A friend got a big job promotion in the spring and I joked with her that her inner Alpha male would be pleased. She looked at me with a puzzled look, and I said it was okay, that all ambitious people are Alpha males in some way.
What does that mean? It means that she is a smart and talented manager who uses her ability to gain job advancement.
This topic was an issue of discussion recently at the forum presented by the Morris County Advisory Committee on Women, which presented “Redefining Cinderella” to a group of about 70 of the county’s smartest and accomplished women. The subtext was how gender stereotypes and role expectation interact.
As one of the only men at this forum, as I was last year when the topic was wage inequity, I find the topic of gender roles settles in around housework and child care.
Linda Houser, the key note speaker, told about a woman who is a top executive in her company and travels hundreds of miles a day to perform her job, for which she is well paid, and her husband will not let her hire a maid service to clean their home.
Personally, if I were that woman, instead of a new set of golf clubs for his birthday, I’d introduce him to Mr.Hoover or Mr.Dyson.
Houser’s comment got me thinking about a conversation we in the auto dealership waiting room had no opportunity to avoid as a woman in her late 30s, talking loudly into her cell phone, let us all know that her new boyfriend was a better match than her ex-husband because, “he knows how to take care of himself.”
Translated, it means that his home does not look like a college dorm, he knows how to boil water without burning the house down and can order Chinese take-out and not forget the hot sauce.
As I was listening to Houser speak, I had this thought: Are we really still talking about who does the laundry as a social measuring stick of independence?
Guess we are.
It’s not to say that Cinderella won’t be free until Prince Charming puts down that damn glass slipper and picks up the Hoover, but it might not be a bad place to start.
If television advertising is any measurement, there is no male in the entire world who can do anything in the kitchen, unless he is having a father-son moment over Frosted Flakes, or he is The Most Interesting Man in the World.
And all the women in the ads are a newer version of June Cleaver, the perfect TV Mom.
I thought the discussion hit the various age groups in that room differently.
For the older women, whose parents grew up during the Depression and the war years, the idea of a clean home and family dinner were a symbol of survival during some hard times.
This was the group for whom leaving the home for a job was a radical step, the symbol of a movement.
For many the women in the middle ages of the group, maybe in their 30s and 40s, some single, some married, their mothers might have been the one to step out of the house into the working world; the expectations are different for this group, and the group of women in their 20s who follow. We — society– and themselves, expect them to be working. In two generations the expectaton has been turned on its head. Now it is the woman who stays home, leaving the rat race, who is breaking the mold.
As all this relates to gender roles and doing housework, it is good to remember this: The collective wealth of America today far exceeds that of any other American generation. We have more technology and more ways to use it.
How that effects these generations of women is immense. In less than 40 years we have gone from the MacIntosh to the iPhone, from HAL to Android.
We no longer hand-draw water from well or take the laundry to the river bed to bang them against the rocks. Yes, Mr. wife-needs-to-do-housework, modern machines have taken the druggery out of laundry day, and your executive wife is no less a woman or mother if someone else vacuums the floors.
Maybe there are just too many mamma’s boys out there. I’ve been cleaning and cooking since I was a kid. Growing up in a house with a single mother, there was no other choice.
It seems to me that we need to find a new metric to measure success and peace and contentment.
How about with wages. Women executive in New Jersey still make 75 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.
How about respect?
How about the notion of the old civil rights movement that I am not free unless my brother is free.