Monday, November 2, 2020

The Myth of Maternal Gatekeeping: No, it's Not Your Fault Your Husband's Not Involved

The Internet is littered with articles that instruct heterosexual married women on strategies for getting men to do more household labor. Research shows that even in dual earner families, women do significantly more household and childrearing labor, get less sleep, and enjoy less leisure time than their male partners. Rather than targeting men with messages about the need to be less lazy, stop abusing their partners, and participate equally in the lives of the children they helped to make, advice-givers have decided that women created this problem. Some even claim that women are actively preventing men from participating in domestic work by engaging in maternal gatekeeping. 

The line goes like this: 

Women have unreasonable standards for household cleanliness and caring for children. So when men try to "help" (it's always framed as help when a man does it, not a basic obligation of being a functional adult), women correct them. The men lose interest and stop helping

It's the woman's fault, you see. 

This concept treats household labor as something people do for funsies, as if there are no actual standards, and women are being mean by expecting their male partners to conform to a basic standard of care. 

There is a right way to parent and a right way to clean. 

If you leave crumbs on the counter, bugs appear. 

If you leave stains on the floor, it gets stained. 

If you don't vacuum the house, there's dust and pet hair everywhere. 

If you don't clean the toilet, it eventually becomes covered in feces. 

If you don't send children to school with healthy lunches, they can't have healthy bodies. 

If you don't put the right formula in a baby's bottle, the baby can get sick. 

If you don't put a newborn down to sleep in a safe position, they can die. 

If you don't make a child wear a helmet, or buckle them correctly into the carseat, or keep allergens out of their food, or monitor while they eat, or cut up grapes for young babies, or a million other things, the child might not survive dad's parenting. 

Women who correct their partner's parenting aren't gatekeeping; they're protecting their families and their children from men who have not bothered to learn to do things right--or who, more likely, are deliberately doing things wrong so that their wives will stop asking for help. 

There's actual research documenting the fact that men who are worse parents are more likely to be subject to "gatekeeping." A 2018 study found that men whose wives engaged in gatekeeping were worse parents when researchers assessed parenting quality at 9 months. This isn't because gatekeeping made them worse parents, either. The researchers found no association between not being a gatekeeper and parenting quality. In other words, men didn't get any better at parenting when their wives avoided correcting them. But men were more likely to have gatekeeper wives when they sucked at parenting. 

Other studies have also found that maternal gatekeeping correlates with less competent fathers. These studies similarly fail to provide any evidence that maternal gatekeeping causes the bad behavior. And it just doesn't make sense to conclude there is a causal connection. A man who is a competent parent has no reason to become less competent when his wife comments on his parenting. And if he does, if he decides to quit trying, perhaps he's not really a good father. Women routinely continue competently parenting their kids even when their parents don't praise them or support them, and even when their partners actively undermine them. 

Why is it that we think men need praise and support to be good parents, while women should be able to pull it off no matter what? 

Perhaps instead of maternal gatekeeping, we should talk about manbabies who are so incompetent that their wives have to stand over them to tell them how to correctly parent. Of course, that doesn't make for very good soundbytes or cute listicles. 

The myth of maternal gatekeeping is just one more way we blame women for men's bad behavior. Don't buy it. Fathers who live in the same house as the mother who want to care for their children can. There are plenty of opportunities to get up in the middle of the night, pick up the toys, review the homework, make the school lunch, read stories, and do everything else that mothers do. Men do not have to be reminded or prompted. After all, women do all of this and more without such reminders. They don't need gratitude or credit; women certainly don't get those things when they care for children. To make male participation in household labor dependent on these prerequisites is to demand even more labor from mothers. 

Don't buy it. 

He can do the work. 

He just chooses not to. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

New Blog Address

 Welcome! This blog has served me well for 4 years, but it's time to integrate it with my website. You can find all future content at

Monday, October 26, 2020

Household Chore Inequity is Abuse: A Manifesto

The notion that men can't, or shouldn't, or won't do their fair share of household labor is everywhere. 

I see it from women talking about how they spent Mother's Day watching the kids while dad went golfing. 

It's on websites that offer advice to women about how to get their husbands to "pitch in." Because, of course, it's not the bare minimum for a man to prevent his house from caving in and his children from showing up to school naked. It's "helping." And getting men to do it is women's responsibility. Popular magazines never draft articles entitled, "How to Stop Being a Lazy Asshole Who Buys His Free Time With His Partner's Exhaustion." 

I see it on advice columns, where women are presented with the impossible paradox: ask him to pull his own weight, clean the damn kitchen, and raise the kids he helped make and be considered a nag. Or they can choose not to speak up, and be told that they should have asked. Men, you see, are incapable of comprehending that houses need cleaning and children need food and education without being told so by a woman. 

I see it in endless message board posts from mothers of infants. They're so exhausted they can't function, but their precious husbands can't possibly be troubled to get up with the baby so mom can sleep. I see it on postpartum support boards, where women whose vaginas or stomachs have just been ripped open are still making meals for overgrown man-babies and trying to keep the house clean while their darling husbands whine about their own exhaustion. 

I see it every time I get involved in any sort of social justice activism involving children. There are women everywhere, advocating for their kids' IEPs, demanding accountability from school boards, strategizing about how to construct more equitable public schools. The men are nowhere to be found. 

I've seen it in multiple books about household labor inequity written by feminist writers. The writers detail the shocking ways their husbands buy free time with female exhaustion. They tell tales of men who went camping following the birth of a new baby, who insist on 12 hours of free time every Saturday, even though both parents work and mom is left home with the kids. They correctly identify this behavior as problematic. But then they just keep accepting it. Those silly men. You know how they are. They can't really be expected to change. 

And most discouraging of all, I see it from women who say that they just can't demand that their husband do his fair share of labor because they would end up divorced. 

Maybe they should be divorced. 

We already have a word for someone who derives pleasure from someone else's suffering, exhaustion, and illness: abuser. 

Household chore inequity is a form of domestic abuse. It forces women to work themselves into exhaustion and illness. Married women live shorter, less healthy and happy lives. Married men live longer. It's not funny. There's no cheerful battle of the sexes spin to be put on men who are slowly killing their partners with their own laziness, year after year. 

It is not natural or normal for women to do all or most of the household labor and childrearing, especially in a society where both parents now work outside of the home. Even if you're a stay-at-home mom, though, doing all of the household labor means you're working 168 hours to his 40. 

There is no vacuuming gene. 

There is no hormone that causes women to know that children need advocacy at school, clean clothes at home, and food every day. 

This is basic human knowledge. Men know that children need care, that houses cave in if you don't keep them up, and that leaving food on the counter causes bugs and rodents to appear. They know you have to eat to live. They are neither innately incompetent nor incapable of learning. Yet that's what those who would have us believe this is natural want us to think. 

Every time I write about this topic, it goes viral. Women reach out with tales of incompetent and lazy men. Then there's backlash from incels who believe that, why yes actually, men are inferior to women and just cannot be reasonably expected to do the same amount of work. And then nothing happens. Because deep down, we all already know that it's unfair that women have to work outside of the home, then come home to endlessly work there, too. On some level, most of us understand that this is bad for families and society. We know women suffer when they can't get any time to themselves. We know treating male leisure as more important than female health is sexist. 

We also, as a culture, believe that men should never have to give anything up for women. Our entire society has embraced male entitlement as an ultimate value. Sure, she might be recovering from birth. Yes, having to get up 6 times a night and then cook and clean all day might mean she gets postpartum depression. But we can't ask him to give up his golf game! Heaven forfend. 

A person whose sole contribution to the family is a paycheck is replaceable. This should not be even close to enough to earn endless labor from exhausted women. 

It's not a weird quirk of marriage. It's not inevitable, or funny, or just the way men are, or any of the other things we say as we laugh it off. 

Does he get leisure time when she doesn't? 

Does she spend her "free" time cleaning and doing things for the family while he spends it golfing? 

Is his time more valuable than hers? 

Then it's an abusive relationship. And just as nothing can justify hitting a woman or calling her derogatory names, nothing can justify taking away endless hours of her life because a man is just too lazy to do his fair share. 

Like other forms of abuse, it will not get better on its own. It's not an accident. 

Read that again: It's not an accident. 

Time is the most valuable resource we have. Once it is gone, we can never get it back. If your partner leverages your fatigue into personal free time, they are stealing precious weeks and months. They are stealing your life. 


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Hello! You've Reached the Not All Men Hotline!


Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Welcome to the Not All Men Hotline! We care about you and your #notallmen emergency, and are here to help. No one is available to take your call at this time, because we have been inundated with #notallmen emergencies. Please enjoy one of our helpful pre-recorded messages. 

You've been directed to this hotline because you have derailed a post about women's pain with a reminder that some men aren't sexist. We understand that anything that paints men as less than heroic and perfect can feel like an emergency and a threat in a patriarchal society. We sympathize with your concerns, and so we're here to address them and explain why your #notallmen proclamations are harmful, derailing, and make you look like a misogynist. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Emotional Labor: The Cognitive Load of Grief

Ember, my daughter, is in an urn on my desk. 

I spent the hours following her death pleading for appropriate medical care in an emergency department, as I nearly bled to death from a postpartum hemorrhage. 

Many people in my life will not say her name, or even acknowledge that she existed. She died when I was 6 months pregnant. I used to think that the ambiguous nature of this loss--the death of a child whom no one got to meet or hold--explained this. I now know that this likely would have been the reaction no matter how old she had been. 

Our culture is not comfortable with grief. Instead, we expect grieving people to bear the full burden of their grief alone, without reminding anyone else that grief exists, colors everything, and is the fate that eventually awaits us all. This collective ignoring builds an unbearable mental load for those of us trapped under an avalanche of grief. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

On Futility, Loving Someone With Dementia, and Why Not Everything Has to Have Meaning

My mom, second from right. If we are to believe current research on dementia, dementia may have already been attacking her brain then.
My mom, second from right. Research on dementia suggests it was already attacking her brain when this photo was taken, decades before her symptoms appeared. 

One of the last videos I have of my mother speaking features her lamenting the lies of online dating. She's 62 in the video, but still looks like a runway model: tall, with high cheekbones and perfect blonde ringlets. She's a retired marriage and family therapist, a musician, and smarter than everyone she meets. Unlike most women of her generation, she does not attempt to hide that fact.

"I don't know if they think they're going to grow before they arrive to our date," she sighs. "Maybe they just think they're going to grow on me? Like I'm supposed to get excited about a male tumor?" She points to our waiter, draws him over to us, and proceeds to interrogate him about why heterosexual men are so disappointing. "I'm not drunk," she reassures him. "This is natural. Disappointment with men is my natural state."

Four years later, at 66, she could no longer speak.

I watch this video on repeat, searching for signs of what was to come. There's now evidence that dementia lurks in our bodies, waiting in our cells, for 20 years or longer before it stages its attack. 

I see no signs, aside from her obvious humanity. That's warning enough. Time eventually robs all of us humans of everything we have. Sometimes it's in one catastrophic incident. More frequently it's in the slow erosion of aging, lost loved ones, and illness. We cannot predict when or how we'll lose our lives, our health, or our memories. It's terrifying. We have constructed elaborate rituals and cultural lies to avoid this reality.

Dementia forces us to face the futility of existence, and the fact that it will eventually end--probably in suffering and tragedy. There are no fairytales or lessons or triumphs of the human spirit in the cold story of dementia. There is beauty at looking at things the way they are. There's meaning there, even if we can't wrap things up into neat little packages.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Free Online Classes, Storytime, Museum Tours, Field Trips, and More to Support Parents and Kids During Coronavirus Quarantine

Free photo 82954199 © creativecommonsstockphotos -
[image description: a row of shelves with books, behind several bright light bulbs]

COVID-19 has introduced parents across the globe--already experienced chaos survivors--to a whole new level of disorder. We're all supposed to become teachers, while somehow maintaining our sanity, working from home, and preventing the house from caving in. There's never been a more compelling case for paying more to teachers (and school bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, and daycare providers, and nannies, and everyone else who serves our children and our families).

No one can do it alone. Sometimes you have to outsource the teaching to someone else--if only so you can get a quick break to go scream into a paper bag. Here's a list of the best resources I've found. Almost all are free. A few are low cost. None require any special equipment. If you've found something that keeps your kids under control for a few minutes, please add it to the list.