The Immense Value of Giving Men More Control of Household Tasks

As women are experiencing the satisfaction that comes from a professional career, men should also get to know the joy of investing in home life.

When my husband, Andy, and I were first together as a couple in the early 1990s, before we were married, we started giving dinner parties. While growing up I had resolutely avoided learning to cook (or to do anything else domestic). But coming from a Belgian family I was an inveterate foodie from birth, and in graduate school I at least learned how to put together a decent dinner. Andy, on the other hand, had not progressed far beyond graduate school minimalism in the kitchen, so I set him to work as a sous-chef, following various recipes.

It quickly became apparent that my vaunted multi-tasking skills (taking a phone call, jotting notes to myself on something I was writing, making a list for the next day, and chopping vegetables all at the same time) compared very unfavorably with his single-minded focus on getting the culinary job done. After only a few times together in the kitchen he firmly took over the role as head chef. He is now the cook-in-chief not only for dinner parties and family holidays but also for whenever the kids need dinner on the table. (I remain a decent baker and cook a mean breakfast, but otherwise I cheerfully cede the ground.)

Memories of our early gender-role reversal in the kitchen came to mind this week as I read Lisa Miller's article "The Retro Wife" in New York Magazine and some excellent follow up commentary. Miller's piece is subtitled "Feminists who say they're having it all--by choosing to stay home." It opens with the story of Kelly Makino, a New Jersey stay-at-home mom and self-professed feminist who grew up wanting to be first a CIA operative and then a CEO but decided to leave the workforce after she had her second child. Nothing surprising there, but her rationale got lots of people buzzing. Here's an excerpt:

The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so 'women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.' Women, she believes, are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multi-taskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums; 'women,' she says, 'keep it together better than guys do.'

The heart of Miller's argument is that whereas second-wave feminism got women out of the home and into the workplace, a new generation of young feminists is making a revolution in the home, embracing traditional gender roles as a better way of living, allowing them far more control over and satisfaction with parenting and homemaking. The piece offers enough material to chew over for several posts, but what I want to focus on here is women's sexism with respect to how men parent. Miller raises this issue, discussing her own feelings and providing a wealth of anecdotes about women who know they are better at multi-tasking and often just assume they are going to be so much better and faster than their husbands at doing household chores that they just do these tasks themselves.

Abigail Rine weighed in with a terrific post called "Feminist Housedude," complete with a picture of her bearded, tattooed husband vacuuming with their son strapped to his chest. She describes her husband as "a cloth-diapering wizard, an amazing cook, a master gardener," explaining that he has established a "seamless rhythm" with their son that is "simply beautiful to witness." The dads who write for Dadwagon have been insisting on many of the same points - that they are not only just as good as their wives but often better. Matt Vilano wrote a great post on Motherlode entitled "I hate being called a good dad," pointing out that women stop all the time and tell him what a good dad he is when he is doing absolutely basic parenting tasks for his daughters. He notes the "heinous double standard," that he is praised for behavior that in a mother would be regarded as routine, and that "the act of labeling someone 'a good dad' suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than 'good.'"

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Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president of the New America Foundation and the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. More

From 2009-2011, Slaughter served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, the first woman to hold that position. After leaving the State Department, she received the Secretary's Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor conferred by the State Department, for her work leading the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. She also received a Meritorious Honor Award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Prior to her government service, Slaughter was the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs from 2002-2009. She has written or edited six books, including A New World Order (2004) and The Idea That Is America: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World (2007). From 1994-2002, Slaughter was the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law and director of the International Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School. She received a B.A. from Princeton, an M.Phil and D.Phil in international relations from Oxford, where she was a Daniel M. Sachs Scholar, and a J.D. from Harvard.

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