Tolerance level is an…

Tolerance level is an interesting part of this whole housework thing. The article talks about 'gate-keeping', which they seem to be using to mean that women are culturally trained to notice how other people are judging them (on how well their kids are dressed, how clean their house is, whether the thank-you cards got sent out on time, etc.).

So if society conditions women to care a lot more about a variety of household chores -- well, guess what? It's not surprising that the women end up caring more...and then end up doing more, because the guys just don't care as much. Society tells women that that kind of thing is important, and tells men that it isn't.

It's a tough one, because beyond basic hygiene, it's hard to argue that it's *actually* important that the kids' clothes match, or that the toys should get picked up every night (since they'll just come out again the next day). But I think it's not fair to just dump the burden of all that cultural gatekeeping work on women either. I think the solution needs to be in three parts:

a) women try to care less -- if your husband has the kids, for example, and he's dressed them in clothes that don't match and is taking them out to the park -- bite your tongue and let him do it. Don't try to take over the job because 'he's not doing it right' -- acknowledge that this just isn't that important in the grand scheme of what the household needs, and it's a lot more important that mommy gets a break and some time to take a long, hot shower, or write a blog entry. :-)

b) men try to do more of those tasks, whether they care about them or not. So maybe he actually writes the Christmas cards for a change and puts them in the mail. Or he picks up the kids' toys every night and puts them away -- that's one task that we've assigned to Kevin. (Ever go to a party and notice that when it's getting close to time to go, it's the women who get up and start helping the hostess clear up? That's cultural training at work, baby. Make the men do it too!!)

c) women also try not to judge other women (and men) for failing to do essentially unimportant tasks. Because the other side of the coin is that if women are expected to do this kind of work, women also are often the ones enforcing that expectation. We're doing it to ourselves, people!

The key is that it's important for both men and women to recognize and understand that 'caring more' isn't necessarily a good measure for whether someone should do a task -- not when women have been systematically trained by a sexist system to care a hell of a lot more about whether they have a clean house. (Yes, I obsessively clean when people are coming over. Why? Why is it important to have my house look like one pictured in a magazine? Do I really think my friends will care? I'm trying to get over that, but boy, it's hard.)

9 thoughts on “Tolerance level is an…”

  1. Can I suggest adding the following:

    d) men try not to judge women for failing to do essentially unimportant tasks

    Because I would think that just as women are conditioned to care about these things, men are conditioned to be attracted to a woman who cares about them; i.e., a good “mate” who will take care of the home and children and social aspects of the relationship while he’s out “providing for the family.”

    (Which then causes it to swing back around to being women noticing when other women are doing these things, because the followup is that women are essentially in competition for the man.)


  2. Dayle, I wonder if in that direction it’s less “judging” and more about what makes a woman look like a prospective partner? I don’t think (straight, non-radical) men do generally judge women for not doing those tasks. I’ve been the woman who doesn’t do them and whose clothes don’t match and who doesn’t pick up, and I became very aware of when that made me “one of the boys” and thus removed me from the pool of date-able women for many men. Ultimately I think that meant I had more egalitarian partners, but in some contexts it might have meant I’d have no partners at all.

    Mary Anne, I’ve been reading in patches, but I thought gatekeeping was also used to talk about the way women sometimes make their authority into a barrier between their partners and their children? Is that a subset, or am I off base?

  3. Yeah–I’ve been meaning to comment over at Ben’s blog that it seems to me the chore-division thing may get complicated somewhat by the chores that fall into the category you’re talking about: stuff that one person considers essential, and the other considers totally unimportant. (Or, more generally, stuff where the partners disagree on the importance of a task.)

    I think your set of approaches to solutions here are pretty good ones. Speaking from experience, I know it can be easy to resent (or just not notice at all) when my failure to do things I don’t consider important gets a partner or friend upset; but I agree that part of the responsibility for the solution rests on me anyway. If nothing else, I will be happier if my partners and friends are happy.

    …I have lots more to say about this, but I’m in a rush and not really awake yet, so it’ll have to wait.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Dayle, I’m okay with adding #4, but in my experience, it doesn’t come up that often — I don’t think the guys I’ve dated have cared (or even noticed) if I wipe down my counters every day.

    I think men are conditioned to look for other things, by and large. Like big breasts that are somehow still magically perky. :-/ Look at men’s magazines to see what they’re being programmed with, for a start…

  5. Jessie, I agree. I used “judging” to echo Mary Anne’s statements, but I think it’s more about “prospective partner” material.

    Mary Anne, it may not be as far-reaching or even as conscious now, but I found myself thinking of those “how to be a good wife” books from the 1950s. Pretty much anybody I know scoffs at them now, but did some of it sink into our subconscious? I think men don’t notice the details (like, as you say, wiping down the counter), but they might notice the bigger picture: She keeps a nice house, thus she will keep a nice house for me.

    I really don’t know–I’m finding this discussion fascinating! 🙂

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I think we need some guys to weigh in here. Guys? Do you notice a woman’s clean house? Does it affect your interest in her as a lover and/or partner/wife at all? To what degree, if so?

  7. When I was married, we had serious issues of this type. I just did not see or feel that certain things needed doing very often. I have since dated women with a variety of housekeeping values/habits/styles. My soon-to-be wife is a bit neater than I, but not a lot. I am doubtful that it is terribly important to me, unless someone were to be so indifferent that she left scraps of food on the floor for weeks, or some such thing. Everyone has idiosyncrasies, I think. My ex wife was extremely clean and neat to a level that I thought compulsive, EXCEPT that she never scrubbed out the bathtub. If that ever got done, I did it. It just did not seem to matter to her.

  8. This has been a big issue for us, and it’s precisely the kind of thing our list system made a difference about — because it made this difference concretely visible, and forced us to negotiate the terms of engagement.

    Interestingly it also revealed that there are some things that I care about that Esther doesn’t. I will end up obsessing on the functional organization of cabinets, or easy access to storage space, or whatever. I’m more likely to take apart the stove or the garbage disposal once I start cleaning it. Obsessive-compulsive razor focus, thy name is man.

    We basically decided that if it’s important for anyone in the household, it’s valid work. That means you can do all the stuff that’s important for you, and you will get ahead on the list, and your partner will have to scramble to catch up. Which leads to the lovely result that the partner socialized one way goes to the partner socialized the other way and says “I have to catch up on the list but I don’t see any mess — is there anything you want done?” and the other partner says “holy crap YOU DON’T SEE ANY MESS?”

    Which is educational for all concerned.

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