Are our husbands really so helpless?

Slate's women-only blog, the XX Factor, premieres and raises interesting issues about how we talk about men.

Published October 19, 2007 10:50PM (EDT)

Slate's women's blog, the XX Factor, has been up and running only a few days, and like any other new being, it's going to take a while to find its legs. Conceptually, we at Broadsheet salute it. (How could we not? Though we do wish they allowed men to participate, as we have always tried to do here.) And we wish it a long and fruitful life and look forward to reading and engaging with it.

But among its early posts we spotted a trend that's been bugging us for a while: It's the way we talk about our husbands these days. Those dunderheads, well-meaningly but obliviously chugging along with their everyday lives -- able to read a book in peace or play with our kids -- while the laundry piles up and the dishes need to be put in the dishwasher and tomorrow's lunches need to be packed! We're not complaining. Oh, no. We're just ... marveling at our guys' wonderful, charming obtuseness as we separate the markers from the crayons and the lights from the darks.

But with our gibes and our jests and our sitcom-worthy eye-rolling shrugs, are we not colluding in the continuation of this gender dynamic? Is it -- dare I say it? -- perhaps even a dynamic of our own making? Is there an air of self-satisfaction -- even smugness -- in our put-upon posture? Are we, in fact, invested in this image of male domestic helplessness, taking secret pride in portraying ourselves as the only ones who can really get things done around the house?

It's not just Slate. (And lord knows we're Dahlia Lithwick fans, excited at the prospect of her stretching out all bloglike on the XX Factor.) This fantasy of the Neanderthal husband seems pervasive, even among -- especially among? -- strong, powerful women. Wasn't Michelle Obama talking about her husband's dirty socks really the same thing?

Surely I'm not the only woman in the world whose husband does the laundry and folds the laundry and cleans the playroom and loads the dishwasher without being asked. Or the only woman whose husband has to remind her to put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher and throw her sweaty workout clothes into the clothes pile. Or the only woman unwilling to disclose which members of her family are prone to leaving their dirty socks on the floor.

I can't imagine I am. I look around and I see my friends -- men and women -- doing their best to juggle family and work and ... life. I see the men cooking dinner and scrubbing the counters and pitching in. So why, when we talk about them, do we find ourselves romanticizing the very stereotypes we've turned our backs on? Maybe it's time to stop.

By Amy Reiter

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