Member Voices: The Dryer Buzz Heard 'Round the World
It's possible that Kasich's strangely anachronistic comment was, at best, a bone-headed slip of the tongue (he did go on to say that politician's wives are also performing the more meaningful task of "taking care of the kids") or, more likely, the kind of transparent pandering we've all come to expect from politicians (it was a Republican crowd, after all). However, it is also the case that Kasich pays his female staffers 56% less than his male staffers. This payroll gender gap, taken with the laundry comment, seems to indicate that Kasich, circa 2012, might actually subscribe to that quaint notion of the "separate spheres," which was especially popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As the thinking went (goes?!?!?), men belong in the public sphere and women in the private sphere, because there's something quite inherent, natural, and even biological about women's affinity for domestic drudgery. In other words, Kasich's wife is at home doing the laundry because she loves it! And she's just so GOOD at it! That's because of her ovaries and ladybrain.
The general response to this whole ridiculous thing has been a resounding, outraged WHAAAAAT?, with a generous side of What Year Is It Again? I don't want to belabor those truly fine points, but I will add a slightly different perspective to the conversation, on account of my personal background as a military veteran. Implied by Kasich's comment about laundry-doing wives is the notion that it is somehow more appropriate for me, as a woman, to start my dryer than it was for me to start the engine of my Sikorsky H-60 helicopter (both of which, ironically, were made by GE). This seems like simple ingratitude to me. To suggest that there's just something about female biology that makes women more skilled than men at turning on household appliances or deciding whether a particular piece of clothing is "dark" or "light" seems shamefully dismissive of the service and sacrifices of women who put themselves in harm's way as firefighters, police officers, and military service members. Thanks, but no thanks, ladies. You really should focus your efforts on things for which you're more naturally-suited. But hey, you can just pretend your vacuum cleaner is a wounded civilian as you drag it up and down your stairs! Only true heroes can clean the floors so selflessly. We salute you.
Kasich's comments beg another response, though, and it's a bit trickier than just making fun of how the GOP apparently thinks it got in a time machine and journeyed to the year 1952. The fact is, Kasich's comments were likely--at least statistically speaking--true. Karen Kasich, Ann Romney, and Janna Ryan probably are doing the laundry for their politician husbands, because women in America are still doing the lion's share of household chores. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, on an average day, 83% of women and 65% of men spent time on household activities including "housework, cooking, and lawn care," and women did that work for an average of 2.6 hours while men worked for an average of 2.1 hours. When the definition of housework was narrowed to cleaning and doing laundry only, the report showed that on an average day, 48% of women and only 19% of men did such work. In other words, more women spend more time on a more regular basis on housework--particularly cleaning and laundry--than men do. This is despite the fact that 60% of women are either the sole or co-breadwinner (meaning they make as much or more money than their partners). This is also despite the fact that primary childcare, another task done mostly by women, is itself a full-time job, which is why day care facilities and schools are not also dry cleaners, restaurants, and maid services. And it's even despite the fact that a recent study showed that men are actually happiest when they contribute equally to household work. (Of course, the study was conducted in Europe, so...there's that.)
So why the heck are women still doing so much of the cooking, cleaning, scrubbing, scouring, and general Cinderella-before-the-balling? Why are we still participating in the Cult of Domesticity, even as we do plenty of work in the public sphere as well? These aren't rhetorical questions--I sincerely don't get it. I have what I'll call a sneaking suspicion about it, which I'll share, but with the caveat that it's based on purely personal and anecdotal evidence. Somewhere along the line between my girlhood and adulthood, I received and internalized the message that domestic excellence--having a lovely, clean, comfortable, well-organized, smoothly-run, nice-smelling home filled with yummy food--signifies a successful, worthwhile life, and that presenting your home to visitors is, in a way, demonstrating who you are as a person. I'm not so sure that most men get this message, or at least, they don't seem to internalize it as fiercely as many women do. Based on what I see on Pinterest (82% of Pinterest users are women, by the way), a good day seems to be one in which you bake autumn spice muffins topped with roasted organic pumpkin seeds you harvested from your neighborhood garden co-op while simultaneously encouraging your four-year-old in enriching sensory play with homemade, gluten-free playdoh at your kitchen table, which you crafted yourself from reclaimed barnwood and regularly scrub with a nontoxic mixture of sea salt, olive oil, and the peels of seasonal citrus fruit--your basic frenzy of domestic virtuosity. This is the ideal for which women, apparently, strive (or, in my case, the unattainable ideal with which I am clearly torturing myself). In contrast, I submit Travis Tritt's 2000 single, A Great Day To Be Alive, in which successful living involves "rice cookin' in the microwave" and "a three day beard I don't plan to shave." Surely, there is some reasonable compromise to be found somewhere between these two endpoints.
And I understand that cooking and baking can be very relaxing activities, and I know firsthand the gratified satisfaction that derives from a freshly restocked and well-organized kitchen pantry, but there's nothing necessarily gendered about those kinds of domestic pleasures. If, as the statistics indicate, a majority of women learn to care about dust on the blinds or toothpaste spots on the mirror, there's absolutely no reason that more men can't learn to, also, especially if they begin when they are boys. The best chance we have of creating a society in which women aren't shouldering an unfair portion of household work is to make sure that our children--our daughters and sons--learn that domestic excellence (or at least competence) is just part of being a responsible adult human being. The best way for them to learn this, in my opinion, is by seeing that both Mom and Dad work around the house, and, of course, by doing some of that work themselves. My husband (who, like me, is a former military pilot) and I think it's very important that our son actually see my husband wash the dishes, break out the ironing board, and run a vacuum cleaner. Put plainly, I simply cannot be the only member of my family who ever scrubs a toilet. It might be easier, quicker, and more comfortable for me to do the domestic work for which I have somehow sadly learned to feel so disproportionately responsible, but creating a more equitable model of household work distribution is just too important a parenting project for me to fall back on old, laundry-sorting habits.
So, anyway, in the spirit of open-minded friendliness, I heartily extend an invitation to Governor Kasich for a weekend visit at my house at his convenience--but he should be forewarned that he'll be expected to wash his own socks.
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