Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I must also be married to a unicorn

Cloud wrote a post on her blog as a rebuttal to a radical feminist saying that women who have children are automatically oppressed because inevitably they have to do all the work of childrearing, housework, etc in addition to whatever other career-related job they might have. Go read her post for the links and details. Really. I'll wait right here.

I started commenting on her post, but then it got too long, so I figured I'd just post about it here instead. It also dovetails nicely with something my friend Jasmine shared with me last night, that she heard in graduate school:

Fair is not equal; it means everyone gets what they need.
How awesome is that? And applicable to so many things in life.

Unicorn Card
Unicorn card from
 Now that you've read Cloud's post and the unicorn of which we are speaking, I'll share that I too am (luckily) married to a unicorn. I am certain that he doesn't think childcare and housework are "women's work". We're talking about a man who rearranged his work schedule so that he could stay home with our baby and we could delay putting her in daycare. Seriously. It doesn't get any better than that.

Back to Jasmine's quote, though. We *don't* have a 50/50 split in our house for childcare and housework. Because in our case, that wouldn't be fair. I work 20 hours outside the home, and he works 50+, easily, commuting all 5 days to my 2. It makes sense for me to do more of the routine house stuff like laundry, dishes, and coordinating our social calendar, since I literally have more time. He handles all the financial stuff (thank god, since it makes my eyes glaze over), car stuff, and things that need to be fixed. Sometimes it makes me giggle at how traditional that is.

Now that I'm not breastfeeding a baby 4 hours a day, changing 10+ diapers a day, and sleeping more than 4 hours at a stretch, this routine is totally working and gasp! fun. Not oppressive.

Things we do split equally: weekend kid stuff, night-waking duty, daycare dropoff/pickup, Little Gym attendance. BabyT prefers Daddy to do bedtime when he's home, so I'm off the hook about half the week *snicker*.

Incidentally, I used to think I'd be jealous if a child of mine said "no! only Daddy!" But in reality, it's awesome. Because that gives me permission to go do something else *I* want to do (like argue with strangers on Facebook!), and giggle at poor Daddy.

It surprises me how many of my mama friends (both SAHM and WOHM) don't seem to have this kind of division of labor and support from their husbands. It seems to be more of a situation where their husbands "help out when they can/need to" but it's a less than ideal situation.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, or maybe that's how "fair" works at their homes. But it makes me sad to hear people talk about how their husbands can't put the baby to sleep, can't cook dinner, or "could never handle baby alone for the weekend".

When we first had BabyT, I felt like *he* was actually better with her than I was. I felt like she was so fragile and floppy and breakable. He has always known that she isn't.

Am I really *that* lucky? I certainly didn't have this as a checkbox on my list when looking for a life partner, though maybe I should have, because it's really important.

So, your turn. Ladies, are you married to a unicorn? Dads, are you that unicorn? Single parents, how did you work this out?


  1. Definitely married to a unicorn. Things are split "fairly", and I am using Jasmine's definition of fairly here. As I have picked up more hours at work, he has picked up more housework. For the record, he takes care of the floors, cooks most nights, does meal planning most of the time, does dishes most of the time and a lot of other small things that I feel like I just don't have the time for. He is also an AMAZING father that loves spending time with his kids.

    Here's the thing. I wouldn't have married anyone that wasn't a unicorn. This was incredibly important to me when I chose my husband. We actually had a conversation about this. I never expected to have to do the child rearing or housework by myself and I wanted to make sure I had a partner that felt the same way.

  2. @Adrianne - you are smart to have talked about it ahead of time. I think I'll add that to my list of advice to give BabyT when she's older. *so* important.

  3. Ditto Adrianne's comments. I would have never married anyone that wasn't a unicorn and I NEVER would have had children with someone who would not be a partner with me. Jon is most definitely a unicorn.

  4. "It surprises me how many of my mama friends (both SAHM and WOHM) don't seem to have this kind of division of labor and support from their husbands."

    Amen, @Anandi. I have no idea how some of my friends who work full time and still have to do it ALL at home, while their lazy husbands sit on their asses, keep from physically harming those jerks - aw hell no!

    ITA with @adrianne's whole second paragraph. My own dad was a unicorn who cooked, cleaned, shopped, did repairs, played with me, etc no complaints, no questions asked, and this was even when my mom was a SAHM for my first 10 years, so no wonder I married someone similar to my own dad's good example.

  5. Thanks for the link! It has been fun reading everyone's responses. I knew my husband wasn't as rare a creature as some people make out... although I do still think he's pretty special!

    It is interesting to think about the role that our Dads played in all of this. My Dad didn't split 50-50, but he didn't loaf, either. He did laundry, got us ready for school (my Mom had to leave for work early), and did housework- we all did, on the weekends. My mom did all the cooking, though, and still does. She flies over to help us out when the kids are sick, and we always joke that my Dad will starve, since not only does he not cook, he seems to have an aversion to the grocery store.

    But with all that said- I still think he set an example that chores were to be split, even if he didn't manage a split that looks fair to me in retrospect. And he (along with my Mom) definitely encouraged me and my sister to follow our dreams.

  6. I too am married to a unicorn. Am lucky lucky lucky!

  7. Hmm. If you're all married to unicorns, what am I married to? A stay-at-home dad to two who does all the housework. So...extraterrestrial unicorn? :P

  8. Very interesting post, An! TJ definitely is a very, very involved dad and partner. When we were first married, our expectations were totally different -- in those days the women took care of household chores and babycare, and that was what I expected. Gradually though, things changed and Appa got more involved with kids and housework!

  9. This post makes me wonder if unicorns can be created. If the woman has faith in her partner - if she expects him to do his share - if she allows him to be a full parent - then will he always rise to the challenge? I like to think so.

  10. "My Dad didn't split 50-50, but he didn't loaf, either. "

    My dad did all the cooking and some childcare but nothing else. He'd rant at my mom for not getting his clothes ironed or laundry done or rooms clean. And there was never any point in cleaning because he'd just mess it up right after. I hated the way people were always telling my mother how lucky she was because OMG, your husband does the cooking. I decided I would not put up with that.

    My husband's father did a lot more because shortly after Ryan was born he threw out his back and had to retrain from blue collar to white collar so my MIL supported the family working while going to nursing school. She had no time for housework on top of everything else, so my FIL picked up the slack.

  11. A pet peeve of mine is seeing the vast majority of women I know or read about publicly proclaim motherhood to be their most important role. So much is implied by this public proclamation that only women feel the need to make - motherhood is our most fulfilling role; we are willing to make big sacrifices for our families (that our husbands will likely not have to make); our careers are no longer a high priority for us.

    The main point of the original feminist post is that our patriarchal society commands us to find ultimate fulfillment in motherhood and to place this role far above others. With society looking approvingly on, we give up our earning power, the pursuit of challenging careers, and the opportunity to have the same power and status as men. She thinks the only way out is to reject motherhood outright.

    But what if we move to a society where, on average, men do as much home and child care as women and women earn half the world's income? (Individual families will each have a unique mix of who does what, but for every stay-at-home mom, there is a stay-at-home dad.) Then I think we don't need to reject motherhood to be able to jointly rule the world with men. (Earning half the income is crucial here; money confers power.)

    Can we show this writer that this world can exist? Yes, but only with families that do not fall into the traditional patriarchal roles. Therefore, in the context of the original post, if a husband is not doing 50% or more of the housework/childcare and if his wife is not earning at least 50% of the household income, then I argue that he is not a unicorn.

  12. @Ginger - I'm glad you chimed in here. I agree with what you've said in theory, but in practice, it's VERY difficult to achieve that. For example, for me to earn 50% of our family's income, I'd need to work full time (45+ hours). If I did that, I have no doubt we'd redistribute chores and housework differently, more towards a 50/50 split.

    But to what end? We'd all be stressed and not be able to spend the amount of time we'd like together 5 out of 7 days a week.

    In an ideal world, TJ and I would BOTH work part-time. But we can't make that work, because his workplace is not as flexible as mine, and quite honestly, that wouldn't be enough $ to cover our expenses.

    I think in that world we're moving towards, we need to have employment that's more flexible, too. With the current "More work = higher rewards" atmosphere, I feel like it's an untenable situation for us to both have high-powered, forward-moving careers.

    But I will say this - it's not society that forced or encouraged me to deprioritize my career.

    I *want* to, not because I think "motherhood" is worth that sacrifice, but because spending time with T is a heck of a lot more fun than poking at spreadsheets all day.

    We discovered we don't need the 2x income, and can get by just fine on 1.5x. In an ideal world, we'd each contribute 0.75x, but that arrangement isn't possible for us. So I'm ok giving up some of the income "power" to pursue what I consider to be an outside interest, just like my creative work.

    Does that make sense?

    I don't disagree with what you say about society definitely putting the burden on moms, and I think that Cloud didn't disagree with that either, but in the real world, a true 50/50 split is hard to achieve, and give people the life they want.

    I blame our American work culture for that, though.

  13. @Lynn - YES, I really do like that line of thinking. I see the opposite of that sometimes, and wonder if people are reaping what they've sown.

  14. @Ginger, FWIW, in my family I do make more than 50% of the money, and I do at most 50% of the housework and parenting work.

    But I actually am also annoyed by the pressure to proclaim that motherhood is my most important role. I even ranted on this topic once, a long time ago:

    What rubbed me the wrong way in Twisty's original post was the fact that she essentially willed me and my husband out of existence. We don't fit her theory of the world, and therefore we do not exist. Worse, she can't even formulate the possibility that the problem she is decrying could be solved by having men do their fair share of work around the house. This is just wrong, and the unrealistic, draconian solution she proposes (we all stop having kids) contributes to the false belief I've heard more and more from younger women- that they have to choose between having a career and having a family, that they can't "have it all" (whatever that is). I actually ranted more on that in last night's post.

    With that said, though, I actually think the most important thing is that the dreams and aspirations of both members of a partnership are viewed as equally important. If one or the other decides to temporarily sacrifice for the good of the family, that is fine- if that is what he or she truly wants to do, and if there is an understanding that this is a sacrifice, not some biologically determined necessity. We shouldn't try to overthrow the patriarchy at the expense of making individuals miserable. I want to live in a world where men and women are true equals- but I also want to live in a world where men and women get choose how we balance the various aspects our lives.

  15. Oh, and one more thing I'd add- I'm uncomfortable with pegging equality to income. I happen to work in a well compensated field, but I think I'd be just as equal with my husband if I worked in a field that was less well compensated, and I certainly don't think that a woman who makes less money than her husband therefore needs to do more housework than he does. Money is a useful proxy sometimes, but it is not the whole story.

    (I'm not saying that you were arguing for this, Ginger- I just felt the need to clarify my last comment.)

  16. My vision of the ideal society is based on averages, not individuals. However, proving Twisty's hyperbole wrong requires examples of individuals bucking patriarchal roles.

    On an individual basis, I whole-heartedly support choice. I agree that we don't each need to earn the same amount as our husbands to achieve gender equality. Freedom to craft one's own life is paramount. Careers ebb and flow, but that doesn't mean inequality. Dreams and aspirations are more important than the blind pursuit of money. I, myself, have two children under two and am currently not working. I'm certainly not going to sacrifice my happiness in an attempt to make a statement against the patriarchy. I have no ground to criticize another's individual choice, nor do I want to. (I really didn't intend any criticism of anyone's choice. I just wanted to gently question the definition of unicorn.)

    I believe that money buys power. (Look at the modern day rise in power of financiers, CEO's, oil moguls, etc.). I don't believe money is a good proxy for the value of an individual's contributions to the world. (Again, look at the financiers.) I want women to share equal world power with men. (Just think of all the great things we could do and the differences we could make!) Therefore, women as a whole are going to need to earn half the world's income. Ideally, I see, on average, women and men making similar choices. Some are driven workaholics. Some run companies. Some win Nobel Prizes. Some stay at home some of the time in devotion to family.

    If Twisty truly believes in her hyperbole that mothers and fathers in non-patriarchal roles do not exist, then she needs to see examples that they do. She's not going to be convinced by those of us who freely choose patriarchal roles, nor will she take our word for it that our husbands really would do more housework if they weren't so busy earning money. She needs to see fathers equally splitting or primarily taking charge of the home and their wives gaining power outside the home. These individuals really do seem to be few and far between. (Cloud, I knew from your original post that you were one of them!)

    I agree with Twisty that culture pushes us into certain roles, and I wonder how much we are really "choosing" these roles. Again, I'm including myself here. And, finally, if men on average were doing half the housework/childcare, I promise you, Anandi, we would have the corporate flexibility that we crave. The ones in power make the rules. That's why we need to find some way to transfer more of that power to women.

  17. Anandi - I neglected to tell you that I admire you and your husband for achieving non-conventional, flexible work schedules from your employers. It's inspirational. I've taken your blog post on how you did this to heart and plan to use your advice to get what I want from future employers. I love it that you are actively crafting a life that you want!

  18. I love you guys and your smart comments. Speaking of women in power doing awesome things/changing the world, I heard that Hillary Clinton is meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi this week. Neat.

    Ginger, I know you were talking about averages. No issues at all with your statements, but in thinking of all of my friends' situations where someone is making a sacrifice in their career, it is usually the woman. (LL is the exception here.) And I think that comes down to pay most of the time, or the fact that the woman tends to work in a more flexible workplace.

    So yeah, there are problems with "the system" for sure. But I kind of wonder if there's something else going on too. I noticed a definite shift in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy where I was seriously considering either not coming back to work after mat leave or reducing my schedule, neither of which I had ever though of doing before that, since I liked my career quite a bit.

    And once I did get back to work, the mojo was gone. I'm on a great team and I like what I do, but I don't *love* it like I love being with T. I'm sure that's true for some men too (a male lawyer friend of mine recently made a quote about how the last 3 months since he had a child made everything else he'd done before seem like a waste of time - I love that!)

    And yes, in our family we did discuss which of us should stay home and we equally considered both.

    I guess my rambling is coming around to the point that it's really hard to make your personal choices "for the greater good". I know folks here aren't advocating that, but when I see these lofty feminist theory articles like Twisty's, it just doesn't ring true for me. My family will always win over "the sisterhood".

    But maybe there are others out there for whom that's not true, and there are obviously others who prioritize work and family differently, or their balance is much more different than my social circle (which I will admit is pretty homogeneous in a lot of ways.) And like any job, there are people who are much more suited to staying home with their kids for long periods than others and those who prefer to outsource tasks vs DIY.

    But I am at a loss for how to change this in the world, when doing the feminist thing is not the thing that makes me/my family happy. And I don't think I'm alone in this.

  19. I make about 20K more than my DH and I do less housework. But that's mainly because I'm generally lazy and selfish, not because of bargaining power within the household. I'm not even sure my DH knows he makes less money than I do.


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