If you’re not into your husband, or prefer he not be into you, have him vacuum and do dishes while you tune-up the car. If you want to keep the bedroom lively, however, you might want to split the housework along traditional gender lines. A new study in American Sociological Review finds that “Husbands who spend more time doing traditionally female chores — such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping — reported having less sex than those who do more masculine tasks.” The study, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage” examines married couples in the United States based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households. Both men and women in marriages with traditional divisions of labor in the home reported having more sex than men and women with more gender-bending arrangements. I’m all for men stepping up and helping out around the house, but this study suggests that there are unforeseen consequences to erasing the differences between men and women.
Sabino Kornrich, the study’s main author, believes the “The results suggest the existence of a gendered set of sexual scripts, in which the traditional performance and display of gender is important for creation of sexual desire and performance of sexual activity.”
To what degree are gender and sexual tendencies socialized or rooted in our nature is up for debate. One thing is for sure, when society works to alter gender proclivities, other unexpected or even undesirable side effects may ensue.
Christina Hoff Sommers wrote recently in The Atlantic about efforts in Sweden to mandate gender neutral toy catalogues and gender neutral play in classrooms. David Geary, a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri, interviewed for the piece says that forcing children to adhere to gender neutral play requires constant supervision and reinforcement and the behaviors “bounce back once this stops.” The constant hovering and manipulating, however, can negatively impact the child’s development.
Sommers writes, “The female preference for nurturing play and the male propensity for rough-and-tumble hold cross-culturally and even cross-species (with a few exceptions—female spotted hyenas seem to be at least as aggressive as males). Among our close relatives such as vervet and rhesus monkeys, researchers have found that females play with dolls far more than their brothers, who prefer balls and toy cars. It seems unlikely that the monkeys were indoctrinated by stereotypes in a Top-Toy catalog. Something else is going on.” Researchers point to early hormonal environment in the womb for ingrained gender differences. If social engineers want to completely strip men and women of gender differences, perhaps they will have to start there.
The less-sex-for-mop-wielding-husbands study and radical preschool experiments in Sweden aren’t exactly earthshaking unless they are viewed as part of a larger effort to change gender relations and its potential impact. Consider the Pentagon’s decision to lift the ban on women in combat. Will women’s physiological differences in strength and endurance impact military standards, performance, and safety? What about the question of distraction: the Navy has just announced an awareness campaign to combat its 74% untended pregnancy rate, the highest in the armed forces. Under the stress of combat, will other branches see their rates go up as well?
Will men try to protect women even if it compromises their own and their unit’s efficacy or safety? If such deference can be trained out of men, will we like the men they have become? Can men and women be taught to handle bodily functions and hygiene in front of each other without so much as a blush? Is this a good thing? What are the long term ramifications of the gender experiments on the lives, marriages, and child rearing patterns of the young men and women taught to ignore gender differences once they have been discharged? Will there be any impact on society at large?
We don’t know the answers to these questions but we can assume that there will be some unforeseen changes. Social engineering has consequences. Whether in the battlefield, the school yard, or the bedroom, efforts to de-gender the human race may leave us less healthy and less happy.