Join me as I interview Darcy Lockman, author of All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership. This book. Just. Wow. You’re not imagining things – even egalitarian households turn into mini-patriarchies after welcoming kids, but you will be surprised at all that’s at play. This episode provides much validation around our unequal roles, and so much inspiration to change things, along with tips about how to do that. And it isn’t all rage, in fact, Darcy talks about how having our eyes wide open to this issue actually lets both people off the hook a bit, and you’ll find out why. I think the head-nodding is going to be at all all-time high here as Darcy and I get real and have lots of laughs about marriage in modern parenthood. Having unequal labor roles is one of the leading causes of divorce in couples with children, so this podcast might just save your marriage.
Brandy: You guys, I almost have no words for this podcast, which is kind of ironic, right? Join me as I interview Darcy Lockman, author of All The Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership. This book just, wow. So much validation around our unequal roles, and so much inspiration to change things, along with tips about how to do that. And it isn’t all rage. In fact, Darcy talks about how having her eyes wide open to this issue actually lets both people off the hook a bit, and you’ll find out why. I think the head-nodding is going to be at an all-time high here, as Darcy and I get real about marriage and modern parenthood. Having unequal labor roles is one of the leading causes of divorce in couples with children, so this podcast just might save your marriage.
Brandy: And if you’re a dad, hi! Perhaps your partner or wife has asked you to listen to this podcast. If so, thank you on her behalf for taking the time to be here. She likely asked you to listen to this podcast because she loves you and cares deeply about your relationship and your actual happiness together, instead of eternal resentment. So, congrats! You’ve already passed Level One, which is listening to her, taking her seriously, and making the effort to educate yourself. While listening to this, you may feel defensive or called-out, but I invite you to put your ego aside for the next hour because if you do, you may just learn something new. Actually, I can guarantee you will, and it may just change your and her life for the better. Popular sex therapist, Esther Perel, says the most common reason for a cheating wife is her desire to break free from her caregiving role. Ms. Perel says, “In truth, we’re not looking for another person. We’re looking for another self.”
Brandy: Onto the show!
Brandy: Today on the podcast, I have somebody who I have been waiting to interview. This is Darcy Lockman, who is the author of a book called All The Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and The Myth of Equal Partnership. And Darcy, just that title alone is healing. Thank you!
Darcy: You’re so welcome! I’m so glad to hear it.
Brandy: I have so much I want to say. I’ve been reading your book to get ready for this, and it’s kind of blowing my mind, and it’s affecting my life, which I think is probably the point of why you wrote it.
Brandy: Before we get into that, I’d love for you to just give us the synopsis of what your book is about, so people who haven’t read it, who haven’t heard of it, know what the hell we’re talking about.
Darcy: The book is about the experience I had when I became a mother – of most of the childcare labor falling to me despite the fact that my husband and I were both totally egalitarian in our values, and both work outside the home actually doing the same thing. We’re both clinical psychologists. We met in grad school. I found myself, every day, being really frustrated with him and with myself because I was kind of taking care of everything. It wasn’t what I expected or what he expected, and as it was happening, it wasn’t even anything that he necessarily noticed. At the same time, I was becoming friends with a lot of mothers through preschool and things like that, this new phase of my life, and I saw that everyone around me was kind of living the same way. And this question was on my mind every day: how is it still this way? This wasn’t what we were expecting; why is it going like this?
Darcy: It really became the most burning question of the early years of parenthood for me. And then, finally, after a few years, I was like, “Wait a second. I used to be a journalist. I’m a psychologist. I know how to read research. I can really dive into this and try to answer this question, because I really want to know.” The book is really an in-depth exploration of why modern couples who don’t plan to live this way still end up doing this, of why mothers are so angry and fathers are so… I don’t know if “oblivious” is the right word, but unwilling to maybe listen to their partners and make some changes.
Brandy: Yes. Ugh. Let me just soak that in for a minute. Yes. As I was reading your book, I was getting these little tingling sensations inside, because your book has so many themes that my novel has.
Darcy: Oh! Huh.
Brandy: Direct themes, and so, as I’m reading your book, I’m going, “Oh, my gosh, my book talks about this, too, but in more of a story way,” and yours is in anecdotes, but also really amazing research. Your book articulated and gave terms and definitions and stats for things I had been experiencing and feeling for my whole motherhood journey. And I thought some of this stuff was just me and it was in my head, because I’m an over-thinker, and like, “Is this really a thing or is this not?” And then, I read your book, and it’s like, not only is this a thing, but there are terms for these things, such as the strategies that husbands use to purposefully get out of doing work. I didn’t know that that was an actual thing. So, reading your book has helped me to put words to scenarios and to experiences that I could only write about in sort of a fictionalized way. So, thank you for that! That was such a gratifying experience.
Darcy: Well, you’re welcome, and I had the same experience when I dove into all the social science research. I mean, if you ever want to feel like your life is completely mundane and dictated by societal standards, read the family sociology journals, and you will be convinced. Because I had the same exact thing, like, “Am I crazy? What am I doing wrong?” And since the book has come out, I have heard from so many women who are like, “I thought I was crazy. I thought I was doing something wrong.”
Brandy: Yes. Or being a bitch.
Brandy: Because the other thing that your book did for me, is… I am kind of a ball-buster when it comes to equality stuff with my husband, and probably similar to you and your husband, when we got together, we’re very equal-minded, we thought it was going to be egalitarian. And then, you have a baby and it just, all of a sudden, everything goes to shit in that area. But still, I’m somebody that, if I am uncomfortable or upset, I’m not somebody who stuffs feelings down and just deals with it. And that’s not a great thing in some ways, but in other ways, people always know where they stand with me. So, for my husband, I constantly have been on him about certain things and have demanded him to do things in a more equal way, and I’m so lucky because he is open and receptive, and he doesn’t stonewall me.
Brandy: Over the course of many years, I hate to say that I’ve trained him in a certain way, but I’ve demanded a certain level of respect and equality. For example, one of the things is that if he has something come up at work that makes it so that it inconveniences… not just inconveniences me, but makes it so that I, then, can’t do something or I’m juggling two kids in a way that’s impossible, with one to get to gymnastics and one to get to tennis, I told him, “If that ever happens, you’re the guy that has to find the childcare for it. I’m not the person.”
Darcy: Good for you, yeah.
Brandy: Thank you. “I’m not the person that’s going to find the childcare.”
Brandy: He was like, “Okay, yeah.” So, there’ve been little things like that that he’s done, but I’ve felt a little bit, if I’m being honest, that I’m a ball-buster, bitchy wife.
Brandy: And why all these other wives who don’t do this, who just do all the work and grumble about it and are resentful, why couldn’t I just be more like them and not have to call him on this stuff? Right?
Darcy: Oh, my God. Why would you aspire to that? Because I tell you, I’ve lived that, and that is not fun.
Brandy: No, and it doesn’t look fun, but there’s a part of me that’s like, “I wonder if all the other husbands are like, ‘Damn, dude, you got it bad. Your wife does this podcast, and she’s probably on your balls all the time.'” But the reality is, and your book beautifully validated this for me, I’m doing him a favor, and us a favor, because I didn’t sign up for this marriage to do half-assed happiness that’s fake. I’m not here to just smile and deal with it, but hate him underneath the surface. I’m here for pure fucking happiness that’s real, and if I’m not real with him, then he doesn’t even have the capacity to change, because he doesn’t even know. Which is part of what your book talks about.
Brandy: But it really made me feel so grateful that I’d done these things, because we have a marriage that is pretty darn equal, and so, reading your book made me appreciate him so much. And I told him, and we’d have conversations about your book after I’d read it every night, and that part of it has been really, really amazing for our relationship. And I see him, even though he steps up hugely, I’ve seen him, since I’ve been reading your book and we’ve been talking about it, I’ve seen him step up even more, and it’s amazing to think how much of our actual happiness is rooted in this very thing, the unequal division of labor.
Darcy: Yes. There’s so much research, and this is in the book, about how marital happiness is impacted by one partner, usually the woman, feeling the division of labor is unjust. And I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but marriages take a significant hit. So, you are doing both of you a favor in really advocating for yourself in that way. And when you say, if he has a thing that’s going to mean that we need childcare, he’s the one who’s got to look for it, that seems so reasonable!
Darcy: And wouldn’t one just say, “Well, of course you would do that”, but, you know what? I didn’t used to do that. And sometimes I still don’t do that. Because I think we are raised, as women, to feel like this stuff is on us. And I noticed these things, these little things, and obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, but for example, if I was taking the kids to see my parents out of town, of course it was my job to pack for them, because I was taking them away. But then, I would simultaneously have the same idea that if he was taking them away for a night and I was going to get a night to myself, then, of course, it was my job to pack for them, because he was taking them away. And that is so how my thinking works, automatically, and I think his, too, because we supported each other around that without speaking about it when this stuff was all kind of building up. So, there was some way of justifying why everything was my responsibility all of the time.
Darcy: And I don’t put this on him at all. I put it on both of us, and I think it’s all this societal stuff that I unpack in the book that really got us there. And since reading my book, my husband has been making efforts in ways that I don’t think he understood he needed to before, so things have gotten better in some ways. But still, I mean, we were going to be gone all day Saturday last weekend, and he mentioned that maybe we should get the dog walker. We have a puppy. And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I guess we probably should.” And then, a few days later, he said to me, “So, did you email the dog-walker?” And I’m thinking in the back of my mind, like, “No. Did you?” But instead, I said, “No. Did you want me to?” He’s like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Okay.” So, I did it. And again, some of that stuff is so automatic.
Darcy: And it’s infuriating. And I even had it in my head to say, “What?” And I think I was kind of waiting for him to say, “Oh, no, I just wanted to check if you’d done it. I’ll take care of it.” But as soon as I said, “Oh, no, do you want me to do it?” he responds, “Oh, yeah, that’d be great.” He’s so ready to allow me to do the work, and I’m so there doing it.
Darcy: And it’s nuts! But I was raised a girl and he was raised a boy, and here we are.
Brandy: It’s exactly right. I have so many quotes that just struck me. But one of them, going back to the idea that by calling your husband on the inequality, it’s a help for both of you, there’s this quote that just electrified me inside that I really loved.
Brandy: “Believe me, your current separation of tasks is making you both unhappy. Your husband might look relaxed now, but he’s not. He knows that you hate his guts. He is wary of this. He feels worried that you will hate him forever. It doesn’t feel good for him, either. Your unequal, unbalanced life might feel reasonably okay to him now. He probably thinks he’s doing a lot. And sure, he does things. He does lots of stuff really well! But your balance of tasks is not good, and that doesn’t benefit him in the long haul. In the big picture, he will wind up with a crabby, silently resentful wife who blames him for breathing oxygen and would rather eat a plate of live maggots than have sex with him.”
Darcy: I love this, because it’s like a quiz. Yes, that’s Heather Havrilesky; she’s a writer for The Cut. She does an advice column called “Ask Polly,” and that’s where that comes from.
Brandy: I mean, and the maggots part at the end, I just… I’m wondering if my listeners right now are like, “Oh, shit, that’s me.” You know? It’s such a common thing!
Brandy: First thing I have to ask, because I ask this of everybody, what’s something that you think the listeners need to know about you? Maybe something quirky…
Darcy: I think I’m the opposite of quirky in this context, because I really think that I am every woman, and my husband is every man. I feel like that’s one of the things that made writing this book so easy. I don’t mean easy; it was a lot of hard work. I mean, emotionally easier than it might have been, because it was really easy to write about this hard stuff between us, because I felt like it was so everybody.
Darcy: People have said to me, “How does your husband feel about this?” And in some ways, it was hard for him to be the exemplar of this and be named in the book, but I would never have written it if I thought he was truly a horrible person. It’s just like he’s everyone, so these stories were easy for me to tell in that way. I didn’t feel like I was condemning him. I think he’d just probably read it and go, “Yep! Yep! Yep!” And then, the same for me, the stuff I say about myself, I think I’m kind of like everyone. Clearly, my life isn’t the exact same as everybody’s, but in the context of this stuff, we’re all every woman…
Brandy: That’s so enlightened, that you are every woman. We are all one, Darcy!
Darcy: Hey, I’m telling you-
Brandy: You’ve cracked it!
Darcy: Read those social science journals. You’re going to feel exactly the same way. Family studies, Google it.
Brandy: There were so many things from your book that were big a-ha’s for me, and one of those was the part about how we think that men and women are wired so differently, and I definitely believed that. I always thought that women were better multitaskers, better caretakers, just biologically. And your book totally opened my mind up to what bullshit that is. There’s a quote, let me find it. Oh, my God; there are so many good quotes. Oh, it’s the one about… “This is bullshit! Of course we’re multitaskers. Because they turn us into multitaskers. Men are turning us all into their secretaries.”
Darcy: Yeah, that’s Lise Eliot, who wrote Pink Brain, Blue Brain. That was hilarious. “That’s bullshit! This brain difference stuff…” It is. If you read enough about it, it’s bullshit! It’s bullshit. And the funny thing is, and this is in there, is that there was once this idea that women had a bigger corpus callosum, and that is the area in the brain that connects the two hemispheres, and that was actually the justification. “Well, that’s why women are better multitaskers! The two sides of their brain have a thicker connection.” And actually, what they found in animals is that creatures with less lateralization are better multitaskers. By the logic that was given, if you looked at the animal studies, it would actually be men who are better multitaskers. But the stuff about the corpus callosum differences has been disproved, anyway. There’s a writer named Cordelia Fine. She calls it neuro-sexism. It’s using brain studies to justify women’s subjugation in our culture. It’s always the same old story, and it’s so crazy.
Brandy: There was something that you had said in the book about how we always hear about how different men and women are, and how our brains work; then you were saying something about how, when scientists are looking at brains side-by-side, they actually can’t just immediately tell what’s a female brain and what’s a male brain.
Darcy: Right, you can’t tell structurally. If you have a brain in front of you, a neuroscientist cannot tell you if it was male or female.
Brandy: Right, so, I loved your point that was, actually, our brains are way more similar than they are dissimilar. And I thought that was an important piece to it, and also, it’s not about who’s wired, because none of us are specifically wired to do this better than the other, but it’s about who’s with the kids day in and day out, fulfilling that role. That’s actually what tells – who knows about the permission slips and the birthday party gifts and all of those things. It’s not your gender!
Darcy: Right. Well, we are not born wired. Our brains are not static objects that come out of the womb looking the way they look. Our brains wire up as we learn, so really, human beings don’t function based on instinct. We function based on learning, and that’s what our brains give us the capacity to do. In the study that you’re referring to, which is an Israeli study, they compared the brain activity of primary care mothers, secondary care fathers, and primary care fathers raising babies without maternal participation because they were gay, so there were two men raising the babies. And what they found was, the brain activity of the primary care mothers and the primary care fathers was almost identical. And what they said was, really, that is evidence, if you needed it, that we all have the capacity to do this stuff. It’s not based on gender. We wouldn’t have survived 200,000 years… emotionally modern humans have been around for 150,000 years, if there wasn’t more than one person available to take care of infants who was drawn to doing that. With primates, we all respond to young creatures. We all like puppies, right?
Darcy: Women don’t like puppies better than men. We’re kind of wired to respond to-
Brandy: Cute things with giant eyeballs?
Darcy: Exactly, yeah. Men and women both. I don’t know if you knew this; I don’t think I knew this before I started doing the research, but men’s neuro-biological states change when they’re in contact with a pregnant women. In intimate contact with a pregnant women, men’s hormones rise at a different rate but the same hormones as women’s. So, if you spend time with your pregnant partner, your testosterone drops, your progesterone rises, all this stuff. There’s certainly a lot of evidence that men were also biologically programmed to take care of young children.
Brandy: One of my favorite quotes in the book was – I think this is yours – is, “There is no biological difference between the sexes that explains my husband’s failure to download the classroom communications app requested by our daughters’ teachers, or to chop the quartered watermelons he regularly brings home and deposits in our refrigerator like an outdoor cat with bird kill on the porch.”
Brandy: Yeah. The reason that your husband doesn’t do all of those things is not because they’re wired not to do those things; it’s because they’re conditioned in this way. Tell us a little bit about this conditioning. There’s so much there, but what really struck you as the most interesting, or your favorite parts?
Darcy: One of the more interesting studies that I read about children, we think that boys are more aggressive and girls are more verbal. And there are actually studies, and I remember reading this in grad school, observational studies of mothers and babies, and they show that mothers actually talk to girl babies more than to boy babies, and there’s something… it’s obviously not conscious, but there’s something about imagining that girls are better listeners, probably, that leaves mothers talking to girls more than boys. Boys are jostled more than girls, so when we think that boys are more physical than girls, is it because they’re born that way, or because once they’ve spent more time being jostled, they enjoy rough, physical play a little more?
Darcy: One of the interesting studies that’s in the book is of preschool classrooms and the way that preschool teachers interact with kids. There are observational studies, and there are kids between two and three, girls and boys are equally as likely to push and hit; aggressive behaviors are equally as likely for both genders between two and three years old. But what does differ is how often teachers intervene to stop the behavior. There’s a lot more intervention around aggressive behavior with boys. And if we think, “Why is this so?”, it’s probably because we’re more alert to boys’ aggression as adults. We think of them as more aggressive, and we think of it as more dangerous, so we’re more likely to intervene to stop it. But the net effect on children is, adult attention is good when you’re between two and three, and if you’re getting it for shoving, you’re going to shove more, right?
Darcy: And girls get more attention for babbling and talking. These behaviors are reinforced between two and three, and then when they look at the three to four-year-old classrooms, they see that boys have become much more likely to act out these aggressive behaviors than girls. And if we think about why, we can imagine it’s because they’ve gotten more attention for it. This stuff that we think of as biological has so much to do with socialization, much more than we realize. The problem with thinking something is biological is we just go, “Oh, well! Nothing we can do about the fact that women do so much more work in the home. They’re really the ones who are born to do this. This is just the natural state of things.” But often, when we say something’s just the natural state of things, it’s simply a justification for an uncomfortable status quo.
Brandy: That’s exactly right. That part of your book really, really struck me, too. There was a quote; it was one of my favorites. “It is easier to feel grateful for all that has changed than to acknowledge all that has yet to. Gratitude is the precursor to less conflict, rather than more.” That made me understand why so many conversations that I get into with other moms, and when we start to get real, and moms start to open up this thing about how unfair it is… A mom at the pool did this to me the other day, and she was even at the point where she said, “And the crazy thing is, is at the end of this, if I want to walk away from it, I’ve spent all my time with kids and I don’t have a career to fall back on to financially support me.” But in the very next breath, she made a comment that was this same thing, which was, “And yet, I’m so grateful for all the things that he does.”
Brandy: And after I read that quote of yours, I thought, “Man, this really explains why people get uncomfortable, and why they switch to gratitude rather than really looking at the thing.” Because if we look at the thing, and we look at how messed up it is, that means something might have to change.
Darcy: Yep, exactly. It’s so much easier to walk back your anger, especially when you have failed to get through to your partner. You know, what are you to do when you’re kind of talking to a wall about this? And I heard women that I interviewed fall back on gratitude after explaining how enraged they were, and I just saw it so often, and I get it!
Darcy: I mean, I get it, but that’s like saying… I hate to make this comparison, but I’m going to, anyway. It’s sort of like saying, “Well, at least my master doesn’t beat me.” Right?
Darcy: I think one needs to be angry. I think anger is a catalyst for change. But it’s really hard, because who wants to be angry at their husband all the time, or their partner all the time?
Brandy: It’s so true. On that note, will you tell us what stonewalling is?
Darcy: Yes, it’s a term that the psychologist John Gottman uses to describe a behavior he sees in couples where one partner will bring up something that they’re upset about, and the other will just kind of brush it off or ignore it. His thing is, he can watch a fight between a couple and predict who’s going to get divorced and who isn’t.
Brandy: Oh, God!
Darcy: And he does this with, like, 90% accuracy. There’s a great “This American Life” segment with him. But his term is “stonewalling,” because he saw it in so many couples. And it’s something that men tend to do much more than women. I’m sure there are instances where women do it, too, but it tends to be a way that men respond to women’s anger. Like, “Well, that’s not true,” or, “You’re not right,” or, “I do so much more than other men. You know, you’re really lucky to have me, actually. I’m so much better than the other dads. I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re always complaining.” It’s a way of really not hearing or taking in what your partner is saying, and it can be around any issue.
Brandy: Well, I see wives telling their husbands something that they’d want more help with, and I can see the husband sort of gloss over. It always blows my mind because, again, my husband, if I say, “I really need you to do XYZ,” he’s like, “Okay, well, how can I do that?” And he understands that a happy wife is a good thing for everybody, and he just, I think, respects me. But when I see other dads just completely blow their wives off, I think, “How does that wife just keep living with this person?”
Brandy: “And ever have sex with this person?” When that stonewalling happens, how do you ever get past that point to just know, “This person I’m in relationship with, I tell them something that’s important to me, something that I need or I feel like isn’t fair, and they never do anything about it.”
Brandy: Maybe that’s just me.
Darcy: No, no, I think it’s actually one of the predictors of divorce. Gottman describes this, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or does he say five? And there are five things that he looks for in couples to think about whether they’re at risk for divorce. And I think stonewalling is one of them.
Brandy: Another thing that was a huge revelation for me, or something I hadn’t understood before, is this idea that you talk about in the book about how women have a greater comfort with under-benefiting.
Darcy: Oh, yeah.
Brandy: Juxtaposed with men’s greater comfort with over-benefiting.
Darcy: Oh, my God. Yeah, right.
Brandy: And that, almost in a nutshell, explains modern marriage.
Brandy: Well, will you explain what that exactly is?
Darcy: Yeah. There’s research on division of labor in households, and there’s research on inequality in society, and the inequality in society research all shows that social inequality brings about unhappiness no matter whether someone is getting the shorter or the longer end of the stick. So, in household division of labor, the same is true. Whether you are an over-benefiter, getting the long end of the stick, or an under-benefiter, both of those positions are associated with negative affects, though different ones. The negative affect associated with over-benefiting is fear and self-reproach, and associated with under-benefiting is anger and rage. The person who finds themself in the position of under-benefiting feels anger and rage. In this case, it would typically be women. And the over-benefiter feels fear and self-reproach, which, when I read that, I was like, “Oh, my God. That perfectly articulates the positions my husband and I find ourselves in. I’m always angry, and he seems to feel guilty and also kind of afraid of me.” And it’s really uncomfortable.
Darcy: But they went on with the research, and what they found was, though both positions are uncomfortable, women are more comfortable being under-benefiters while men are more comfortable being over-benefiters. Which, again, makes so much sense because those are the positions we find ourselves in, and I think that really comes from these differences in the way we are raised. Girls are raised to be, and this is all over the social science research and, of course, will sound familiar because it reflects our culture, but girls are raised to be communal, to think about the needs of others, and kindness and other people’s feelings. And boys are raised to be agentic, to think about their own agency and independence and needs and ambitions. And when those two people, the communal and the agentic, marry each other, how else is it going to go?
Brandy: Exactly. That part right there made me understand this phenomenon in my relationship, which is, my husband sometimes will be like, “Hey, I’m going to go to Whole Foods and grab a salad. See ya!”
Brandy: And I’m like, “How could you…”
Darcy: Yes! Oh, my God.
Brandy: “You can go to the grocery store and grab one thing, and also it’s for you, and it’s just your lunch?”
Darcy: Yes. Yes. Yep. Yep.
Brandy: Every time I go to the grocery store, not only do I say to my husband, “Hey, do you need anything? Because I’m going to the grocery store.” Which, by the way, I pretty much know what he needs, but in my neighborhood, we text each other when we’re going to a grocery store, like, “Hey, does anybody need anything? I’m going to Whole Foods,” or, “I’m going to Trader Joe’s.” So, this whole idea of being communal… And now I laugh at him when he’s like, “Hey, I’m going to go grab a salad from Trader Joe’s.” And I just look at him, and he’s like, “What?”
Brandy: And I’m like, “I don’t understand how you can just go and just do that. Why do I not feel that way?” He’s like, “If you want to go get something that you want just for your lunch, you should just be able to go do it.”
Brandy: And I’m like, “But the thing is, is it would kill me at my core, because I know there’s other people whose needs aren’t being met who are going to ask me for food, and then I’m going to be like, ‘Sorry, I just had my own salad, but you guys are on your own.'”But that’s how he lives!
Darcy: I think that’s the thing, and I write about this in the book, that I never realized was a difference between men and women… not because of biology, but because of how we’re raised, is exactly what you’re saying. You don’t notice it until you are, I think, living with someone of the opposite gender in a close relationship. I remember, before we had kids, I still did most of the cooking, and it was an issue. And one night, my husband, we were both working late, he got home with takeout for himself. And I was just like, I couldn’t even believe… This was a man whose meals I largely made a lot of the time, and he knew we were both hungry, and he came home with dinner for himself. And my husband is not a selfish person, he’s not unkind, he’s not thoughtless.
Darcy: But right there. And it’s the same story you just told me, right? I could not ever imagine coming home with dinner for myself, right?
Darcy: It’s unfathomable, and that really just is the perfect story about how different we are raised to be.
Brandy: Well, and what I was surprised by in your book, too, is I thought that the rates of equality, however those are measured, I thought that we were getting better. And am I right in understanding this? It turns out that, statistics-wise, we’re actually not getting more equal.
Darcy: If you look at the American time use studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of childcare participation done by men leveled off in the year 2000 at about 35%. As women were more commonly in the labor force, and women’s labor force participation peaked in the mid-’90s, men did increase the amount of time they spent in childcare. But it never reached parity, so we had two stories kind of happening in parallel, two things. One was, the conventional wisdom was all around how much better dads were, but at the same time, their participation leveled off 20 years ago. I think this is part of the anger and surprise on the part of women, is that we’ve been fed this line about how it’s not the 1950’s anymore.
Darcy: And that is true. That’s not untrue.
Darcy: But what we didn’t know was that parity was never reached, and that men don’t have much interest in reaching it, and maybe women don’t, either. And I don’t mean that like it sounds. But there’s so much about women feeling as if more of this should be their burden, even though we think, “No, of course it shouldn’t be,” but our behavior seems to indicate that we kind of think it should be.
Darcy: And there was actually a really interesting study where the researchers looked at how much labor each member of the household was doing. They quantified it, and then they went back to the couples, without telling them what the numbers were. They didn’t say, like, “Oh, hey, you’re doing 65% and you’re doing 35%.” The couples in the study were blind to the numbers, but they said to them, “How do you feel about the division of labor in your home?” And what they found was that the men who reported the greatest feelings of fairness in their home, were doing about 35%. Interestingly and more disturbingly, and you probably know where I’m going with this, is that the women who reported the greatest of feelings of fairness in their home, were doing about 65%.
Brandy: Yeah, and that was one of the other parts of the book that I found super-interesting, was this idea of how we can’t even see the inequality. You were talking about that study where there was a room full, half of them were women and half of them were men, and it looks… There’s the quote that: “When you’re used to inequality, inequality looks like equality.”
Brandy: So, people look at that room with 50% women and 50% men, and they think, “Wow, there are so many women in there!”
Darcy: Right, a room full of professionals, yeah.
Brandy: Yeah! And actually, no. It’s equal. But equality looks like a majority, and so, I love where you went with that, which is, that’s how sometimes a man can be doing a third of the work, and we think of it as half of the work.
Brandy: Because we’re seeings things skewed, and even some of the anecdotes that you had about women who literally couldn’t see that they were doing so much more. It’s almost a delusion.
Darcy: Yeah. That was Annette Lareau, who wrote a great classic book in sociology. She was writing about race and class and inequality and family life, and one of her observations, though she doesn’t have these in the book; I interviewed her. She doesn’t have these in her book, because they weren’t relevant to her topic, but she was really taken aback by how little the dads did, and how much both parents claimed that that was not so. She gave the example to me, they would say, like, “Oh, Dad does all the soccer,” but then the mom would be making all the phone calls to arrange who was doing the snacks, and making sure the uniforms were clean, and all the kind of behind-the-scenes work. But the family story was, Dad does all the soccer.
Brandy: Right. The lens in which we look through things is skewed.
Brandy: And I think that that’s part of the problem, and part of the reason why we don’t demand better. There’s a couple things happening, is we don’t know that we deserve better, and then, we also realize, “If I demand better and he says no… Shit.”
Brandy: “Then I know.” Because that’s the thing is, when I was telling people about your book, so many people are interested and are like, “Oh, my gosh, this stuff is amazing.” But then, there were quite a few people who were like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t want to read that, because it’s going to make me really angry.” And I think to myself, “But it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening if you don’t read about it.”
Brandy: You know?
Brandy: And I personally don’t understand that desire to be in the dark. I mean, I get it for other people; I just don’t live like that.
Brandy: But then, you really have to look at who you married, and their willingness to see you as an equal. But if you don’t do that, that’s even worse! In my opinion. But I know, you know, there are a lot of people who just… head down, keep going. And also, if we’re in this position where many moms don’t have careers and wouldn’t have financial stability, if you look at that, and you think, “Well, maybe these women don’t want to really look at this because if it did cause a breakup, they would be worried about how they would support themselves and their kids.”
Darcy: You know, something that is interesting, though, that people who have read the book have said to me, is the book is actually a relief, because they don’t have to think, “Oh, my husband is such an asshole,” or, “Oh, I’m such a shrinking violet.” They can just go, “Oh. Right. Of course, this is what’s happening. This was predestined. It’s not us.” So, I think while doing the research did make me really angry about patriarchy, it relieves both members of a couple of some responsibility, and they can then say, “Given our inclinations that are unconscious and that we don’t have a lot of control over, how do we want to operate so that both of us feel good about what’s going on in our home?”
Brandy: And that is such a great point, exactly what you’re saying, is it’s not specifically a personal thing. But then, if you bring… if listeners decide or readers decide that they want to bring this to their husband just how you’re saying, about, like, “Hey, this is a thing that’s happening. How do we want to work this out?” That’s the moment when you realize if you married a dick or not. Because if you bring that to him and it’s pretty neutral, just like, “Wow, we both grew up in this culture where these are the way things are, and we both want to be happy, so let’s talk about how we do that.” And then the dude’s like, “I don’t see a problem,” then you’ve actually got a problem.
Darcy: Yeah. Right, that’s hard. And look, there are problems in marriage. So, maybe that’s a problem that you just live with. We all live with problems in our marriage. It doesn’t have to be the end of things. There are some things that are not movable. But there are many things that are.
Brandy: Well, I was laughing when there were actual scientific terms for how men consciously and subconsciously resist doing things to help.
Darcy: Yeah! Right.
Brandy: One that I really liked was the strategic incompetence, and then, the quote that went along with that was, “Men find ways of being so difficult that it’s not worth it. You just do it yourself.”
Brandy: One of the anecdotes in the book, I remember, was something to the effect of, if your husband… if he’s going to do the dishes and clean up after dinner because you cooked, and then maybe he does the dishes but the table’s a mess and he doesn’t clean it up, and then you say something to him like, “Part of this is you cleaning up the table, too, because otherwise, I have to do it.” And he says, “Your standards are too high. If you want it done, you do it yourself.”
Brandy: And then, the thing in the book that I loved was, “If that was his job, and his boss asked him, ‘Hey, can you do this a little bit better and differently?’, would he be like, ‘Sorry, you do it yourself’?” No.
Brandy: But there’s this thing that happens in a marriage and in a male/female relationship where it becomes the woman’s issue.
Brandy: And so, if he works himself out of a job by being difficult and saying, “That’s too much to expect from me, you have these high expectations,” and then she does it.
Darcy: This is so twisted. I interviewed a sociologist, a gender guy named Michael Kimmel, and he said to me, when he would talk to men, they would tell him that story. “My wife says if I’m watching the baseball game, well, at least I could vacuum. So, I vacuum while I’m watching the game, and then she comes in and says that it’s not good enough, so I tell her she’s just going to have to do it herself.” And he tells me that story and I think, “Well, yeah, I mean, if she doesn’t like it, I guess she’s just going to have to take it over.” Right? I so automatically go there with that guy! And then Michael Kimmel makes the analogy to the worker and the boss: “Well, if you don’t like my report, you’re just going to have to do it yourself next time!”
Darcy: And I thought, “Oh! Of course, you are in a partnership. You negotiate standards that are acceptable to both of you.” And women are aware of this knee-jerk reaction, which is that the women have such high standards and are so naggy, but I had women really say to me, “You know what? I go out of town for work, and I call my husband at 10 o’clock, and our three-year-old is still awake. And I say to him, ‘Why is he still awake?’ And he says, ‘Well, he says he wasn’t tired yet.'” And the woman said to me, “Are my standards too high if I expect him to have our three-year-old asleep before 10?” No! I mean, he’s just lazy. He doesn’t want to have to fight with our kid to put him to bed, and it’s enraging. And a lot of women had stories like that, where they were told their standards were too high, and one of the nice things about writing this and reflecting on it was, I was able to think, “No, you are a team when you are a couple.”
Darcy: You have to agree on things that are satisfying to both parties. Not just, “Well, if your standards are higher, you’re going to have to do it all!” Right?
Darcy: But, yeah, that’s one of the resistance strategies.
Brandy: The fact that there were names for that. It’s like, “I thought I felt that happening!” But then, there are actual names!
Darcy: Yes. Strategic incompetence. It’s great.
Brandy: I also loved this study that was done where they tested the cortisol levels of people, both male and female, in their homes, and then tested the cortisol levels of them at work. And I believe it says that in every single case, the cortisol levels – which is a stress hormone – were higher for everybody at home.
Darcy: For parents. I think it was parents that they were looking at, but, yes. Yep.
Brandy: That felt right.
Darcy: Yeah, totally.
Brandy: That felt like that should be like that. And then, if I had to have three quotes from this book that really rang true, this would be one of them. It was a bell hooks quote. “When women in the home spend all their time attending to the needs of others, home is a workplace for her, not a site of relaxation, comfort, and pleasure.”
Brandy: I want to say, “Hell, yes,” to that. My husband and I joke, because he knows that work is sort of the vacation, that it’s…
Darcy: Yeah! When you have little kids, it absolutely is.
Brandy: It is, and as they get older, it’s different. And a lot of this stuff sort of rectifies itself when the kids are older, because the demands aren’t so constant. But I wonder, because I look at some people who really sort of hate each other in the couplehood thing, where it’s just constant tension, and I think, “Okay, even if you guys outgrow this period, how do you, then, like that person? Once all of the division of labor isn’t like how it used to be, and you can kind of not argue about that anymore, do you even like this person anymore after what you’ve been through with them?”
Darcy: Yeah. It’s a good question. I think it’s different for every couple.
Brandy: For sure.
Darcy: I think you can. I think it depends what else has been going on, and how things were dealt with, and how much you liked each other to begin with. It’s a complicated question, but certainly, when the kids are small and the demands are so insistent, I think that’s when most couples find themselves in a tough spot, and women who are doing most of the work feel not only frustrated by the inequality, but also just exhausted and overwhelmed.
Darcy: When I had one kid, it didn’t bother me. It did bother me that I was doing more, but it didn’t tax me beyond the point of being able to relax and whatever. But once I had a second kid, that was like, “This doesn’t work anymore, the way that we’re going.” When I would interview people with one kid, sometimes people who things were going well for, I would wonder, “Is this because there’s only one kid, and it’s kind of easier?”
Brandy: I also wonder, and this is something that you brought up in the book, there was a quote that made me think about it. Oh, the quote, “By elementary school, it was liberating to decline a mothering ask,” which, I so felt that so deep in my bones. It reminds me of how, I think some moms don’t wake up to this stuff until it’s been compounded for so many years. I think a second kid, obviously, in your experience, pushes it so that you can’t not see it.
Brandy: But I also think that you’re in such survival mode for those first years that you might not even have the space to mentally think about what you think about this, or what’s happening. I know that that was how it was for me, and in some of the clients in the birth work that I’ve done, and some moms that I’ve worked with, I’ve seen that happen where once your kids are in elementary school, you kind of have a bigger view of things. But when you’re in the weeds, it’s hard to even know what’s what, to even have a breath or have a thought to yourself. I mean, even having a thought to yourself is a luxury, so, to then make that step to, “I don’t feel like this is totally fair, and I wonder if it’s because of social conditioning.” You don’t even have a time for that.
Darcy: Yeah. I hope that, if we’re talking about feeling less responsible and being liberated by a book, I hope that this does that, so that you don’t get caught in the loop of, “Oh, my God. Who am I married to?” You’re married to every man! Right?
Brandy: You’re married to the patriarchy! Yeah.
Darcy: And you’re every woman!
Brandy: Yes. That’s right.
Darcy: You didn’t know it, but…
Brandy: Right! When I think about how important it is for us to demand better from our husbands, some women think, “Well, we’re not going to change it, so why do we even try?” And it’s true. It can feel overwhelming to think, “I’m going to smash the patriarchy today.” But if and when you realize that you live in a mini-patriarchy, not because your husband’s an asshole but because of the social conditioning, that might give somebody some agency to think, “You know what? Maybe I can change my mini-patriarchy.”
Brandy: “And maybe that, in an effect, can change it for me, for my husband, for my kids and their future partners.” I think about how our kids are viewing this and having all of this downloaded into them like it was downloaded into us, and how important it is for us to break that cycle for their wellbeing, as well. Boys and girls.
Darcy: Yeah. Yeah. The more real, equal division of unpaid labor becomes the norm, the more it becomes the norm. Melinda Gates wrote a book about women’s unpaid labor that came out not too long ago, and she talks about actually having this problem in her marriage, which totally floored me because I thought, with a certain amount of money that only Bill Gates has, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Brandy: They could buy their way out of it.
Darcy: Exactly! But, no. She had this problem in her relationship, and she talks about it, and she said she started insisting that he take the kids to school. And she noticed after he started doing this, more of the fathers in the neighborhood were at school drop-off. I don’t know if she asked people about it. She either fantasized that this was the case, or people told her, but wives were saying to their husbands, “If Bill Gates can take his kids to school, so can you.” So, I think smashing the patriarchy happens one home at a time, right?
Brandy: Exactly! Well, and speaking of Bill Gates, I loved and I read this part to my husband, the part about Obama.
Darcy: I know!
Brandy: That was just so great, because I was like, “Look, even Barack Obama’s wife-“
Brandy: “Is calling him on his shit.”
Brandy: I felt like, “I’m like Michelle Obama. Respect me here! I am Michelle Obama!”
Brandy: You’re right. You think that they have a certain amount or they can just buy their way out of it, but-
Darcy: Well, they didn’t have money when they were young. I read this stuff about them, because they both talked about this a lot. He writes about it in Dreams of My Father, and she talked about it a lot on the campaign trail in 2008, about how this really threw a wrench into their marriage, the division of labor stuff, and she was enraged with him all the time, and he didn’t understand why. They were really outspoken about this, which I loved and I thought, “Oh, even the Obamas have this problem!” But they weren’t wealthy at the time. But then also, her resolution of it was so disappointing to me, even though it was very practical.
Darcy: I mean, she says, “I finally just realized, as long as I had a good babysitter or my mother, it was okay and he didn’t mean anything by it, and it was fine.” And I was like, “Oh, Michelle, you fell down!” But at the same time, her husband was running for president, and mine clearly was not. He was playing Game of War on his throne, on our bed. So, I guess I can make an exception for Michelle Obama’s choices.
Brandy: That’s right! Will you tell us from the part of the book, what hidden power is? That was something that really resonated with me.
Darcy: Yeah. If we think about men using overt power to do less in the home, it’s a man saying to his wife, “You are the woman! You are responsible for the vacuuming and the cooking!” That would be overt power, explicitly asserting one’s privilege. But hidden power is what accrues to people kind of without thought or acknowledgment, and in a society where certain groups have more privilege, and you can think about any more privileged group relative to another. Men are more powerful in our society, and we don’t think of that as entering our homes, and because we don’t acknowledge that it enters our homes, the power that has accrued to men, it becomes invisible in the home. Because we think, “Well, this is a relationship based on love, so of course, whatever happens outside of our home, it does not have an impact on what goes on between the two of us. Together, we’re kind of above that. That’s not part of our relationship.”
Darcy: But by not acknowledging the fact that it is, because having more power outside of the home simply because one is a man does manifest in some way in the home, even if we would say otherwise and not want it to be so. That’s what is meant by the term “hidden power.” And that is really what goes on when men assert their privilege to relax while their wives are working, or when men don’t read the emails from the school, or when men aren’t paying attention to whether there’s stuff in the house for breakfast on the weekends. All that is an expression of hidden power. “This isn’t something I’m responsible for.”
Brandy: Yeah. I call it Dad Privilege.
Brandy: The Dad Privilege they have to not have to care, because it will be done.
Brandy: There was a quote with that, that I just was like, “Oh, man.” It says: “Imagine if your children’s father said these things to you directly and out loud: ‘Women are easy to take advantage of. Your efforts are ultimately unnecessary. The needs of our family are not worth my attention, and I’ll choose the more selfish thing.’ Fathers are implying every last bit of this with their resistance all the time. ‘You are easy to manipulate. These things aren’t worth my attention. I’ll choose the more selfish thing.'”
Brandy: That part’s just so hard to accept, and realize that when that’s happening, that’s really the sinister, subconscious piece behind it. When your husband isn’t helping and you’re doing all of the things, or like that great story in your book about the woman who was preparing… after the 5K, doing the Thanksgiving meal, and her husband’s just sitting on the couch. It’s like, you look at that and you think, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t be that angry. I guess I like to cook,” or whatever we tell ourselves, and really, deep down, that’s what your husband is saying to you in his lack of doing anything.
Darcy: The stuff that you were talking about, “I’ll do the more selfish thing. Our family’s needs aren’t worth attending to;” I was interviewing a guy who had written a book called The Lazy Father, and what I asked him about why he didn’t do as much as his wife did when his kids are young, he was really frank about it. And those are the things that he said to me, and he wasn’t saying, “Look, I’m entitled to this.” He was saying, “This is really what’s there underneath the surface. This is kind of the implicit message.” He wasn’t saying, like, “Yeah, you know, F this.” He was really saying, “This is kind of what this is about,” and it rang so true. And it seemed like such an important thing to admit.
Darcy: There was one other woman who I interviewed for the book, when she would approach her husband about this stuff that she was so mad about, he would say, “I do a lot more than other dads.” And she would kind of agree with him, and that would be the end of the discussion. But if you kind of re-phrase that sentence, what you’re saying is, “I know I don’t do as much as you, and it’s not fair to you, but some guys do less, so you’re just going to have to be okay with the fact that our division of labor is unequal.” If you really parse that sentence, what are you saying to your spouse if you say something like that?
Brandy: And I loved, there was somebody in the book who had said, or maybe it was you, said something like, “My mom says, ‘Oh, he’s such a great husband and dad,’ and, yeah, he is a great husband and dad. But my mom is comparing him to what she had, and I’m comparing him to me, and I do a hell of a lot, and he doesn’t do the same amount.” When we get that messaging from the women in our family who are older than us, that, “Oh, but he does so much!” Well, they’re comparing it on a totally different system.
Darcy: Yep, absolutely.
Brandy: And how things looked back then. So, it’s kind of a way to keep us quiet and go, “Okay, that’s right,” but it’s not right.
Darcy: It makes me so angry when I talk to older women, and this happened just this morning. I went to do a radio interview on the CBC, and the woman who was running the production was asking me what my book was about, and I told her. She was probably in her sixties, and she was like, “Oh, but they’re so much better than they used to be!” And I’m just like, “Oh, my God.” I mean, that’s true, but it was like she was patting me on the head and saying, “Oh, this is a silly thing to be thinking about now.” She didn’t mean it to be rude, but I was just like, “Oh, my God. Ugh!”
Brandy: Ugh. I laughed out loud, literally, at the part where it says, “In 2017, Newsweek ran the headline: Women Over 85 Are Happier Because Their Partner is Dead.”
Darcy: I know! That was just so sad, though.
Brandy: It’s so sad!
Darcy: Is that what we want for ourselves? Like, “Oh, God, I’m so glad he’s gone. I don’t have to cook his goddamn dinner anymore.” I mean, my grandmother expressed things like that to me, and I get it. That was what she was supposed to do, was take care of a man. That was her lot in life, because she was born a woman.
Brandy: Is our only way out waiting until they die? No.
Darcy: Or not getting married. I mean, I’ve had women email me and say, “This is why I didn’t have kids.” And on one hand, I think that’s really practical.
Darcy: If you know that this is going to be how it goes, and you don’t want to live that way, one solution is certainly not to have children. And I have complete respect for that. But at the same time, that’s so sad that this kind of inequality would cut us off in this experience that is so rich and amazing. And again, I don’t mean to diminish those women’s choices; they’re perfectly valid. Not everyone needs to have children.
Brandy: For sure.
Darcy: But still, that that would be the thing, is just like, “Oh, God…”
Brandy: Yeah. I already know that people are going to say, “Well, so, what can we do about this?” I actually had some people, when I posted about it on Facebook, say, “Yeah, but, what’s the action in it?”
Darcy: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Brandy: I found it interesting for a couple reasons. Number one is, I totally get that we want to know, “Well, what do we do with this anger? How can we change things?” And then, I also felt like, “Isn’t it obvious that you demand better from your spouse?”
Brandy: I think it seems to be kind of a clear, “Well, so, then you don’t make it okay for them to treat you like this,” whatever that means. But are there other things that you know of, or other ideas you have, for what people can do?
Darcy: I think that forewarned is forearmed. I think that, ideally, you read this book and your partner reads this book before you have children, and then you go into it aware of the pitfalls that you will encounter if you do not stay on top of this. If you’re already in this situation, I’ll say, also, you read this book and your partner reads this book, or you follow him around the house reading it to him out loud, as various women have told me they have been doing, so that this stuff can be kind of detoxified and acknowledged. I think once you know, you can do a lot with that.
Darcy: But I will say, the couples I interviewed who were having the most success with maintaining an equal division of labor were couples who were completely committed to that being so, and went out of their way to communicate their needs and their feelings, and who was doing what, and what was happening. So, it really requires great effort to kind of counterbalance the societal stuff that we all go into our relationships with.
Brandy: And I was even thinking, after I read it, I thought, “Is there some sort of pamphlet version that could come out for the men?” And then, I’m like, “Wait! No! I’m doing the thing which is like, ‘We should make it easy for them.'”
Darcy: Yeah, it’s not easy.
Brandy: But I know that the listeners are probably like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to get my husband to read this book. Yeah, right.” And so, maybe an idea, which is something that I did, is I went through this and I highlighted things mostly for our interview, but also, they were so mind-blowing to me that I wanted to have them for always. But then, when my husband, when we talk about it, I say, “Wow, listen to this really interesting quote,” and then I’d read it to him and we’d have a mini-discussion about whatever that thing was.
Brandy: And then, I’d say, “Listen to this one,” and in a way, I sort of hate what I’m about to say because it’s women doing the work for men to make it bite-sized for them so they don’t actually have to do it… And also, if you want something to do, if you feel like you want to take the action, maybe doing it in those bite-sized ways is a way to start conversation. I’m a huge believer in conversations can change your life, so this is a way, maybe, to do that. And to kind of see, what is he open to hearing? I mean, he should be open to hearing all of it. But we all married different people, and…
Darcy: There’s one thing that I actually remembered, that I should have said before. There’s new research that shows that men who take paternity leave on their own (so after their wives finish their maternity leave,) end up continuing to contribute more to childcare for the next years. And I think it’s really because there’s a learning curve in parenting, and when women are the only ones who are ever alone with the baby, because of the social conditions of women being the ones who take the most time off, if men take any at all, they just learn so much more. And then, because they know how to do it, they’re the ones who keep doing it, and then it snowballs.
Darcy: I think if it is at all possible for the male partner to take any leave on his own without his wife, that seems to really help. Though, for many people, obviously, it’s too late for that to happen. But early on, if that can happen, the more alone time Dad can spend with the baby or the kids, the more competent he feels. And is, because parenting is learned and not innate.
Brandy: And that goes along with something that you spoke about in the book, which is us, as mothers, allowing our husbands to be the caretakers and to not do everything. There’s a certain part of this that is our wanting it to be a certain way, or wanting to micromanage something, rather than just allowing him to kind of go through that learning curve and figuring this out.
Brandy: And I think that that’s an important thing. And it’s hard, especially if you’re kind of a Type A person. And what you talk about in the book is the thing that, if he’s never allowed to be competent, he will never be competent, and he will never feel like he’s competent. We do have to let go on that, in order for them to learn and get attuned to the baby or the child. And once they do it enough, and fail enough, you know? Just how we do.
Darcy: Yeah, yeah.
Brandy: It’s not different than how we do. When they bring the wrong sippy cup to the park, the one that was in the back of the cabinet because it leaks, but they didn’t know that because they don’t do it every day, it only takes them one time to bring that cup to the park and have it leak everywhere to know which sippy cup to bring. But if you never let them do that, they’ll never figure it out.
Brandy: Will you talk a little bit about the label “intensive mothering,” and what that entails?
Darcy: Yeah. Intensive mothering is a term coined by a sociologist named Sharon Hayes in the mid-’90s, and it talks about the standards of mothering of our times, really. And what family researchers and historians will talk about is how the standards for mothering got raised just as mothers in the labor force peaked in the mid-’90s. There was a lot of anxiety about what was going to happen to the children, now that more mothers were in the workforce. Mothers were always in the workforce, but there was a time when that rose, right? After the brief period of our history when one person could support a family. Which, of course, is steeped in race and class privilege and all that stuff, but as mothers’ workforce participation peaked, so, too, did the standards around mothering because of all this anxiety about kids being left on their own. So, the kind of expectations for mothers got really high, and we all see it, right?
Darcy: I mean, how many full-time working mothers do you know who are also class parents, and coach their kids’ soccer teams, and make sure that the teacher gets their gift every year? All that kind of stuff. And make their kids’ Halloween costumes, and make sure there are Valentine’s cards, all this stuff that dads are just not a part of in the parenting world. Intensive mothering is the idea that women must always put their children’s needs first and foremost, and certainly before their own, and they must do it by cutting back on their own leisure time, personal care, and sleep. I’m 46. I was certainly not raised in an era where mothers did all this, right?
Darcy: Mothers were hanging out at the pool drinking Tab, if they weren’t at work.
Brandy: That’s right!
Darcy: They weren’t making sure that their kids were having enriching experiences. And by the way, that was just fine! I got to be pretty independent and self-sufficient in ways that were really good for me.
Darcy: But we don’t do that anymore, and there’s so much societal pressure to be the right kind of mother. And this actually crosses race and class lines. I mean, obviously, what parents are able to provide, what mothers are able to provide, differs based on their economic resources, but the sort of ideas of intensive motherhood are throughout our culture. When you pair the standards of intensive mothering with what is expected of fathers, which is basically, it’s nice if they’re around, you have this real mismatch in terms of who’s going to be doing more, even without all the other stuff.
Brandy: I mean, I know we all have our different ways of doing more or doing less in different areas, but it seems like all mothering in, at least, middle-class that I know of, we find our people. I find my other people who will do the store-bought, two-dollar Valentines. We find our people, but overall, that’s just sort of in the water.
Darcy: It is in the water, yeah.
Brandy: This is how you mother today, and I think it’s really detrimental to everybody.
Darcy: Because even if you decide not to do it, and that you’re not going to participate, there’s still some guilt in not doing it and not participating.
Brandy: Exactly. And then you worry, “Well, what if my kid’s the one kid that doesn’t have the thing, and then they’re going to feel whatever they’re going to feel about it?” You know?
Brandy: And it’s like, “Well, if everybody was just being normal, then nobody would have to worry about it. Why can’t we just be normal?”
Darcy: Yeah. Well, we could also be more open to our kids being disappointed, because being able to be disappointed and tolerate that is such an important part of life.
Brandy: Yes. I actually kind of love rebelling against the intensive mothering.
Darcy: Yes! Right, exactly.
Brandy: And my kids have not noticed.
Darcy: Yes. Yes, right.
Brandy: I’m sure they’re fine.
Darcy: Yeah. I like rebelling against it, too, but even when we are rebelling against it, we are parenting in reaction to it, right? So, it’s always there.
Brandy: Yeah. How do we get rid of that? How do we get rid of intensive mothering?
Darcy: I don’t know. I think we name it, and we think about where it comes from, you know? It’s kind of another way of subjugating women. If you say, “Well, if you’re not doing it like this, then you’re not doing it right.” It really frees men up to have a lot of leisure time. Like, “I don’t think the stuff my wife is doing is necessary. I’m going to go play Game of War on my phone.”
Brandy: Going back to what you said about the egalitarian parenting, and what that looks like, there’s a great quote. It says: “When parenting is a conscious collaboration, men, like women, track their own responsibilities and think ahead about what their children need. They do not look to their wives for orders or direction. Strong gender egalitarianism means a family life free from assumptions about who does what based on activities deemed more appropriate for fathers or mothers.” I thought that was important to give to the listeners who are like, “But what does it look like? How would I know if I was in a marriage that was more like that?”
Darcy: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Brandy: There was another quote that was great: “It’s time to stop adjusting, to come to terms with the fact that we’re better off living uncomfortably with obvious truths than comfortably with well-worn misrepresentations. Disavowing our displeasure has not led to change. Neither has denying it with cries of, ‘At least he helps!’ Only once we begin to see all sexism as blatantly hostile will there be push-back, an end to justification in each imbalanced home.” I mean, damn. Yes on that.
Brandy: One of the things that I think people can do is starting to notice the ways in which things are unequal, which is tough, as we’ve talked about, when our lens is a little bit skewed. But demanding something different, and setting up different rules of engagement. And whether that’s having a conversation about, “Hey, who does this and who does that?” But will you tell the story about the medical forms, and how you were talking afterwards about how, what would the actual consequences of your husband dropping the ball on that be? And might that be a good thing?
Darcy: Yeah. Last spring, of course, because this is the way our house has been running, I had done all the camp stuff. You know, looking for the camp, signing the kids up for the early bird special, making sure they had everything they needed, blah, blah, blah, everything. And I had one of the medical forms, because I had thought to get it at the pediatrician’s checkup that year, but I didn’t have my other daughter’s. And I had that on my list, and I thought, “Oh, here’s a task that I can assign to my husband so I have one thing off my plate.” So, I asked him to do it, and of course, he said yes, because he always says yes. But then, he didn’t do it. Of course, I know he’s not going to do it, so I have to check up on it. I say, “Have you done this yet?” “Oh, no. I’ll get to it.” And then, a couple weeks later, we’re a week out from camp and I get the email saying, “We can’t start without the medical form being in.” So, I finally just did it myself, and when I did it myself, I texted my husband. And to do it, you have to ask for it, and then you have to wait a few days to go get it, because they don’t do it right away. So, I texted him to tell him I got it, and in my head, this had been a big thing for a couple months. I kept saying to him, “Did you do it?” And he kept not doing it, and I was annoyed, and I text him and say, you know, “Okay, well, I did this.” And I waited for a text back saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry I dropped the ball.” But instead, I just get this text back saying, “Oh, great, thanks!” And I’m furious, because there’s not even any acknowledgment that that was supposed to be the one thing that he was doing.
Darcy: I was interviewing a woman who wrote a book called Immunity to Change, and it’s really about how organizations don’t change based on people’s kind of unconscious motivations. I’m talking to her, and she’s suggesting things to me, like that I outline the consequences for my husband if something that I’ve asked him to do doesn’t get done. So, I went to my husband, and I said, “Well, how would you feel if I did these things that this woman suggested? The consequences of the medical form not being in are that you don’t get to go to work that day, because our kid doesn’t get to go to camp, because she doesn’t have her form in, and she’s really upset because she’s not going to camp, and you’re losing a day’s worth of income because you’re self-employed, and you don’t get paid if you’re not at work. If I had said to you at the time, ‘These are the consequences,’ do you think you would have remembered?” And he was like, “Well, I guess so, but that would be a really obnoxious way to talk to me.”
Brandy: Oh, man.
Darcy: And then we had another fight. Because it was like, “Aren’t I entitled to be obnoxious? Who is obnoxious here? I have done all of this for our family, and I ask you to do one thing, and you can’t even remember it!” I think, again, this is just the typical story, right? Every woman I know has this story in one form or another. But that was her suggestion; “Can you please do this? Here are the consequences if you don’t do this.” But even to have to do that is so unequal, right?
Brandy: Right. Right.
Darcy: This should just be on both of our radars as something that needs to happen, and of course there are consequences with all this stuff. And that’s why men who say, “Well, I do a lot of yard work, so it’s okay that my wife does all the childcare,” the consequences of skipping the yard work for a week are pretty slim. You can’t skip this childcare stuff. It just cannot be skipped in the same way.
Brandy: Another one of the quotes that just really hit me was, “When men deny their sexism, they gaslight their partners, compounding an already painful problem by insisting that its clear and obvious precursors are the imaginings of a hysterical mind.” That, I think, too, is something that all women can relate to, is when you bring this up to them, kind of what you’re saying about your husband calling it obnoxious; when you bring some of this stuff up to them instead of owning it, and going, “Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe I just spaced this,” or, “There’s my Dad Privilege again.” Instead, making it like you’re the obnoxious one, you’re the hysterical one.
Brandy: And that, that’s like a virus. That feels so awful to be treated like that, and I think, for a lot of us, we don’t notice when it’s happening, necessarily-
Darcy: Because we believe it. We buy into it, yeah.
Brandy: Yeah! And then, later, we’re kind of like, “That was bullshit.” But then, it’s like, “Well, do I want to get in a fight?” Because then, what you’re going to spend your one hour of alone time with your partner going, “Remember that thing you said to me today? I’d like to go back and really just detail through that, and have us go to bed hating each other.” Nobody wants to do that! So, then, does it ever get better? I don’t know.
Darcy: Uh-huh, yeah. There was a great op-ed, and this is in the part of the book that you’re talking about, by this guy named George Yancy, who’s a professor at Emory, I think. And he declares in this op-ed that he’s a sexist.
Brandy: Yes! I loved that!
Darcy: And he says, “I want to get other men to join me in admitting to the fact that they feel like they should be thanked if they cook dinner!” Right? I read it, and I write in the book, and this is true, it brought me to tears. I was like, “Oh, my God! This is amazing if this could just be something that men felt comfortable admitting!” It’s not their fault, but they are, and… Ah, it was a great read.
Brandy: Exactly. It would defuse so much to just go, “You know what? Yeah. I’m totally the beneficiary of all of this privilege, and so, damn, that’s got to suck for you.”
Brandy: “So, what do we do?” I mean, just that, it would be like, “I love you!”
Darcy: I know!
Brandy: Like, you’re just crying in gratitude, I can imagine.
Darcy: Absolutely. Yeah.
Brandy: Kind of at the end here; one of the things that your book helped me to understand is, I kind of understand now why moms, some moms, give 150% of themselves, because you talked about how being a mom and really nailing it at motherhood gives them self-worth in a way that they can’t otherwise get. I can’t remember if this was a quote or not, but, if society tells us that this is our domain and nowhere else, and that we’re wired for this, then it makes sense that maybe we want to feel really good at what we do.
Brandy: And that’s where we find our value, so maybe that’s why you make the homemade, gluten-free, dye-free unicorn cupcakes for your kid’s birthday party, is you can’t nail it anywhere else, because society sort of has you pigeonholed. So, then maybe, you’re at least going to take the acknowledgment that, like, “Yeah, I’m doing this thing that you’re telling me I have to do.”
Brandy: And I don’t like that as an idea, that we just, “Oh, yeah, okay,” and that’s good enough. But it did open my eyes. There was a quote in there that said, “The unconditional love is very, very addictive. I like the idea of being irreplaceable. I can be replaced in my job and even in my marriage; no one can replace a loving mother.” And then someone else said, or maybe it was the same person, “I find so much self-worth in my role as a mom even though it can still feel like too much or unfair, even though there is still resentment.” And that was sort of a new understanding for me on the moms who are just in it to win it, that I normally… I don’t have friends that are those moms, because I don’t want to be around them, but as a human being, human to human, mom to mom level, I can understand that!
Darcy: Absolutely, yeah.
Brandy: If that’s what you want to do and you want to feel value, you have every right to want to feel that value! I don’t want to hang out with you, but good for you for wanting to feel that value, and then also, what can all of us do to help change this, so that we aren’t unequal in our marriages? And in society, you know.
Darcy: Yeah. It’s a good question. Dads get the pat on the back just for showing up. So, they get their parenting self-esteem fed so much more easily, with so much less burden.
Brandy: Yeah. Oh, Darcy, it has been such a pleasure talking to you.
Darcy: Oh, Brandy, thank you for having me on!
Brandy: I could talk to you for hours…
Darcy: Likewise! I love your podcast. I love your questions. I could talk to you forever, and I love your enthusiasm! It’s so nice.
Brandy: Oh, I’m so passionate. You can clearly tell.
Darcy: Yeah, no, I’m with you. Obviously.
Brandy: In this episode, we talked about action steps that can be taken to help equalize our labor roles in parenting. Namely, having conversations, renegotiating what isn’t working within our mini-patriarchies, and demanding better. I’d also like to suggest asking your partner to listen to this podcast. An hour of their time for your relationship’s wellbeing surely sounds reasonable. You don’t want to wait until you’re 85 and your partner’s dead to be happy, right?
Brandy: Darcy Lockman’s book, All The Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and The Myth of Equal Partnership can be found at bookstores everywhere. You can also find links to it on my podcast webpage. Wait, did you know I have a podcast webpage with transcripts of every episode, in case you’re trapped under a sleeping baby and can’t listen to anything? It’s www.adultconversationpodcast.com.
Brandy: If you’re enjoying the podcast, I would so love it if you would support me by sharing it with your friends and moms’ groups on social media. If you want to take that love a step further but not quite to restraining order status, you can support me financially on Patreon. It’s only four dollars a month! That’s just two dollars per episode! That’s www.patreon.com/adultconversation. I put a lot of time and energy into editing these podcasts because I know that as moms, our quiet time to listen is so very limited. I try to cut all the superfluous chit-chat, and give you only the best stuff instead of just recording for a few hours, hitting Publish, and making you sit through an entire two-hour interview to get 30 minutes of goods. My goal is that you get something rich and helpful from the podcast while giving up the least amount of your time for it. Obviously, I do all this by choice because I’m passionate about the topics I discuss, and thoroughly enjoy doing it, (which is awesome). But if you wanted to support me by sharing the shit out of it, leaving a rating or review, or heading over to Patreon, I would be forever grateful.
Brandy: As always, thanks for listening.