This week Lori Alexander of Always Learning had a Facebook post go viral with a cacophony of feminist clucking. In the post Lori suggested that wives not focus on the amount of houswork their husbands did, but instead:
…do your housework cheerfully, as unto the Lord. Remember, you didn’t marry your husband to help with the household chores. You married him to be your protector and provider. You also should have married him because you deeply loved him, wanted to be a great help meet to him…
This outstanding post predictably drove feminists mad, and the criticism from feminists lead Lori’s husband Ken to write his own post. Ken explained that godly husbands should do housework, but that if a husband is sinning in this way his wife should just do the housework cheerfully anyway. Lori’s focus was on the toxicity of feminist resentment. Ken agrees that wives should fight against the resentment, but also shifted the focus towards the sinful husbands he contends are (generally) the reason wives feel this resentment in the first place (emphasis mine):
The reason it struck such a viral cord is twofold: First because it did not fit with the progressive women’s agenda that a wife married to a husband unwilling to meet her expectations should just take the high road and love him anyway. Second, because this is one of the hottest sources of frustration for most wives in the modern world.
In the discussion Ken reiterated that he does not see the frustration as emanating from a feminist mindset, but as coming from husbands not helping their wives enough:
I am also not referencing the source of the feminist resentment, but the resentment felt by a wife who feels frazzled with a home, with a brood to manage, while feeling her husband is not helping her enough.
In the discussion Ken does leave open the possibility that an individual husband might not be sinning if his wife feels this resentment, but his general thrust in both the post and in the discussion is for the husband to do more of whatever work his wife identifies as the source of her resentment.
What Ken has misunderstood is the true source of the resentment. The resentment does not come from an excess of work or an unfair distribution of work, but envy of men. This is why women who haven’t overcome this envy will complain bitterly no matter how much better they have it than their husbands. He may be doing dirty, backbreaking, dangerous work, but he isn’t stuck being a woman like she is. It isn’t the work, but what the work represents to her. The problem is that the work reminds her that she is a woman.
This is why during the height of World War II Margaret Sanger understood that the women in her audience would identify with a resentful wife who complained about being “trapped” caring for a young child while her husband had the good fortune to be fighting in Europe. Sanger knew that this would resonate with women, because the reality of the respective lots of the man and woman are entirely irrelevant:
…now the wife.. who was really just a girl.. was feeling trapped and rebellious. She loved her baby ↑of course↓ , and well she might, because he was a beautiful child, but she was beginning to feel very bitter toward her husband because she said that she could tell from his letters that he was actually enjoying the ↑excitement of↓ war! Already he had been to Iceland, England, Africa, and Italy! Oh, she was willing to admit there were plenty of hardships connected with it… but what had she been doing all this long while? Just staying home day after day minding the baby! “When he gets home,” she told me, “he can just sit with the baby for a while and see what it’s like. I’m going out and have some fun!”
I could see her point of view… what woman couldn’t? You don’t have to be a war bride to feel trapped… many a house-wife gets that feeling just watching her husband go off to the office every morning while she stays home facing the same meals, dishes, and children. How many divorces have their beginnings in just this very feeling of imprisoned futility?
What Sanger calls “imprisoned futility”, Betty Friedan called “The Problem That Has No Name”. This is absolutely a feminist feeling, and was the battle cry that launched the modern feminist movement.
In his post Ken describes a situation from their own marriage many years ago that echoes the common pattern. Ken was working sixty hour weeks and frequently had to travel for business. When he was home he helped with some of the housework, but not all of it. Lori would be generally happy when he was home, but once he went on the road other women would start whispering discontentment in her ears*:
I was talking to a friend today and she told me that you really should be helping me more. What I need is more help. My friend’s and sisters’ husbands help their wives more.
It is important to realize that no matter how much Ken had helped, these women whispering in Lori’s ear wouldn’t have stopped. No amount of washing dishes would have made them stop tempting his wife into feminist envy and rebellion. And no amount of vacuuming would have made the envy go away. When wives feel this way they think they can sooth the discontent by forcing their husbands to experience the shame they have in being a woman. They think that by making him vacuum, dust, change diapers, or whatever, they will transfer the consuming feeling of resentment from themselves to their husbands**. But the source of the misery is in the woman’s own rejection of being a woman, in her own heart, not in anything inherent to the work itself. This is why it only makes wives more miserable when their husbands cheerfully do these very easy tasks. They wanted to make him suffer, to feel the shame (in their minds) of being a woman, but maddeningly he feels no such thing.
You can test all of this by offering suggestions to the next woman who complains to you that her husband doesn’t do enough housework. My wife hears this complaint from other Christian wives all of the time. Each time she starts by giving them time to explain why their no good husband isn’t doing enough around the house. Then my wife offers suggestions that don’t involve the wife assuming authority over her husband and making him do work the the woman (falsely) believes is humiliating. For women with children old enough to help, she advises having the children do more of the housework. Other times she will identify time consuming work the woman is focusing on which could just as well be left undone. In other cases she will suggest ways to get a “problem” job done that better frees up her day (cooking with a crock pot, etc). The response is always the same, because the issue is not about the woman having too much work. Invariably once the discussion turns toward solutions that don’t involve making the husband do more housework, the women lose all interest in the conversation.
*Note that even though Ken is telling wives not to nurse their resentment, he is at the same time whispering in their ears that a husband who doesn’t meet their expectations is sinning. He says don’t feel resentment, while confirming their suspicions that their husband is the source of the problem. In doing this second part he is inadvertently playing the same role with the women who read his wife’s blog that her friends and sisters played while he was away on business.
**This is very similar to the feminist impulse to dress men as women.