March 20, 2013

"Spouses Probably Shouldn't Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly."

Instapundit links to this piece by Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic, which seems to state a comically obvious point. The "exactly" kind of gives it all away, doesn't it? You can't quantify tasks — different individuals take different amounts of time doing the same thing, different tasks have different degrees of arduousness (and the arduousness is different to different individuals both objectively and subjectively) — so the split couldn't be done exactly, even if that's what you wanted to do. Doing the calculations would add to the work, and different individuals would react differently to the arduousness — and symbolism — of that new dose of work. The idea is to get along better, not worse.

But there's some great stuff here: If you quantify and keep track, you are thinking in terms of debt. Berlatsky refers to David Graeber's book "Debt: The First 5,000 Years":
[M]any egalitarian societies make an enormous effort to keep clear of the logic of debt. Graeber tells a story about an Inuit man who offered a hungry anthropologist named Peter Freuchen a huge mound of seal meat. Freuchen thanked the man profusely. Freuchen recorded the man's response.
"Up in our country we are human!" said the hunter. "And since we are human we help each other. We don't like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs."
The logic of debt? Isn't that the logic of gifts? Keeping track of debts is a way of avoiding too much, doing only your fair share. Gifts complicate a relationship, adding joy to serving and transforming the experience of being served. Debts make a cooler transaction. But Berlatsky conflates debt and gift in the pursuit of the idea that human beings do things for one another in recognition of mutual humanity. He also — scarily — conflates marriage and egalitarian societies:
Societies like the Inuit put enormous social effort and pressure into making sure that excellent hunters don't end up putting everyone in their debt. Marriages, too, can slide towards hierarchy if you're not careful. There's a lot of years of inequity and a lot of learned gender roles telling men and women that women owe housework to their families—an obligation that (as the hunter suggests) can pretty easily end up feeling like, and even functioning as, slavery. That's why housework is a feminist issue—and why both men and women need to work to stop it from becoming the whip that makes one spouse the master and the other the dog.
Okay, I've done my fair share of the work of untangling the mixed up ideas in this article. But that paragraph is a mess. Why don't you clean it up?

I'm going to comment on the illustration The Atlantic paired with Berlatsky's idea salad. That looks like a more amusing task. It's Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Quick! I need a picture that represents a marriage... a bad marriage.



But the article critiques a modern-day version of a bad marriage, and "American Gothic" depicts a comical, cliché, old-fashioned marriage.

Anyway, I found a nice 2005 Slate article about "American Gothic." I hope you know the models for that painting were not a married couple that Wood found living in that house you see in the background. Wood found the house in Iowa, painted it, then got the idea to pose a couple characters in front of it. The woman is his own sister. The man was his dentist.
The critics who admired the painting in the early '30s — including Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley — ... assumed it was a satire about the rigidity of American rural or small-town life, lampooning the people H. L. Mencken called the "booboisie" of the "Bible Belt." As [Steven] Biel [author of "American Gothic"] explains, "American Gothic appeared to its first viewers as the visual equivalent of the revolt-against-the-provinces genre in 1910s and 1920s American literature"—a critique of provincialism akin to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess.

But a few years later, as the nation sank into the Great Depression, people started to see Wood's painting in a different light. American Gothic was no longer understood as satirical, but as a celebratory expression of populist nationalism. Critics extolled the farmer and his wife as steadfast embodiments of American virtue and the pioneer spirit. "American democracy was built upon the labors of men and women of stout hearts and firm jaws, such people as those above," read one caption in 1935.
The political propagandists are everywhere, mining whatever material they can get their hands on. It's arduous work, but somebody's got to do it.

66 comments:

chickelit said...

Isn't that the logic of gifts? Keeping track of debts is a way of avoiding too much, doing only your fair share. Gifts complicate the relationship, adding joy to serving and transform the experience of being served. Debts make a cooler transaction.

Gifts are poison and debt is guilt. Ask any German (or Dutch person).

whoresoftheinternet said...

I got your division of labor right here:

Get back in the kitchen and make me some pie.

Emily Kelchen said...

The house in the painting is now a quaint museum in Eldon, IA http://www.wapellocounty.org/americangothic/

It's well worth the drive as they have costumes you can put on and take a picture to match the painting.

Shouting Thomas said...

If this kinda crap is an issue in your marriage, your marriage is in a lot of trouble.

Sorun said...

They're married? I thought that was his daughter. Old devil...

sydney said...

Mr. American Farmer does look like a dentist. I wonder if the artist's sister ever forgave him for painting her like that. Maybe she had a sense of humor.

edutcher said...

When The Blonde's mom was living with us, she'd always offer to help with the dishes. After she'd rinsed off a couple of saucers, she'd say, "Well, I've done my share", and then go in and watch the news.

Some times those alternative realities came in handy.

chuck said...

Peter Freuchen wasn't an anthropologist. And I don't recall anything quite like that quote, the style and incident don't feel quite from my recollection, it's much too ponderous and PC.

SeanF said...

Sorun: They're married? I thought that was his daughter. Old devil...

The artist said she was the man's daughter, as well.

"The prim lady with him is his grown-up daughter."

traditionalguy said...

The Hamilton family in Steinbeck's classic East of Eden was the way most Americans lived productive lives in the 1800s.

What's to criticize there? Gothic is strong and loving.

Which reminds me of the Hamilton family's modern incarnation seen in the upper-middle class family of the new groom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Methadras said...

American Gothic always struck me as a funny picture. The look on the womans face is like she is saying, "He just fucked me... In the ass... With that pitchfork..."

Patrick said...

It's well worth the drive as they have costumes you can put on and take a picture to match the painting.

I do suppose that depends, at least in part, on the length of the drive!

gerry said...

It's arduous work, but somebody's got to do it.

That made me smile. Thanks.

whoresoftheinternet said...

Alternative headline:

"Leftists realize that leftist ideas about marriage don't work."

But they'll forget again tomorrow.

Enjoy the decline, bitches!

traditionalguy said...

The innocent idea of marriage as a blissful common endeavor is quaint. Is that a gentle Catholic idea?

What the article fails to analyze is the dynamic of a Gold Digger marriage between an older, wealthy man and his Trophy wife. That should be of great interest in the Re-distributionist Culture we now live in.

As for housework done by females, that is a tradition in the patriarchy that seemed to meet both spouses needs.

And many military men keep a house/quarters better organized and clean than the wives ever could do.

Scott M said...

My mother gave me a great piece of advise when I got married.

Marriage is not 50/50. Marriage is both husband and wife trying to do 60/40 and the same time.

Shouting Thomas said...

The contemporary feminist woman sees it as her duty to be disagreeable, argumentative, difficult and demanding in relationship to her man.

And, this is supposed to be a good thing?

This is why I long ago ceased dealing with white American women.

Are you guys aware that one of the favorite sayings of a Filipina is... just wait for this... you won't believe it...

A Filipina makes the best wife!

I was so shocked when my late wife, Myrna, first said that to me that I tried to correct her and bring her around to the correct feminist viewpoint.

Nonapod said...

I find it easier to just do a task that needs doing and not worry about whether or not another person should be doing it.

chickelit said...

But the article critiques a modern-day version of a bad marriage, and "American Gothic" depicts a comical, cliché, old-fashioned marriage.

The New have fangled something Old according to fashion, but still make do...or not.

Ann Althouse said...

"Peter Freuchen wasn't an anthropologist. And I don't recall anything quite like that quote, the style and incident don't feel quite from my recollection, it's much too ponderous and PC."

Wow. Great lead. Thanks.

Ann Althouse said...

"Marriage is not 50/50. Marriage is both husband and wife trying to do 60/40 and the same time."

Aren't there about a million church sermons saying marriage is not 50/50, it's 100/100?

Scott M said...

I find it easier to just do a task that needs doing and not worry about whether or not another person should be doing it.

This is the value I'm trying to instill in my children, mostly by example, but with two full-time jobs and three small kids, there does need to be a delineation in tasks between the two adults. This isn't to say that's a 50/50 split...it never could be and anyone that says otherwise is selling something.

We have different skill sets. There are parts of our yard and nooks and crags of our house my wife has never seen. Why? Because she has no clue how to sweat a copper pipe joint together and, frankly, isn't physically strong enough to cut the grass on the hill we live on. There are aspects of our laundry that I have no idea about, because I don't do the laundry.

There are plenty of other things, but after 15 years of marriage, we have a wonderfully stable way of doing things that ensures we don't live in a chaotic pigsty every day.

Scott M said...

Aren't there about a million church sermons saying marriage is not 50/50, it's 100/100?

I don't know. Have you ever heard one?

edutcher said...

This should fit neatly:

Off Drudge - 70% of the highest paid White House staffers are men.

In the War on Women, that's leading from the front.

Ann Althouse said...

The problem with the 50/50 idea is that there's no agreement about what constituted 100. Some people think the sheets need to be washed twice a week and the bathrooms need cleaning every day.

There are times during the year when Meade mows the lawn 5 or 6 times a week.

Shouting Thomas said...

I never really considered my marriage to Myrna to be work, Althouse.

Maybe you can learn some things from her. You're probably too proud to try.

Ann Althouse said...

"70% of the highest paid White House staffers are men."

Who decided where to draw the line between "highest paid" and not "highest paid"? You could really manipulate that statistic.

Scott M said...

Who decided where to draw the line between "highest paid" and not "highest paid"? You could really manipulate that statistic.

Maybe the same people that decided we're drilling for oil on 80% of available federal land.

If I have ten apples and you want one, I can tell you that 8 of them aren't available, give you one, and tell someone I gave you 50% of the available apples.

chickelit said...

There are times during the year when Meade mows the lawn 5 or 6 times a week.

I used to do that until my son got old enough to need a job. Weedwacking too.

Scott M said...

Maybe you can learn some things from her. You're probably too proud to try.

You really need to swap that Ruffles up your ass with something softer, ST. It's making you crotchety.

Marriage is wonderful, but you do have to work at it, in many ways, if you want it to work. Unless, of course, you're suggesting you can get something for nothing, or that something worth having doesn't require working for/on/toward/whatever.

Seeing Red said...

Ain't feminism grand?

Seeing Red said...

As Men Lose Economic Ground, Clues in the Family

NYT

Meade said...

Splitting things exactly evenly is not about marriage but divorce.

campy said...

"American Gothic" depicts a comical, cliché, old-fashioned marriage.


"Old-fashioned" and "bad" are synonyms.

Seeing Red said...

It's very taxing to walk to the oven, push the buttons to start the oven, walk to the freezer, take out the frozen pie, walk back to the oven, open the door, put pie on cookie sheet, slide sheet in oven, set timer & walk away.

When it beeps, it's done, you wanted the pie, you get the pie.

I did the 60%! LOLOLOL

Shouting Thomas said...

@Scott M

I use baby wipes. Buy 'em in the big box at Sam's Club.

Althouse is very hard headed. In fact, she simply lives far too much inside her head, which is why so many absolutely silly things make sense to her.

She's trying very hard not to hear the voice of reason, so I'll repeat myself.

One of the first things Myrna said to me, Althouse was...

A Filipina makes the best wife!

Try imagining that being the best wife is the center of your existence and that intellectual crap doesn't matter much.

Shouting Thomas said...

Well said, Meade.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

70% of the highest paid White House staffers are men.

Who decided where to draw the line between "highest paid" and not "highest paid"? You could really manipulate that statistic.


True, but lines like, "Seventy-percent of the White House staffers who made the top annual salary of $172,200 in 2012 were men and 30 percent were women, according to a White House report on staff compensation.", are a little hard to get past.

Besides, we've heard this complaint before.

After all, except for ValJar, we all know Barry doesn't like girls very much.

And it is Housework.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I've got pretty good aim but sometimes there's some side-spray or it splashes out of the bowl.

Toilet paper comes in handy.

And put the lid back down, for crying out loud!

David said...

How do you split anything that is not numeric "exactly evenly?" If that is the objective, failure is assured. There's always some kind of unevenness, and, as Shouting Thomas put it, "[i]f this kinda crap is an issue in your marriage, your marriage is in a lot of trouble."

Synova said...

Gifts are debt. The rest of it seems really twisted, that somehow doing house chores makes you more of a slave than paying all the bills does, but gifts are debt. The reason they complicate a relationship is that the gift giver can put you in debt more or less against your will because you're sort of expected to give return gifts of approximately equal value (though you can add value other than money, like making something that takes time to do, in order to even it out.)

Like the post about what to do with food stamps. If you are *owed* the food stamps then there is no debt, but if you're not owed the food stamps then it's a gift, or charity, and you can be held to conditions. Nothing wrong with that, and it's probably healthier that way, but it's not *comfortable.*

Old RPM Daddy said...

"Spouses Probably Shouldn't Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly."

As others have been saying in different ways, spouses shouldn't try to keep score, although I suppose lots of them do.

As regards Shouting Thomas' comment: I've been married to my Filipina wife for nearly 18 years, so yes, I agree.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Societies like the Inuit put enormous social effort and pressure into making sure that excellent hunters don't end up putting everyone in their debt.

Which explains why Inuits never made it very far past hunter-gatherer.

If they ended up in debt to the people who supplied their needs, they would need to find some way to be equally productive in some other area. Specialization and trade, and everyone prospers. Or socialism and equality of outcomes, and everyone subsists.

BarrySanders20 said...

Humans specialize skills and should do the ones that they are better at doing. That's efficiency. As long as both are contributing in the area they do best, strict equality of job division is folly.

For example, traditional spouses should definitely NOT divide blow jobs equally, for therein lies disaster.

Henry said...

In contrast, many egalitarian societies make an enormous effort to keep clear of the logic of debt.

I assumed that the author was going to point out the psychological denial implicit in this statement. He doesn't claim that egalitarian societies are keeping clear of debt. He claims that egalitarian societies are keeping clear of the logic of debt.

But the author can't go there. Just when he has an incisive point in hand, a tool to dissect the kinds of social claims and obligations that trade on status, he goes all wobbly. The tedious hypothetical that starts the essay pivots into a puddle of mush.

It is indicative of Althouse that she found the only interesting excerpt in the whole thing.

St. George said...

The plant behind the daughter's right shoulder is sanseveria, the mother-in-law plant, known for its sharp leaves and ability to tolerate neglect.

Inga said...

Household chores are things that fall to the unlucky spouse who happens to be home at the time it needs doing. Pile of clothes, fold them. Kids need bathing and you're the one with free time, its your job. Grass knee high, you're in trouble, but I could do it too, when I had to. My hubby was a great clothes folder, he even put them in the drawers!

Being flexible is highly desirable in a marriage. What's that saying, the tree that doesn't bend, breaks?

Chip S. said...

Which explains why Inuits never made it very far past hunter-gatherer.

That may be true, but it took liberal governance to push them below self-sufficiency. Sayeth the wiki:

By the mid-1960s, encouraged first by missionaries, then by the prospect of paid jobs and government services, and finally forced by hunger and required by police, all Canadian Inuit lived year-round in permanent settlements. The nomadic migrations that were the central feature of Arctic life had for the most part disappeared. The Inuit, a once self-sufficient people in an extremely harsh environment were, in the span of perhaps two generations, transformed into a small, impoverished minority, lacking skills or resources to sell to the larger economy, but increasingly dependent on it for survival.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

My wife is Russian. There is no stronger woman in the world. They are independent, educated and willfull.

Yet the perceive femininity to include all those traits plus make the home "cozy" and themselves attractive.

It is just cultural differences I agree with Shouting, I'd never again marry an Anerican woman.

Shanna said...

Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs

I think this is a good policy in dealing with friends/family. Don't loan, give a gift and if it comes back to you it's just a blessing. Cuts down on a lot of drama and hard feelings.

bagoh20 said...

Of all the societies on earth that I would take advice from the Inuits have to be at the bottom of the list. Even the cannibals in the tropics get to run around naked and eat something beyond seal meat and blubber.

If they could never figure out that where they lived sucked, and just about everywhere else on the earth is better, then I'm not asking them for advice on anything other than arctic survival.

Freeman Hunt said...

Rather insulting to people who were slaves.

bagoh20 said...

Yes, Christmas is like a slave auction, or something.

Freeman Hunt said...

We can't give gifts without poisoning friendship? I didn't know that.

bagoh20 said...

I have to admit that I don't like getting gifts. I can afford what I want, and I don't want much. I do just end up feeling obligated. Unless it's a small personal gift, or an extremely large impersonal one - I do love those.

bgates said...

You can't quantify tasks — different individuals take different amounts of time doing the same thing, different tasks have different degrees of arduousness (and the arduousness is different to different individuals both objectively and subjectively) — so the split couldn't be done exactly, even if that's what you wanted to do.

What you can do is have the federal government mandate that two persons, whose job titles suggest they are interchangeable, be paid exactly the same, the above notwithstanding.

Peter said...

"What I get today you may get tomorrow" describes a system of delayed reciprocity. It's surely not that reciprocity is not expected in the future as a day will come when you will know full well that you are expected to share that seal meat you brought home.

If an expectation of future reciprocity is not a debt, then what is it?

What's liberating about market transactions is just that after you've paid for something you wanted or needed you can then just walk away without any further obligation.

Of course, market transactions are also cold and impersonal. That's why they're seldom appropriate between immediate family members or household guests.

Now, was that so hard- recognizing that there are times and places where money and market transactions are agreeable and desirable, and others where they are not?

Chip S. said...

I can't believe that guy didn't cite this.

mrs whatsit said...

I saw that painting in the original on a trip to Chicago years ago. I'd grown accustomed to it via a childhood TV commercial for country corn flakes that don't wilt when you pour on milk (age test: who besides me can still sing it?). I was quite surprised to find that, seen in person, some of the mockery and satire goes out of the painting, to be replaced by a rather sad, steadfast, quiet strength.

BDNYC said...

I shall make it my mission in life to civilize the savage Inuit and to import his noble notion of selflessness into America. Those damned individualists need to realize that the government is the only thing to which we all belong. So what if we are made to share with others?

n.n said...

Do irreconcilable differences arise at the 51% mark? What an oppressive regime where reason and reasonable defer to ego and entitlement.

ken in sc said...

Hey, ST, I'm happy with my American wife, but I could be very happy with a Filipina wife. I lived there for two years. They are pretty women. My only problem would be that she would expect me to support all of her family. That's just too much.

X said...

I always thought Eb was the funniest.

Smilin' Jack said...

""Spouses Probably Shouldn't Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly.""

Jazz: Well, that weekend was a mistake.

Ford Fairlane: Hey, look. I'm sorry I made you clean the toilets and the bathtubs, I mean, who did all the work in bed?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

American Gothic always struck me as a funny picture. The look on the womans face is like she is saying, "He just fucked me... In the ass... With that pitchfork..."

I always though she was looking at him like he just cut a big smelly fart.

It is stupid to try to divide the household tasks evenly. What an exercise in futility. Some people are better at some things and other tasks are too difficult for some to do.

I do the cooking, cleaning, laundry some of the time, most of the light yard work. I'm the errand girl, going to the Post Office, Bank, grocery store, taking phone messages, returning calls. Bookkeeper, writing the checks, paying the bills, dealing with the IRS. Plus, I'm the home technician, programming the computers, remotes and wireless devices.

Besides working his ass off all day in his business, Hubby does the heavy lifting and digging in the yard, drives the tractor/backhoe, prunes the trees, I take away the limbs. He cleans out the gutters a couple times a year. Picks the fruit high on the ladders......And he takes out the garbage and goes to the dump :-)

If it isn't 50-50. Who CARES. Why get high centered on such a small item in the big scheme of things?

Nomennovum said...

Splitting things exactly evenly is not about marriage but divorce. - Meade

Think of marriage as pre-divorce. Most people do, subconsciously.