Strategies of Resistance—. Disaffiliation, Need Reduction,. Substitute Offerings, and. Selective Encouragement
Many men seemed to alternate between periods of cooperation and resistance. When they were resisting, they often did tasks in a distracted way, dissociating themselves from the domestic act at hand. In this manner, Evan Holt forgot the grocery list, burned the rice, didn’t know where the broiler pan was. Such men withdrew their mental attention from the task at hand so as to get credit for trying and being a good sport, but so as not to be chosen next time. It was a male version of Carmen Delacorte’s strategy of playing dumb.
Many men also waited to be asked, hoping they wouldn’t be. They basically forced their wives to take on the additional chore of asking itself. Since many wives disliked asking—it felt like “begging”—this often worked well. Especially when a man waited to be asked and then became irritated or glum when he was, his wife was often discouraged from asking again.
Some men made “substitute offerings” in another realm: Peter Tanagawa (who would often be found reading the sports page unless asked to wash the dishes) supported Nina in her every move at work and every crisis in her conflict between work and family. His support was so complete, so heartfelt, that it had the quality of a substitute offering.
Consciously or not, other men used the strategy of “needs reduction.” For example, a salesman and father of two explained that he never shopped because “he didn’t need anything.” He didn’t need to take clothes to the laundry to be ironed because he didn’t mind wearing a wrinkled shirt. When I asked who bought the furniture in their apartment, he said his wife did, because “She cares more and I could really do without it.” He didn’t need much to eat. Cereal was fine. Seeing a book on parenting on his desk, I asked if he was reading it. He replied that his wife had given him the book to read; he didn’t think one needed to read books like that. Through his reduction of needs, this man created a great void into which his wife stepped with her “greater need” to see him wear an ironed shirt, to furnish their apartment, take his suits to the cleaners, buy his books, and cook his dinner.
Many men praised their wives for how organized they were, how competent in planning. The praise seemed genuine but it was also convenient. In the context of other strategies, like disaffiliating from domestic tasks or reducing needs, appreciating the way a wife bears the second shift can be another little way of keeping her doing it.
How much a working father actually shares housework and parenting depends on the interaction between a husband’s gender strategy (with all the emotional meanings it carries for him) and the wife’s gender strategy (with all the emotional meanings that holds for her). What he does also, of course, depends on outer circumstances as well—such as shift hours or commute time—and the meanings these come to hold for each partner.
Though many couples now believe in sharing, at this point in history few actually do share. A new marriage humor targets this tension between promise and delivery. In Gary Trudeau’s “Doones – bury” comic strip, a “liberated” father is sitting at his word processor writing a book about raising his child. He types: “Today I wake up with a heavy day of work ahead of me. As Joannie gets Jeffrey ready for day care, I ask her if I can be relieved of my usual household responsibilities for the day. Joannie says, ‘Sure, I’ll make up the five minutes somewhere.’ ”
But what often tipped the balance between a wife’s gender strategy and her husband s was the debits and credits on their marital economy of gratitude. Ann Myerson, Nina Tanagawa, Carol Alston, and most wives I talked with seemed to feel more grateful to their husbands than their husbands felt toward them. Womens lower wages, the high rate of divorce, and the cultural legacy of female subordination together created a social climate that made most women feel lucky if their husbands shared “some.” Beneath the cultural “cover-up,” the happy image of the woman with the flying hair, there is a quiet struggle going on in many two-job marriages today. But feeling that change might add yet another strain to their overburdened marriage, feeling already “so lucky,” many women kept cautiously to those strategies which avoid much change in men.