The Downside to Giving Up the Domestic Sphere

By
Photo: Niklas Larsson/Corbis

The 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique is as good a time as any to consider the aftermath of women’s escape from the gilded cage of domesticity, and The Wall Street Journal is all over it. According to two recent articles, women’s entrance into the workplace had an equal and opposite reaction in the home. "Just as we saw a feminization of the workplace in the past few decades, with more emphasis on such skills as empathy and listening, we are seeing the opposite at home — a masculinization of domestic tasks and routines,” Chapman University marketing professor Gokcen Coskuner-Balli told the Journal. Taken at face value, that seems like a good thing — blurring of gender roles and all that. But now the Journal reports that uppity men have their own big ideas about home décor that must be entertained.

The Journal writes:

“Achieving design harmony was less of a problem back when decorating was understood to be the woman's job, which meant an unequal workload but fewer opportunities to bicker. With the advent, however, of masculine-leaning décor styles such as industrial modern or, more recently, "heritage" and its abundance of gnarled wood and taxidermy-as-art, men have begun to take ownership of interiors. These days, images of Don Draper dreaming away in his midcentury-modern office and high-profile collaborations between Brad Pitt and housewares designers practically challenge men to give a damn about the curtains.”

Did you accidentally marry someone who fell “geekishly in love with the minimalist artist Donald Judd in high school and has favored sharp lines and uber-sparseness ever since,” as the shabby-chic-favoring author Lauren Mechling did? (First of all, you should have known better. Dudes who love minimalism are the most pedantic.) Before the so-called "End of Men," it might not have mattered, but since men took back the home, now you're looking at a lifetime of conflict. Marriage counselors told Mechling that aesthetic disagreements are "perpetual problems" — small conflicts that come up over and over, driving a wedge between you and your lacking-in-taste beloved, every lamp suddenly loaded with "metaphoric meanings about whose space it is."

The second effect of the masculinization of domestic tasks is that parenting is becoming "a guy thing" — though the Journal struggles to describe what that looks like. Male child-rearing, according to Coskuner-Balli, is "outdoorsy, playful and more technology-oriented," which seems to be code for "dirty, dangerous, and hands-off."

The wife of one such stay-at-home dad, attorney Erin O'Callaghan, explains:

Leaving Finn's muddy clothes on the floor by the laundry room for hours "just doesn't bother him the way it bothers me," she says. Also, he lets the children "run and jump and climb and get themselves into precarious positions that I might not even allow," she says. She is also more "ready to get involved" when one of her children is frustrated or starts crying, to comfort and guide them to a solution.

Which only leaves us with one question: Who in this modern arrangement cleans the mud off the Le Corbusier chairs?