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Wifely Duty

Caitlin Flanagan’s essay, The Wifely Duty reviews several books out recently about marriages devoid of passion, including one by Allison Pearson. Flanagan writes:

(Author Allison)Pearson told an interviewer, “Until they program men to notice you’re out of toilet paper, a happy domestic life will always be up to women”?a sentiment almost unanimously held by the working mothers I know. What we’ve learned during this thirty-year grand experiment is that men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks, but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washcloths; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won’t spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential. And a lot of women feel cheated and angry and even?bless their hearts?surprised about this. In the old days, of course, men’s inability to perform women’s work competently was a source of satisfaction and pride to countless housewives. A reliable sitcom premise involved Father’s staying home for a day while Mother handled things at his office; chastened and newly admiring of the other’s abilities, each ran gratefully back to familiar terrain. Nowadays, when a working mother arrives home after a late deposition, only to find the living room strewn with Legos and a pizza box crammed into the kitchen trash, she tends to get madder than a wet hen. Women are left with two options: endlessly haranguing their husbands to be more womanly, or silently fuming and (however wittingly) launching a sex strike of an intensity and a duration that would have impressed Aristophanes. The men who cave to the pressure to become more feminine?putting little notes in the lunch boxes, sweeping up after snack time, the whole bit?may delight their wives but they probably don’t improve their sex lives much, owing to the thorny old problem of la difference. I might be quietly thrilled if my husband decided to forgo his weekly tennis game so that he could alphabetize the spices and scrub the lazy Susan, but I would hardly consider it an erotic gesture.

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