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Men Doing Housework: Hot or Not?

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Sociologists have just served up an egalitarian nightmare. Husbands across America are tittering right now over a new report which shows that the more housework men do, the less they get it on with their wives. The study, published in the American Sociological Review, divided tasks into what has traditionally been considered "women's work" and stuff thought of as "men's work." The evidence demonstrated that men who perform traditionally female tasks have sex three times a month comparied to about five times a month for those who don't. The researchers assumed that women were the traditional toilet scrubbers, dish washers, meal preppers, and kiddie caretakers, whereas men were the lawn mowers and the fixers-of-stuff-that-gets-broken.

Like me, your first thought might be: How the hell did they measure this? Over at Boston.com, Deborah Kotz had the same thought and raised questions about two-decades-old data used by the researchers, who hailed from the Juan March Institute in Spain and the University of Washington. The study authors admitted that this was a problem their report.

The researchers also found that in married couples where women did the bulk of "men’s work," there was a little bit less sex, but not a big difference. There wasn't much in the way of explicit conclusions drawn, but the gist is that women are turned off by seeing men do "women's work" while men don't really mind much about seeing a woman mow the lawn.

Personally, I find a man who knows his way around the kitchen to be very sexy, but I also know that divisions of household labor are deeply embedded in culture, even at the level of language. The word "maid" is gendered, and as soon as we imagine a male with official household duties, we're picturing a butler, whose role seems much more elevated. My father was a liberated man in many ways, but he was not going to be seen messing around with pots and pans in the kitchen. I once suggested that he ease his hunger by preparing a sandwich, and he looked at me and said, "I've never prepared a meal for myself, and God willing, I never will." He considered himself a feminist.

I also know that like it or not, there's something deeply ingrained about the connection between libido and certain kinds of traditionally male behavior. I was raised in the South, where dating rituals are a bit more old school, and I found it difficult to adjust to dating in New York City, where men didn't do the things I was used to, like picking up a check on the first few dates or making sure I got home safely. The rational part of my brain could consider all kinds of reasons why my expectations ought to be adjusted, but you couldn't tell it to my libido. Men who didn't do the traditionally male thing just seemed...not hot. Not fair, I know. But my reaction was not exactly in my control.

Marriage does seem to be getting more egalitarian and flexible, but perhaps not as quickly as we think. The institution comes burdened with centuries of baggage in which gender expectations have been linked to sexual behavior. We're only a few decades past the sexual revolution and women's liberation (men's contribution to childcare has doubled since the '60s), and you're not going to unload the baggage of the ages overnight. We're probably at a transition period in which our rational expectations and our libidos haven't gotten quite adjusted to one another. In the mean-time, maybe you want to invest in a self-cleaning toilet.