Equal but Separate


by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

I can’t believe it took researchers this long to figure out two things about heterosexual preferences. Number 1: Women like men and men like women. Number 2: Their everyday behavior bears that out.

Let’s take a little trip back to the tumultuous days of the 1960s, shall we? When men were men and women wanted to be men, too. Women marched for their rights; we protested inequality; and we made it clear that traditional roles for women were tired, outdated, and repressive. We had so much more to offer, and it was time to make that a reality. We were, to borrow a phrase, free to be you and me!

While in college in the mid- to late ’70s, every woman I knew understood and mostly supported all the equity we’d gained in society—and we felt perfectly comfortable elbowing our way into the workforce. We thanked our older sisters for the doors they’d opened, the barriers they’d destroyed, and the new world order they’d created. All of it was a positive change, for both men and women.

Oh, we thanked them for one more thing, too. The availability of “the Pill” gave us the physical freedom to have sex while avoiding pregnancy; and our newly emancipated status gave us the emotional freedom to have fun, guilt-free, fulfilling sex, without the drama (HAH!). Many women were thrilled to be able to explore their sexuality without the consequences or social stigma their mothers had to contend with a generation ago.

Fine. Good. Lovely.

But it turns out that wasn’t quite enough.  It wasn’t enough that we could find satisfaction in the boardroom and bedroom. We wanted to “have it all.” (I despise that phrase. The woman who first uttered it should be made to wear Spanx for 11 hours straight, while chasing a toddler, then driving a fourth-grader to soccer practice, then drafting a P&L, Skyping a conference call, making dinner, and preparing her own pesto with organic basil from her garden.) Back to my point. Once we were married or otherwise sharing a home, women wanted satisfaction in the laundry room, the kitchen, and the bathroom, as well. In other words, we wanted men to be liberated from their own misguided gender roles, too! As a result, men took on some of the traditionally feminine tasks we were now eschewing as enlightened women. Enter: The Domesticated Male. The Househusband. The Partner. The Co-parent.

So, let’s sum up: Women populate the workforce like never before, in jobs that range from Supreme Court justices to school superintendents to sanitation workers. We’re succeeding, and sharing responsibilities at home and in the workplace. Men not only support our need to engage in all manner of professional and personal challenges, but they encourage it, and have become skilled at tasks like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and changing diapers. Super, right?

Wrong. The ultimate irony of the Women’s Movement was recently exposed in The New York Times Magazine article “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” It turns out that the combination of “working women + male domesticity” has apparently resulted in all these fabulously equal couples having less sex. According to the study Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage, men who did “feminine” chores like folding laundry, cooking, or vacuuming had sex 1.5 fewer times a month than men who did traditionally masculine chores. And what about satisfaction?  Well, when the husband did plenty of traditionally male chores, couples reported a 17.5 percent higher frequency of sexual intercourse than those in which the husband did none. The more masculine the task a man does, the more sexual satisfaction the woman reports.

Wait a minute, wait minute, wait just a minute. We marched for this?

The weird thing is that when a man does “female” chores, most women feel happier and closer to him. Unfortunately, that happiness and closeness don’t follow them into bed. She may like him quite a bit; she just doesn’t feel that excited by him. As the Times article puts it, “in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered.” That sounds mostly horrible to me.

So does anyone else see the irony here? Women have spent a few generations reveling in the results of our “liberation.” We’re comfortable in our ambitions and have erased gender stereotypes for our sons and daughters—stereotypes that had previously dictated what to expect at home and in the workplace. Not one feminist ever mentioned we’d probably have less sex as a result. Based on what I’ve read, our hard-fought liberation eliminated—or at least diminished—someone valuable and important in our lives, someone Gloria and her friends never considered remotely useful: the masculine male.

We’ve come a long way, baby.


Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.


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5 Responses to Equal but Separate

  1. Donna in Delaware February 28, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    I have a friend, who just turned 70 earlier this month. He talked to me about this very thing last year. He wanted to know when this mingling of the sexes, to the point of lines being marred and vague, started. I told him it all started in the 60’s, with the you know, free love, bra burning, Virginia Slims ciggy smoking type of ladies. I told him that this is when women kinda, sorta lost respect from men, and that women started really lovin’ other women, and men, other men outright but not openly so. He smirked and left the subject alone.

    Yes, relationships, especially sexually speaking, have gone downhill since then. I have talked to several friends in the past and recently, who have been complaining about this very thing. They are most unhappy about it all. Either they don’t have sex at all, or it is so seldom that it has become second place, or before they noticed, it’s barely thought about. We have no one to blame but ourselves. That doesn’t mean that women should remain second class citizens, or even have fought to have more independence, work equality and/or equal pay. It does mean that we should have held on to some semblance of femininity and established gender roles in the process. That doesn’t excuse the men from helping around the home either, or with rearing the children. It does men that we need to rethink the way we’ve been acting over the years in relation to gender and gender roles. I don’t feel comfortable when a man (who is not my husband) always pay for something as simple as tea or coffee whenever we meet. Isn’t that sad? I have always been independent and brought that independence into my marriage. It was hard for me, being married, and giving up some of that independence, because now I have to share and think about someone other than myself. Anyhow, we have gotten to the point where we can barely determine who have which role(s). I suppose if men could give birth, women would have given up that role too!

  2. Donnie March 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    This is the most pointless article I’ve read all week. So if a man helps around the house, the couple does ‘it’ a time or two less a month. Big deal. There is a lot more to life then how many times people have sex a month, week, or whatever. I think the more work a woman has to do herself, with no help from hubby, the less energy she has for sex. Come to think of it, this is a rather sexist article. There is so much more to being a women, then how often we have sex, anyway. I remember a time, that if a women didn’t ‘submit’ on demand, she was called frigid and defiled, sometimes forced. We have come a long way, baby, and are better off for it.

  3. Renee March 7, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Thanks Donna and Donnie for your feedback on the article.

    Donna, i think it was gutsy of you to respond in the detail you did; I think a lot of people prefer to ignore the reality of how we are interacting at home and put on a good front for the rest of the world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so candidly. As usual, I’m not about to offer answers, but I do like to ‘wonder aloud’ within this forum and have others wonder along with me.

    Donnie – I’ll agree with you that sex isn’t everything if you’ll agree with me that it’s not nothing. I’m not quite certain how it’s “sexist” to simply respond (with one person’s opinion) to a study and research that’s been published. Honestly, I think it’s sad to think of married couples, especially youngish married couples, who are seeing their sex life decline based on anything as meaningless as who empties the dishwasher.
    Thank you for weighing in – all points of view welcome here.

  4. Donnie March 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    In my opinion, if a man empties a dishwasher, or does a few other chores around the house, it should not affect his ability to ‘perform’. If it does, he isn’t much of a man to begin with. I wonder who did those studies and funded them, that claims sex lives suffer if a man does household chores. I smell a rat!

  5. PaulineTGrogg March 29, 2014 at 3:10 am #

    Is there anything called divorce day? I see clearly that people are getting divorced more than getting married. I have decided to be unmarried forever for this reason.

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