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A Special Message for Men: Do Your Share

As noted in my previous post, our recent article on housework caught the attention of some feminist-scientist bloggers in a not-entirely-positive way. The result: a hundred or so comments on the blog of Dr. Isis, a few comments on that earlier post on the Science Careers blog, and brief mentions on a couple of other blogs.

One point that was made in a comment on the Isis blog by (among others) one Dr. FabulousShoes is that we should have pointed out more forcefully that it’s not OK that women have more domestic responsibilities than men. Here’s how Dr. Fab put it:

My point was parallel (I think) to Dr. Isis’s – that by refusing to
point out that these things aren’t fair and that they should not
continue makes it more likely to continue.

OK, my bad. I thought it was completely obvious that these things aren’t fair — does that really need to be pointed out again and again? I didn’t think so — and anyway, I’m sure the message is at least implicit in the article — but maybe I was wrong, and maybe implicit isn’t good enough.

So, men, just so you know, if you didn’t already: It’s not OK to expect your professional (perhaps scientist) wife to do more housework than you just because she’ s a woman. It’s not fair, OK? And it’s not OK to just cruise along, taking advantage of a favorable situation you happen to have fallen into. Even if she’s willing to do more than her share, insist on doing yours, OK? This is especially important at critical career stages, such as the probationary faculty period, or just before a big grant proposal is due. But it’s just as true at lower-stress times — that is, pretty much always.

To the critics reading this: Please know that I do not believe that by writing this I have fully dispatched my obligations. Those obligations are ongoing, and I will strive to meet them.

I feel compelled to add, as I have written in many blog-post comments over the last few days, that I deeply respect the value and autonomy of individual relationships — and this, too, is an important part of this calculation. Asking a woman to do more because she is a woman is never fair. But personal relationships are not appropriate places for philosophers or career advisers to lurk. It’s up to each couple — not me, not feminist critics, not tradition — to negotiate housekeeping, childcare, or other domestic responsibilities, and the other aspects of personal relationships. The goal is for those choices to be freely made and not coerced. So men, and women: It’s up to you and your partner to set the terms, but please make sure those decisions are made as freely as can be achieved. Such decisions are never made “in a vacuum,” as Dr. Fab put it. There are always social pressures. But within the context of your relationship, you can ease those pressures by being supportive of your partner and helping them to choose — or, rather, to negotiate with you, from a position of strength, a domestic arrangement that works well for both partners.  

This is the opinion of me, Jim Austin, the editor of Science Careers. It not a statement of official Science or AAAS policy.

Thanks for your attention. You may go back to whatever you were doing.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

One comment on “A Special Message for Men: Do Your Share”

  1. Dr.FabulousShoes

    Yes. It needs to be said. Again and again and again. If done right, it will feel like banging your head against the wall. And, because you love your wife and children, you’ll do it gladly. Until people who are offended that I am the surgeon and my husband is the homekeeper at least learn to keep their opinions to themselves. Because they so don’t. But you knew that.
    In your defense, my husband needs to be reminded too. His response to your article: “Why would women feel guilty? Their partners should for not helping out an obviously harried person they care about.” “You forget that some people don’t think women’s work such as housework and childcare are important and therefore don’t see women as important.” “Damn it. I forgot people are assholes again.”
    But, thank you for realizing it and saying it. I agree, it shouldn’t have to be said. But until women aren’t expected (and therefore the ones to feel guilty) to take care of the home, we’re all going to have to say it.

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