The Tension of Being “Behind the Times”
Even if this first tension between faster-changing women and slower-changing men is resolved, a second one may remain. There were families like the Delacortes whose ideas were “behind the times” in the sense that their ideals were more suited to the economic realities of the past. Both agreed on what each should do at home, and on who deserved credit for what. They had the same “exchange rate” in their marital economy of gratitude. The strain they felt was due to a clash between a traditional ideal and a thin pocketbook: the one ill-suited the other. I found this pattern more common among working-class than middle-class couples.
Their traditionalism did not mean that husbands shirked the second shift. Traditional men did slightly more at home than most transitional men. This was partly because they felt guilty they could not be the sole provider. Some husbands also cared for the house because their wives worked a different shift and they were the only one home. Traditionalism didn’t stop such men from helping; it only meant they didn’t feel good about it, that it counted as more of a favor.
The tension for tradition defenders, then, was not the second shift itself—except that they had as much trouble as anyone getting it all done. The problem Was that traditional husbands hated the fact that their wives worked. And a few traditional wives felt pushed into working and hated it. Some didn’t feel it was right to blame their husbands, but at the same time clung to their “right” to stay home. Like Carmen, most women tried not to “complain.” But in this very effort, they were managing a conflict between their ideals—of separate sexual spheres and male rule—and the reality of their lives.
These wives wanted to seem more different and unequal than they in fact were. Their gender strategies addressed this problem of identity, of “face.” Hence, Carmen’s strategy of “playing dumb” to draw Frank into the kitchen while leaving his male identity at the kitchen door.