Everyone feels this way, but men get to act on it.
Invariably during the periodic flare-ups of the “work-life balance” controversies, someone will eventually pipe up and ask, “Why is this considered just a women’s issue? Why do we assume only women struggle with the choice to lean in or opt out? Why don’t men struggle with the issue of balancing child care and housework with paid employment?” Well, British writer Toby Young has a bracingly honest answer: Because child care is scut work, and men would rather foist it off on women than do it themselves.
Of course, that’s not that controversial an opinion. That’s basically what people are hinting at when they say that women scale back professionally to attend to child care and housework because of “choice” or “personal preference”: That men aren’t doing this unpaid labor because they just don’t want to. Most of the time, however, this is rationalized away by pretending that women love cleaning up poop explosions or are just born to herd kids around. Witness the housewife profiled in New York Magazine who said “women keep it together better than guys do. ”
Young, to his immense credit, is skeptical, correctly finding it implausible that being female makes dealing with screaming, stubborn kids any more pleasant:
Whenever I talk to women about this, they’re quick to point out that they don’t get any pleasure from making their children do their homework, either. Indeed, it’s precisely because childcare is so difficult and boring that they want their partners to take on their share of the burden.
Of course, this admission backs him into a corner. If neither gender is somehow programmed to love child care, then how is it fair for women to have to do so much more of it? Having backed himself into a corner, Young tries another tactic by arguing that while women may not like child care more, they feel guiltier about not doing it, so that’s why they have to do more of it:
This is the crucial difference between men and women, in my experience. It’s not that mums enjoy looking after their kids any more than dads. Of course they don’t. Rather, it’s that women don’t get as much pleasure from their careers because they feel guilty about not spending more time with their children.
Naturally, he claims guilt is hardwired into women—a conclusion he no doubt came to after years as a genetic researcher—thus safely avoiding the realization that it’s really not cool for men to exploit women’s guilt to get them to do more of the work. As long as we can blame all this on some vague and unsubstantiated genetic claim, rather than owning up to the power differentials between men and women that make it easier for men to leave the crap work for women, even though it’s downright weird to think of inherently social emotions like shame and guilt as existing independent of other people, you know, shaming and guilt-tripping you.
But hey, he admitted that the different workloads between men and women are rooted in men taking advantage and women feeling guilty, which is exponentially more than I’ve seen almost any other non-feminist writer cop to. We’re halfway to honesty! One more little push past trying to write it all off as biology and we may get there yet.