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Working mothers perpetuating myth of ‘the useless man’ to feel more feminine
Working women are perpetuating the myth of ‘the useless man’, who does little housework, to make themselves feel more feminine, new research claims.
Published: 11:46AM GMT 22 Nov 2009
A scientific paper called The Female Breadwinner, to be published in the journal Sex Roles this week, details the feelings of 15,000 female career women.
The findings suggest the idea of men as slackers has been developed by women who feel “an overwhelming sense of guilt” at having a career rather than fulfilling their traditional gender role of wife and mother.
Researcher Dr Rebecca Meisenbach said her theory was reinforced by the fact that the only women who did not feel strongly responsible for looking after the home were those who did not have children under 18.
“Housework represents an interesting juxtaposition of control,” she said.
“On one level, women described retaining control over housework. They talked about their partners contributing to domestic chores, but almost always in response to being asked or told to do the task by the wife.
“They all gendered their partners’ behaviour with comments like ‘He’s a man, they don’t see that there is a mess’ and ‘My husband’s a guy. He picks and chooses what chores he does’.
“But by gendering his behaviour, they were also gendering their own as women and mothers, instead of breadwinners.
“Working women who provide the majority of the household’s income to the family continue to articulate themselves as the ones who ‘see’ household messes and needs as a way to retain claims to an element of a traditional feminine identity.”
Dr Meisenbach, of Missouri University, found most career women enjoyed the power that their status as earners gave them.
“I didn’t find female breadwinners deferred their power to their husbands at all,” she said.
“Over 60 per cent said they enjoyed the control they experienced, explicitly noting how they were happily different from the ‘1950s housewife’ or even from female friends within the traditional gender norms.
“By highlighting stories of how men have to be told or asked to do specific chores in the home, these female breadwinners are making sure they still fit gender boundaries of a wife as someone who manages the home and children.
“By directing the housework done by their husbands, they maintain a sense of control over the traditionally feminine sphere of the home.”
A report in 2007 found that only 14 per cent of British homes had a female breadwinner, but predicted this would double by 2030.
So, who do women think does all the work?
The idea of ‘useless man’ has at last been revealed as a feminist myth, says James Delingpole .
By James Delingpole
Published: 6:41AM GMT 24 Nov 2009
The elusive spanner fairy? Photo: John Robertson
Do you have any Spanner Fairies in your household? In our home we’ve got loads. We must do, for I can’t think of any other explanation as to how all the tedious male-oriented chores get done. It’s the Spanner Fairies who go round the house last thing at night, checking the downstairs doors and windows are locked; and it’s the Spanner Fairies who are in charge of putting out the rubbish and getting the car fixed and taxed and MOT-ed.
The Spanner Fairies also take care of specialist tasks like watching Boy play in rugger matches and buying Girl musical instruments. And they are the biggest contributor to the household budget, slogging their guts out day-in, day-out so that delightful Wife, adorable Kids, and utterly useless, lazy Husband can be watered, fed and housed.
So why, you ask, don’t these poor Spanner Fairies get more credit? Funny, I was going to ask exactly the same thing, till I heard about a fascinating report published this week in the journal Sex Roles.
This report, based on interviews with 15,000 working women, casts intriguing new light on the relationship between men and women. It seems that the idea of the “useless man” slobbing around the home while his woman does all the work is nothing but a post-feminist myth. According to Rebecca Meisenbach, from Missouri University, it has been propagated by women who feel “an overwhelming sense of guilt” at having a career, rather than fulfilling their traditional gender role of wife and mother.
Naturally, there’s a part of me that would like to congratulate Dr Meisenbach. After four decades of feminist drivel stigmatising men as inept, workshy, uncommunicative neanderthals whose only significant inventions are rape and war, it’s about time someone spoke up in our defence.
Consider how men are now portrayed in films, books, adverts, and sitcoms from Men Behaving Badly to Friends: always it’s the boys who are feckless, one-track-minded, chauvinistic and basic, while the girls are invariably the much put-upon omnicompetents who do all the real work and make everything right in the end.
You’d never guess from all this that men had written the complete works of Shakespeare, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, climbed Everest, discovered electricity, invented the internal combustion engine and decoded DNA. Nor that, every now and then over the years, we have made perfectly good husbands, fathers and grandparents.
So yes, up to a point, I would agree with Dr Meisenbach’s conclusion: whether we’re changing lightbulbs, breeding strapping offspring or creating great works of art, we men really are much more useful than our womenfolk give us credit for.
Where she goes wrong, though, is in suggesting that women grumbling about how little men do round the house is a new phenomenon, borne out of some weird psychological response to their dual role as career women/housewives. I would say that it’s just another case of women doing what they’ve always done.
If you don’t believe me, try breeding a daughter. From almost the moment she can speak, she will dedicate her tiny life to bossing Daddy around, telling him where he’s going wrong and ordering him to do chores – often ganging up with Mummy in sisterly solidarity to mock and diminish Daddy’s supposedly pathetic achievements.
This isn’t learned behaviour; this is hardwired into the female system. A woman’s work is never done – and boy, doesn’t she just love to remind us of the fact. But when her mate performs similar wonders, his only reward is his own virtue. After all, it wasn’t really the man who did those boring domestic tasks, was it? It was those wondrous, perpetually unappreciated Spanner Fairies.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is
striking at the root.” — Henry David Thoreau