Friday, February 28, 2014

Feminist Marriages: More Equality, Less Sex?

I wanted to write on this quite some time ago but the person who reviews my paid work had different ideas about my priorities. So this is a modified and much mellower version of the original post. The idea expressed in the post title is something that's been floating around the blog-o-sphere for quite some time. It finally penetrated the firmament of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. When I read this recent article I thought I was in a real life Geico commercial. Because I thought everyone already knew that. It seems that whatever the benefits of "egalitarian" style marriages may be, more sex and less divorce aren't among them. Surprisingly, it appears that heterosexual women may have some unacknowledged preferences for a certain level of well, difference and maybe even virility or dominance (shut your mouth!!!) in their husbands. As this finding very much does not comport with the modern progressive orthodoxy regarding house husbands, 50/50 sharing of chores, lean in bromides and the fiction that men and women are exactly the same except for internal plumbing, some of the people quoted in the article seemed to be suffering from very bad cases of cognitive dissonance.

I wrote previously on how there are some household tasks which are (often arbitrarily) considered more masculine. It seems that some women, or at least some married women agree. Whether we believe that it's mostly biological, mostly cultural, or imo some combination of the two, it appears that men and women appreciate each other's differences and look for a partner that exhibits divergent characteristics. According to the fascinating article quoted below a husband who becomes too similar to his wife or to put it another way a man who is too complaisant and gallant runs the very real risk of discovering what a Stephen King character ruefully noted in the book Joyland : "What I know now is that gallant young men rarely get *****. Put it on a sampler and hang it in your kitchen".

A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.
The chores study seems to show that women do want their husbands to help out — just in gender-specific ways. Couples in which the husband did plenty of traditionally male chores reported a 17.5 percent higher frequency of sexual intercourse than those in which the husband did none. These findings, Brines says, “might have something to do with the fact that the traditional behaviors that men and women enact feed into associations that people have about masculinity and femininity.” 
As Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to “lean in” — by which she means that they should make a determined effort to push forward in their careers — it may seem as if women are truly becoming, as Gloria Steinem put it, “the men we want to marry.” But these professional shifts seem to influence marital stability. A study put out last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that if a wife earns more than her husband, the couple are 15 percent less likely to report that their marriage is very happy; 32 percent more likely to report marital troubles in the past year; and 46 percent more likely to have discussed separating in the past year. Similarly, Lynn Prince Cooke found that though sharing breadwinning and household duties decreases the likelihood of divorce, that’s true only up to a point. If a wife earns more than her husband, the risk of divorce increases. Interestingly, Cooke’s study shows that the predicted risk of divorce is lowest when the husband does 40 percent of the housework and the wife earns 40 percent of the income.

Of course studies are like opinions. Everyone has one. And statistics only apply to populations, not individuals. There must be a wife who is ecstatic to have her husband darning socks, fixing dinner, making quilts and cleaning the toilet while she changes the oil in the family car, cleans the gutters or installs the new sump pump. And I know for a fact there are husbands who are pleased as punch that their wife earns multiples of what they do, giving them the opportunity to stay at home with the kids or work for years on the Great American Novel that they somehow never complete. 

Stories like this reinforce why I think the great feminist dystopia "utopia" will never arrive although some people continue to argue that if we just use more corporate and government coercion incentives we'll get there. Although in total men and women are much more alike than we are different, we do seem to prefer different characteristics in our significant others. This is primarily biological in my view although different cultures express it differently. And these different preferences, minor though they are overall, drive marriage, mating, and what sort of jobs people look for.

In other words, women and men bear equal responsibility for how social relations work. It is logically impossible for women (as a group) to want total pay equity in the workplace but continue (as individuals) to be attracted to men who earn more money and/or express more dominance than they do. The incentives don't match. What is good in the public arena of work is apparently not so good in the private arena of relationships. I think that the best that society can do is to ensure workplace equal opportunity regardless of gender, race, sexuality, etc. Equal results, based on how they are defined, may remain ephemeral. And that may be ok.


blog comments powered by Disqus