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March 21, 2006

Goodman Gives Feminists A Bad Name

Via Charlotte Allen, I was amused by this Ellen Goodman riposte to a recent study on marital happiness previously discussed here:

Among all the married women surveyed, 52 percent of homemakers considered themselves very happy. Yet only 45 percent of the most progressive-minded homemakers considered themselves happy. This might not seem surprising—presumably, many progressive women prefer to work than stay at home. But the difference in happiness persists even among working wives. Forty-one percent of all the working wives surveyed said they were happy, compared with 38 percent of the progressive working wives. The same was the case when it came to earnings. Forty-two percent of wives who earned one-third or more of the couple's income reported being happy, compared with 34 percent of progressive women in the same position. Perhaps the progressive women had hoped to earn more. But they were less happy than their peers about being a primary breadwinner—though you might expect the opposite. Across the board, progressive women are less likely to feel content, whether they are working or at home, and no matter how much they are making.

I include the numbers as they were conspicuously absent from Ms. Goodman's column, making it rather difficult to evaluate this statement:

As for the part of this analysis that has gotten the most publicity -- the notion that housewives are more content in their marriages than working wives -- the differences are too slim to be worth all the attention. Indeed, sociologist Scott Coltrane of the University of California at Riverside tweaks the same numbers and finds no difference at all.

Apparently we are to take Ms. Goodman's word for it. But what came next was fascinating. We are treated to the World According To Ellen, in which There Is Only One Objective Truth. As we all know that truth is that espoused by the woman of the house:

But what intrigues me most is the choice morsel the researchers themselves pluck from the data. As Wilcox describes it: ''Wives who work full time and have more progressive attitudes are more likely to be unhappy with the division of housework. And that spells trouble for them and their marriages." The best marriages, he says, are not just those in which men do more emotional work than they might choose, but those in which women ''make an effort to expect less" in household sharing.

Now to the more unenlightened among us, an arrangement in which one partner does something he does not particularly want to do in recognition of the fact that the other partner is doing something she does not particularly enjoy sounds suspiciously like a quid pro quo: the intelligent barter of a commodity one partner wants for that valued by the other.

What utter rubbish. Ms. Goodman doesn't buy that kind of revanchist cross-genderist apologia for one minute. Let's reframe the question from the relevant perspective - the female one:

The new norm is a husband who expresses more feelings than his father and a wife who cleans more toilets than her husband. But do women really want to lower their expectations? Aren't they pretty low already?

If homemakers believe labor is divided fairly along traditional lines, it probably is. But how many women who work equal hours for lower wages end up doing more laundry because he brings home more bacon? How many wives comfort themselves with the Lake Wobegon theory of marriage: all their husbands are above average?

In other words, why settle for mere compromise when by pitching a hissy fit, you can have it all? After all, the only view that counts is yours, hon. You work the same hours as he does, don't you? The fact that he earns three times your salary couldn't possibly mean that perhaps his job carries with it more responsibility (or more stress). Stick to your guns, babe. Don't give an inch. That's the way to win the battle of the sexes.

The real irony of Ms. Goodman's position is that I have worked both types of jobs: the low-wage, leave-it-at-the-door type of job and the kind I have now, where at the end of the day I often have a hard time leaving my responsibilities behind me. There is a reason I get paid more than four times my old salary. This has given me a new appreciation for the times my husband comes home from work looking vaguely shell-shocked and in a crabby mood. Yet, my current job notwithstanding, he still has more responsibility than I do. This is not surprising - he has been working for over 25 years and I have not. So I continue to pick up most of the housework. It's the least I can do to compensate for the fact that he brings home more money than I do and bears a heavier load in terms of worry and job stress. But don't try telling this to Ms. Goodman. Apparently I'm just another spineless enabler for the Fascist Oppressors. Her next insight is even more helpful:

The two researchers ponder an irony for further study: ''whether women's expectations about marital equality are indeed linked to marital conflicts and, in turn, to lower levels of men's emotional work." They seem to suggest that her discontent breeds his withdrawal.

Well, the change agent in any relationship is likely to produce conflict. As Nock says, ''Whether you are striving for equality in the law or in a relationship, it's going to be a challenge. The question is whether it's worth it."

Good question. Let's take a look at what the study said:

Recent work indicates that marital quality declined over much of the past four decades, although the rate of decline seems to have leveled off in the 1990s. The research to date suggests that this development may be, in part, a product of the fact that women with increasingly egalitarian gender role attitudes are married to men who have not adopted a sufficiently egalitarian approach to marriage. Insofar as we find strong support for the equity model, this study suggests that part of the decline in marital quality is indeed related to the continuing mismatch between women’s attitudes and marital equality. Moreover, we saw evidence that women who are more egalitarian-minded and more upset with the division of household labor receive lower levels of positive emotion work from their husbands, perhaps because they are more likely to initiate conflict with their husbands. Thus, rising expectations among women for marital equality may also have the unintended effect of lowering investments in marital emotion work on the part of men; this, in turn, may be associated with declines in marital quality for American women.

Our findings also speak to the role of emotion work in women’s global marital quality. First, it is important to highlight our finding, judging by the dramatic increase in model fit, that men’s emotion work (and women’s assessments of that work) is the most crucial determinant of women’s marital quality. It is more important than patterns of household labor, perceptions of housework equity, female labor force participation, childbearing, education and a host of other traditional predictors of global marital quality. This finding suggests that the functions, character, and stability of contemporary marriages are intimately tied to their emotional well-being.

So let's break this down:

1. The most important determinant of female marital happiness, regardless of political orientation or expectations, is how emotionally invested men are in the marriage.

2. There has been a decline in marital satisfaction in recent years, partly because women desire equality in marriage more than men do.

3. Women who want equality more (and are more unhappy with the division of household labor) get less emotional support from their husbands, perhaps because they are more likely to confront them.

4. So, despite the fact that women universally value emotional closeness MORE than help around the house (see first paragraph), they behave in ways that yield a result opposite to the one that will make them happy.

And men say women can be illogical. Go figure. So what is Goodman's solution to this conundrum? Well, let's just say that if you're not nagging your husband, you are single-handedly responsible for perpetuating outdated male gender models and you may also be ruining your daughter's chances of a gender-balanced companionate marriage:

Progressive women pressed, demanded -- dare I say nagged? -- for the benefits that are now also reaped by more traditional wives. And let's remember how many husbands have already become full and equal partners in their family lives.

Women who expect equality are not likely to heed the old Archie Bunker line: ''Stifle yourself, Edith." Indeed, women at the demanding, cutting edge may eventually be the ones who reduce the divorce rate rather than raising the unhappiness index.

So the question is not whether women should lower their expectations. It's whether men will kick it up another notch. To the current generation of wives, here's an update on my friend's advice: Speak up, speak up, your daughters' ''semi-traditional" marriages may depend on it.

One begins to wonder whether Ms. Goodman even bothered to read the study before she opined. Apparently she missed the part about so-called "companionate" marriages not being happy ones: from the woman's perspective, not the man's.

It strikes me that this really shouldn't surprise anyone very much. No one wants to live with a demanding person all the time, male or female. Whether you're in the business world or in a marriage, no one gets very far without learning to compromise and cooperate: how to engineer situations where parties who want different things can both find an acceptable outcome. But hey - what do I know? I'm one of those traditionalist women with low expectations who is ruining life for the hard-edged, steely-eyed women of tomorrow.

Like Nancy Hopkins, the good ship Ellen is steaming full speed ahead, icebergs be damned. Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts. We're strong, confident, liberated women and we won't take no for an answer.

I love the smell of a Pyhrric victory in the morning.

Posted by Cassandra at March 21, 2006 05:26 AM


"Goodman Gives Feminists A Bad Name"

Or expressed differently:
Goodman is a bad name for a feminist.
(Heh, heh...)

Posted by: camojack at March 21, 2006 07:11 AM

The irony here is palpable. A self-styled feminist concludes that men who aren't sufficiently invested emotionally in their marriages should be brow-beaten into withdrawal so that the next generation of wives can reap the singular benefits of that strategy. Which would be men who hate their nagging shrew of a wife, who presumably will pass their experiences down to their sons, who will conclude that marriage is a dead end. Who wants to end up like mom and dad?

Having experienced the benefits of emotional investment myself, I find such "advice" frightening. My marriage was an order of magnitude better when I decided to commit myself emotionally more and more. I reaped the benefits in both emotional and physical form.

Of course, then she left me. Go figure.

Posted by: Chris at March 21, 2006 07:49 AM

Well, FWIW, don't let that make you give up Chris.

Relationships are hard work and like anything else, the hardest part is that sometimes you can do your very best but you can only be responsible for one half of what comes out of it. An awful lot of people respond to that truth by withdrawing and trying to protect themselves, but that doesn't really work very well in the long run.

My theory has always been, "no guts, no glory". It takes courage to put yourself on the line, whether it's in a marriage, dating, or on the job. You can get hurt pretty badly, but the people who have the guts to do that are also usually the ones who are more confident and the ones who eventually reap the greatest benefits.

I made a comment somewhere else, but it applies here. Both feminists and liberals tend to assume that many of the problems we face are caused by "the system". They want to change institutions, thinking that this will eliminate the problems they observe in life, but what they don't realize is that "the system" evolved in response to human nature and human nature doesn't change when you change the system.

So the problems don't go away. You just get different problems: ones our ancestors figured out how to solve generations ago.

Congratulations: we've just reinvented the wheel.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 07:58 AM

I think she's just pissed because the truth hurts; "progressives" IN GENERAL are unhappier people. ;-)

OTOH, I can attest to the fact that some men simply don't pull their weight no matter what. Nobody wants to nag--but damn if it doesn't happen after the 5000th time he can't be bothered to carry his damn dishes to the sink for himself, or put the dirty clothes IN the hamper and not NEXT TO it on the floor, or...well, you get the point. It happened to me regardless of income--at one point I made quite a bit more than he did, and later, I was a SAHM. Should a SAHM put up with an inconsiderate slob?
It's not trying to reform the man for future generations or based on some lofty principle; it's just plain old maddening. Inconsiderate behavior isn't usually met with sweetness and light. Human nature at work. You're lucky to have a husband that isn't like that, I guess.

To the current generation of wives, here's an update on my friend's advice: Speak up, speak up, your daughters' ''semi-traditional" marriages may depend on it.

That's where I think she's full of crap. Are there REALLY that many women sitting around pissed off and saying nothing? I doubt it. Look at the divorce rates. And she's ADVISING women to start arguments if they don't feel compelled to so otherwise? For "future generations?" That's just effing stupid. Apparently (and I don't know one way or the other) she's never been married. I guess she thinks the daughters would be better off in a single-parent household. (Caveat: in some cases it is better, but NOT in most.)

Posted by: The happy 2x divorcee at March 21, 2006 09:09 AM

Oh, I completely agree. As I said, you can only pull 1/2 the weight in a relationship. Sooner or later, if you're always doing 90% of the work, things are going to fall apart.

That's why it's so important to make sure before you get married that you have the same expectations and that you have worked some method of hashing your problems out. Different couples solve things differently and I've never been a big believer in one size fits all solutions.

I was kind of fascinated to see that both my sons seem to argue with their partners more than my husband and I did (we tend to be more non-confrontational, but I think that's partly because I hate fighting and partly because both of us get more upset when we do fight). We are both so stubborn, and neither of us gets mad easily...but boy...when we do :)

We argue more often now, so we've had to adjust and figure out how to cope with something neither of us was used to.

But the kids tend to argue in a *good* way - it is always productive and they know when to press an issue and when to back down, and I never see them bicker or put each other down. They are *respectful* of one another.

I think that is what matters. A lack of respect is what kills love off.

And my husband is a great guy. I got very lucky.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 09:32 AM


Ze beatings vill continue ountil moral improovez.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at March 21, 2006 10:02 AM

Drat. Now I have to pick a fight with my husband when he comes home, and right when I was feeling lovey dovey. I hate it when uber feminists tell me that I am miserable. I should have seen it for myself, which tells you how under my husband's thumb I am. NOT

*sigh* Time to go over to Liberal Larry's and see if anyone bought Paul McCartney's wig.

Posted by: Cricket at March 21, 2006 03:21 PM

Personally I now have an inferiority complex.

And here I thought I was doing such a great job of riding my broom. *Now* I find out that not only are my expectations too low, but I'm ruining things for the next generation.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 03:56 PM

Oh, that is the collective guilt from the toxins of the 1950s. According to Peter Beagle, the Sixties were the reaping of that foul harvest. Now we have Gen Exers who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Pink Floyd's The Wall and Seek Life's Answers in The Lord Of The Rings instead of Maureen Dowd and Barbara Whatshername.

Posted by: Cricket at March 21, 2006 04:40 PM

And doncha know we auld things always mess it up for the younger generation? This clarion call to action is Breaking The Cycle of Perpetual Ignorance...that marriages can be happy in spite of Andrea Dworkin
and the Sisters of the Wailing Womb.

I am sorry, but I do have a happy marriage and married a wonderful man. We were in our mid 20s when we married, and in spite of all the things we have had to face, we did it together, being equally yoked, so to speak.

Posted by: Cricket at March 21, 2006 04:46 PM

The BarbEhrian... she who thinks I'm the spiritual descendant of the women's KKK.


Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 04:47 PM

Cricket you have just been beaten into submission by the Rod of Male Authority, you poor downtrodden wench.


Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 04:49 PM


Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 04:49 PM

Down! Down, damn you!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 04:50 PM

Oh you are so in trouble...The Male Rod Of Authority? Would that be the morally erect one?

Posted by: Cricket at March 21, 2006 05:17 PM

Well I don't know about that, but I'm feeling morally erect just thinking about it.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 05:23 PM

...either that, or I'm bored out of my freaking mind and I'm trying to cause trouble.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 05:24 PM

Anyway, you know what they say:

[wait for it]

Spare the rod and spoil the chylde.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2006 05:26 PM

Oh that left such an opening for a snark about kissing the rod of chastisement but I will be quiet.

Posted by: Cricket at March 22, 2006 10:52 AM

And I thought I was evil.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 22, 2006 01:06 PM


Posted by: Cricket at March 22, 2006 02:00 PM

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