 'strident' or 'nagging' or 'have high standards', and simultaneously, that sexism is a trifling problem swiftly solved.

It is both a normal coping strategy, and very difficult to see your way out of, because it's so much easier to keep clinging to a coping strategy if it makes you not have to question what's going on.

IWasAshamed Tue 13-Aug-13 22:05:07

Well actually my DH is OK with it! It's me who is struggling and feeling that 'I am letting everyone down, especially the dcs', even though I will do that for 9 months and DH has done the same for 7 years! As if being with their dad wasn't good enough and I had to be there hmm

And I agree about the over estimate. I am certainly guilty of that one too. After years of nagging convincing DH to be doing a fair share of the HW, we are getting there and now I sometimes feels guilty about ho much he is doing. That is until I am reminding myself about how much I am doing too!

And that's the thing isn't it? Even when you are convinced about equality, even if you are a 'feminist' sometimes going against all the things that society has taught re who is doing what is very hard to shift.
And then my 9yo comes home telling me it's normal that 'women do all the HW' and that's how things are working everywhere except in our family. Arrrg

BasilBabyEater Tue 13-Aug-13 21:25:43

Just an observation on the proportion of housework thing, men tend to over-estimate how much housework they do compared to women (and actually, women over-estimate how much men are doing as well).

I remember reading a research study which showed how when couples were asked what the balance of domestic labour was, the man would say 50:50, the woman would say 65:35, with me doing the 65% and when the researchers actually went in and monitored it over a period of time, it turned out to be 75-80:25-20 with guess who doing the 75-80%?

It's a bit like the old Samuel Johnson quote about a dog or woman preaching - just the fact that they're doing it at all is so staggering that what they're actually saying is neither here nor there. Men and women are so impressed by the fact that men are doing housework, that they wildly over-estimate the amount men are doing.

Similar to the wild over-estimation that goes on when women talk in meetings - everyone assumes women dominated the meeting when they did 35% of the talking.

Expectations skew perceptions.

ZutAlorsDidier Tue 13-Aug-13 21:13:22

IWasAshamed, how does your dh feel about it?

LRD's insight before has been like a bomb going off in my head. i have remembered so many conversations in the past before I had children where my friends have been talking unguardedly to me about the reality of having babies, with their partners in the room, and the partner having a strop. One of them got so angry left the house banging a door, and I asked "what will he do? When will he come back?" and my friend said "I don't know! he has never done this before!" and burst into tears. After that one I made a mental (and physical actually, I wrote it in my notebook) note not to talk about the realities of housework and childcare in other people's relationships in front of their men.

Anyway LRD has expressed what was enraging them so much. I saw it but couldn't articulate the syllogism so precisely. They are all decent lefty supposedly pro-feminist types who simply could not bear the exposure of what shits they were unconsciously being. Their wives were too gentle and tired and kind to put them through it; probably meant to sort it out one day; the single friend bounces up, drinks 2 glasses of wine, everyone is talking freely like they did in college, and you know what, humankind cannot bear very much reality.

"I am a good man. Good men do not leave all the shit work to their wives. therefore I do not. Therefore this is wrong. but they are saying it! So I am angry!"

I hypothesised that this double think is actually worse in the lefty "conscious" types. You can accuse some men of being sexist and they would laugh and say "so what". Some of them you could say "because it hurts me. Do you love me?" and then you might get somewhere. If you have the sort of man who believes he could never ever ever be sexist ever, how do you even get into this conversation? It can't be said. It can't be suggested.

Sorry about this epic ramble. I have never talked about this before.

IWasAshamed Tue 13-Aug-13 20:55:47

The thing that has been rattling me recently is to do with work.
DH: started to work away 4 days a week 2 weeks before dc1 was born hmm.
Response: it's for work, it's normal. His wife will be at home with a young baby but that's OK.
Me: a few years later, I am now working evenings 4 days a week so not back until 8.00pm.
Response: That means DH is seen a 'God' because he will be doing all the HW, childcare etc... 4 days a week.

The worst thng is that I do feel guilty about it hmm

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Tue 13-Aug-13 20:40:27

Snails - slugs with pretensions.

ZutAlorsDidier Tue 13-Aug-13 20:33:47

Petey thinks her relationship is perfect, but what we don't know is what forum MrPetey is on, battering the keyboard: "she just doesn't get it, she thinks the work does itself, when I try to talk to her about she interrupts and misses the point and says "just go to zumba like me", I don't want to leave her but I can't get through to her"

AnyOldFucker Tue 13-Aug-13 20:33:16

I hate them bastard snails

Loopytiles Tue 13-Aug-13 20:28:34

Really interesting thread.

Sorry to go off topic, but "snails: Agents of the patriarchy, the crunchy little fuckers"grin

I've always felt guilty about accidentally squashing them, they're everywhere round our way. Have gone so far as to move them to safety. But thanks to MN will do so no more!

AnyOldFucker Tue 13-Aug-13 18:11:01

You're quite the piece of work, petey.

peteypiranha Tue 13-Aug-13 18:06:36

Its because you have been trying for 20 years and still havent managed total equality in the home anyfucker. Thats a very long time of having to wait, good luck with it.

ZutAlorsDidier Tue 13-Aug-13 18:05:45

Yes. He does, but with a very short commute.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Tue 13-Aug-13 18:01:07

What you say makes a lot of sense Zut. It's a twist on the old 'What Women Do' issue.

The business of running a home and looking after children is tiring and exhausting and relentless. But there is very little to point at and say "I did this today".

What often happens is that that woman is doing a lot of that stuff and not getting support, or being valued.

What seems to be happening to you is that your DH is doing a lot of that stuff (because of the longer hours you work) and, because inherently he doesn't value that work, he is frustrated that it is hard. He feels he must be doing someone else's share too, or this would be easy. So he's resentful as hell.

Does that make any sense?

I honestly don't understand how you change it without either leaving him or getting him to understand though sad

Sorry if I missed this, but you said your DP does drop off and pick up. Does he have a job for between those hours?

grimbletart Tue 13-Aug-13 17:58:56

Hi Zut. It sounds as if your bloke has what I call "I'll dry up for you" syndrome i.e. subconsciously he doesn't see what he is doing as something he and you both do for "us" but as something he does for "you" what with you being female and all and therefore in position of the housework gene. So his whole context is skewed, thus the unjustified resentment.

I've never been one for hard-wired biology but I am beginning to think there is also a gene for feeling guilty that is only on the X chromosome and only passed on to daughters! grin

LRD - know exactly what you mean. Functioning on autopilot.

AnyOldFucker Tue 13-Aug-13 17:47:13

petey, has this ever happened to you ?

you are in a pub with a bunch of like minded people getting to the crux of a really good session of putting the world to rights

then someone joins in, with a "that's enough about you, what do you think about me" kinda vibe

everyone rolls their eyes and fixes the interloper with a stony faced stare, but he/she doesn't know when to withdraw gracefully and blusters on with some yap that makes it clear there is no real understanding just a white noise and a void between the ears

that's you, that is smile

AnyOldFucker Tue 13-Aug-13 17:41:57

can I let go now, Zut, my bloody arms are aching and I have cramp

ZutAlorsDidier Tue 13-Aug-13 17:36:58

And Amanda, thanks for your post. I don't know what dp thinks about any of this consciously, part of the problem is we can't get at any of this explicitly, it is such a seething impassable area of heat and pain

I do believe I know a lot about what his attitudes are derived from unconsciously, but I doubt that any good could come of my attempting to explore any of this with him! Only if it could be done socratically - I doubt it

ZutAlorsDidier Tue 13-Aug-13 17:35:13

Fucking hell, LRD, this is a genius insight:

"My DH thinks 'I'm good round the house, task x needs doing regularly, therefore I do it regularly'. "

that is exactly it. It is the corollary of the recognised psychological process where a person's values reflect their behaviour, rather than the other way around (as we tend to believe: it is not that we think "debt is ok nowadays, so I will put the supermarket stuff on a credit card" - it is more likely to be "I have to put the supermarket shop on a credit card this month, so I am going to have to believe that there is nothing wrong with debt").

That is exactly the thought process that we have about so many things that he thinks he does: "I am a good man, good men do their share at home, therefore I must be doing my share" - except that I think in his case it goes a bit further too, into something like "it is normal to do a fair share, I am so tired, this can't be normal, I don't know any other men who do this much, therefore I am doing her work" - all unconscious, naturally.

I think there is even some very unconscious contempt for the work itself - that it is so hard and demanding and tiring must be wrong when he does it, because he is a strong clever man - so that it is so draining means something has wronged him, and what could that something be but me?
(because it is draining - I get that - but it was never the work's fault that it was draining when I was doing it, on mat leave- it was my fault for being a weak and feeble woman - never ever said, merely implied occasionally)

It is of course completely normal for women to be exhausted, and this is one of the most important insights of Wifework: don't compare what the man does to what other men do, but to what women do. does it still look ok?

Blistory has some great insights too

and thanks for holding me down anyfucker!

Petey, I forgive you for being an idiot

peteypiranha Tue 13-Aug-13 17:31:01

I can see why people in your situation do that LRD and can see thats what zut has done she feels guilty for leisure time when he has relaxing time, but still feels there is no time to carve out for herself. That is why the man is moaning he knows it, but doesnt want to lose the leisure time he has or share it. He is also unwilling to help his wife who he can see is struggling. Call him out on him zut channel your anger you used on me to him.

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Tue 13-Aug-13 17:15:54

Shit, sorry for the essay.

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Tue 13-Aug-13 17:15:38

Sorry to ignore a few posts, but, zut, what you said really struck me.

It is just so depressing - I think what you describe is exactly the reason why so many of us just find it easier to put our heads in the sand and pretend it's all fine. Because it is almost easier, isn't it? To say, yes, love, you are brilliant and you have done so much work, that's what society is telling you and it's easier for me to agree.

I really relate to what you said about time to sit down, actually. I think it's so ingrained in us to feel lazy when we do that. I have a persistent argument with DH (which I'm slowly getting there with), that I have to explain to him that if I argue the toss about the fact he hasn't do x and should have done it, and then I sit down and he grudgingly goes and does it, that is really, really, really not relaxing. And what I would like would be not to have the row in the first place.

I wonder if perhaps some of it comes down to the fact your DH is genuinely not perceiving things the same way you do? You might both be seeing things that aren't happening - because we do that, it's a normal human thing, it's been studied.

I've had conversations with DH where I completely lose my shit, because he is absolutely convinced that he's done task x regularly. I honestly don't think he's gaslighting me - I've been gaslighted (gaslit?) and it's not as simple as that. He genuinely thinks he remembers doing it pretty recently.

Yet, if I deliberately stop doing it, it stays undone. And his initial reaction isn't 'shit, I must have forgotten to do something I thought I did quite often', it's 'huh?! How did that happen?!'. Because I think he quite honestly believes he does task x regularly.

I know it sounds as if I think my DH is uncommonly stupid (I don't), or as if I'm kidding myself. But this is similar to the ways our brains work in all sorts of contexts. If you ask the average driver 'did you stop at the red light?' he or she will say yes. Because drivers believe they stop at red lights. But it's not something we consciously remember every time we do it, and patently, sometimes people run red lights without meaning to. I imagine most people have seen someone calmly run a red, or have had to screech 'the light's red!' at a driver who's on autopilot.

My DH thinks 'I'm good round the house, task x needs doing regularly, therefore I do it regularly'. I need to find a way to demonstrate that this isn't always true. My current way is to demonstrate that, when I do n't do it, it stays undone. This produces a conflict every single time. The conflicts are getting smaller.

It would take immensely less energy and stress for me simply to do task x, and DH would still be a 'good' man who does more housework than average, and if I wanted to hide my head in the sand, I could probably convince myself 'oh, yes, he does loads, in fact, probably more than me, lol!'


peteypiranha Tue 13-Aug-13 17:13:18

He has long evenings listening to music and reading whicg I cant have without feeling like wreck the next day is whst was said. She still then gets up earlier than him loading dishwasher and god knows what else. Its unfair.

Blistory Tue 13-Aug-13 17:10:13

No Petey, he seems to do a fair share but he resents it and resents her for him having to do it. He thinks that he is doing her work essentially and that she should be grateful and more appreciative. He doesn't see it as 'their' work. And she has to deal with his resentment, her guilt and the pressure it's putting them both under.

His resentment is unfair and a form of sexism. Her guilt is also something that only women tend to feel. He doesn't suffer from that.

Again, well done you for making it work in your life but this isn't about your life.

Sorry Zut, don't mean to talk about your relationship

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Tue 13-Aug-13 17:09:57


Sorry for such a difficult situation. It must be very hard. I have inequality in a different way at the moment because I am a SAHM with a DH who works away a lot. So there are days when I 'work' a very long day. But equally I know that he does too those days. I do worry, however, that when I return to work it could be difficult to rebalance our tasks.

Sorry, that was just by way of introducing myself.

Do you think your DH realises he is resentful. Or whether it simply conditioned into him so he has never addressed his feelings at an objective levell? When people post those awful 'my DH doesn't help around the house' threads there are often practical solutions offered like lists of tasks. But I think that that only works if both parties are striving towards harmonious equality and struggling on the implementation. If his problem is basically attitude, I think the first thing you have to work out is whether it's conscious attitude or not.

Does that make sense?

peteypiranha Tue 13-Aug-13 17:04:18

She doesnt have an equal workload in the slightest she says he has time to listen to music and she has to go to bed earlier to get up earlier than him for chores? That is not an equal workload I am afraid.

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