A Broadsheet reader alerted us to a story earlier this week in the Washington Post about the joys of traditional gender roles on Turkey Day. The excremental headline "This Holiday, Equality Is for the Birds" pretty much covers the meat of the piece. Women may strive all year long for equality with their menfolk, but when it comes to a traditional day like Thanksgiving, those darned guys just get in the way. Better to keep them on the couch, belching beer and hooting at a football game! To shore up her argument, writer Jill Hudson Neal interviews exactly two other women who also count themselves as liberated yet get that same warm and fuzzy feeling playing June Cleaver on traditional holidays. As our reader notes, "It just seems like a post-rationalization for allowing her husband to be a lazy shmoe all weekend, teaching her son the same, and carrying on as if it was 1952."
What struck me about the piece is how all the explanations for traditional gender roles on Thanksgiving involve the joys of cooking with other women -- which, in this context, means other people who know their way around a kitchen. Well, sure. Given the choice between someone who enjoys cooking and someone who doesn't, wouldn't you choose the more enthusiastic and skilled team player? But that doesn't mean that men's place remains outside the kitchen. It means that most families haven't achieved enough domestic parity to include men whenever cooking is the main act. Thanksgiving traditionalism isn't an anomaly but a deeper reminder that, when push comes to shove, most families still segregate tasks according to archaic gender categories.
This isn't to dis my self-sacrificing, breast-basting sisters. I love to cook, my husband doesn't, so I've experienced my share of so-called inequality in the kitchen. But that's no badge of honor, no sign that some days it's just better if he "stays out of the way." Would I prefer to live with someone who did take pleasure in cooking? Sure. Is it a reason to extol the '50s? I think not.
What is it about the holidays that burnishes those stereotypes to an irresistible luster? Last week Patricia Marx's voracious consumer column in the New Yorker underscored just how cool it has become to view the opposite sex as an inscrutable other. "Perhaps the most mysterious of all mammals is the male Homo sapiens," she writes. Of course, Marx is a humorist, and I'm loath to get on my high horse about stuff that is supposed to be funny. But after a few thousand words exploring "the only animal known to leave wet towels on the floor" and what "the male really want[s]" -- gifts related to golf, power tools, guns, race cars, weather, boating, fishing, technology, subscriptions to 24-hour football channels, poker and briefcases -- I couldn't help thinking that if this were a man writing about those unfathomable women and their penchants for jewelry, lingerie, shoes, manicures, Pilates classes and small appliances, I would probably pop a small blood vessel in my brain. So what do Broadsheet readers think: Are there times when some good old-fashioned stereotyping makes for better pumpkin pie or bigger laughs, or does it always spring from that dark, stupid corner of our souls?