Sunday, April 15, 2018

Imagine a Man, Part 2

Remember that recent post of mine about the woman dentist, who posed like a pinup in an ad for her own practice? I asked if you could imagine a male dentist posing that way, knowing the answer would be no.

Here’s an inverse situation from a letter back in March to advice columnist Carolyn Hax. It’s written by a mom of an adult son. He’s in a serious relationship with a woman and they’re likely to get engaged, mom reports. “We like this young woman, but we have reservations,” she says. And then she gives the problem:

It’s clear our son spends a great deal of time and energy taking care of his girlfriend and making her feel secure and content, although she is rarely content for long. He makes all the food, goes out for her coffee, makes all the reservations, plans trips, etc. This never-ending support over her workplace and social worries seems awfully one-sided, and my son has confided that it can be exhausting and frustrating.
Okay, now, change this situation and imagine the writer is the mother of a young woman, describing her daughter’s possible future husband. If it helps, imagine this letter was written in 1958 instead of 2018.

Would anyone have written such a letter, even today, if the gender roles were reversed? Everything the son is doing for his girlfriend is the type of work routinely expected of women in long-term relationships, from cooking to making sure the man’s job’s social requirements get attention so he can further his career. Women are supposed to do all the planning, get the coffee, and support “their man.” That’s part of why men in high-level positions can advance as fast as they do, because their employers are getting a two-fer. And I can't tell you how many women I know who care-take their husband's feelings to make sure they're "secure and content."

Carolyn didn’t address any of this in her response. She played it like an egalitarian, which is fine, but I can’t get over how essentially sexist this letter is. Maybe mom and dad have an equal sharing of tasks and emotional labor in their household and have modeled that for their son his whole life, but it seems as though Carolyn could have at least pointed out the cultural irony in the situation.

Schlitz beer ad from this Tumblr, via Cory Doctorow's Twitter feed.

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