The things you may be joking about could be hurting your relationship and perpetuating gender stereotypes.
It happens all the time in my extended family. My uncle Frank washes the dishes, and the comments begin:
“Someone take a picture.”
“Holy moly! Are pigs flying?”
“Now, this is a first.”
In three seconds flat, that helpful man has his spirit bent over, and the odds that he’ll come back in that kitchen to do the dishes again are pretty slim.
Now, I am a feminist through and through, and I know what it is to live with the expectation that I and the other women in the room will clean up after a meal, keep the house spotless, tend the children and “their” men, all while looking spectacular and not to mention thin.
I understand why we get snarky when a man shows that first initiative to step into “our” world of work. And I think I understand why men make fun of other men who do things that are considered traditionally “feminine”–it’s a hard thing to challenge stereotypes not to mention patriarchal standards.
But as much as it may be kind of fun and intended to bring a laugh, snark doesn’t help. In fact, it just reinforces the roles that we’ve been plugged into for centuries.
1. Teasing commentary toward a man doing something new doesn’t encourage him to do it again. If I want my uncle Frank to help with dishes, the best thing I can do is say a simple thanks and pick up a towel to dry. Teasing him, calling attention to him, noting what he HASN’T done before is the quickest way to get him back to his old ways.
2. Snide comments about men’s participation in activities that are often considered “women’s work” reinforce the very idea that men do not belong in these roles. If I truly want my husband to know how much I appreciate the fact that he vacuums the house and does the laundry (and he always does), making comments like “About time?” or “Look, he actually knows how to use the washer” sets a hierarchy where I–the woman–know how to do these things, and you “the man” don’t.
3. Critique of men when they do chores, stay home with children, or work in traditionally “female” positions provides a wide opportunity for men to continue to opt out of that work. Most of the men I know are happy to help with packing lunches or dusting; they are eager to take their role as father and partner seriously. But when we criticize how they do something or tell our friends how they turned their underwear pink, we are just providing the men who would rather not change gender expectations an excuse to settle back into the stereotypes.
4. Our comments belittle men and hurt them. Two men I know are stay-at-home dads. They show awesome pictures of their kids doing incredible things. They make meals and change dirty outfits. They rock it. Yet, over and over, people question not only their masculinity but also their ability to parent well. I’ve seen the hurt these men feel. It’s awful.
5. Cutting commentary teaches the children around us that men do some things, and women do others, and stereotypes are passed down. When children see men belittled for vacuuming or cleaning out the cat litter, they begin to perceive that certain activities MUST be done by women. My 9-year-old friend Joseph told me so himself, “Dad’s don’t clean out cat litter.” (Don’t worry. His mom and I had a little chat with him about that one.)
So let’s ditch the snark. After all, we don’t need more Charlie Sheens in the world who not only play TV roles where men are idiots who refuse to take care of themselves let alone others but apparently live out roles where women exist for their services. Nope, we need the men who do the dishes, change the oil, and fold fitted sheets . . . and we need those women, too.
P.S. If you actually know HOW to fold a fitted sheet, please email me a tutorial.
Photo: Flickr/ Lee LeFever