Real Talk about The 21st Century Family ManBrian Gresko
I was excited to have the opportunity to discuss Rush Limbaugh yesterday on HNL’s Raising America, along with Babble contributor Whit Honea. After setting up a mini-studio for myself and making my son comfy with snacks in front of the television, I got about thirty-seconds to respond to Limbaugh’s response to something Charlie Rose said about “the new feminism.”
Rose’s quote was: “It is incumbent on men to appreciate more and to do more and have the same responsibilities that women do.”
Limbaugh’s take? “It is up to men to understand more, to do more, to explain more, to say more, to feel more, to touch more, to be more, to be fully respected and understood so that women will go to bed with us, is what he means.” (Emphasis mine.)
You’ll have to watch the clip to get my succinct take, but I want to follow up here with a little data on just how misguided Limbaugh’s is on this. (Limbaugh? Misguided? I know, I know, I’m breaking ground here.)
A recent study from the Juan March Institute in Spain and the University of Washington in Seattle looked at 4,500 couples and found that partnerships in which men who do more traditionally male chores home repair, car maintenance, bill-paying and women do more traditionally female chores cleaning, cooking, laundry have more sex than couples who split their work more evenly. (Source: USA Today) Now, this study was based on a survey from the early 90s, so it could be that some things have changed in the past twenty years. Or perhaps not.
The idea that men are horn-dogs, ever ready for sex, is a myth. Men get tired, have bad days at work or on the home front, find themselves distracted by problems of all type — on some nights they “have a headache” just like women do. Men’s libidos are not constant; they are not always ready to take their wife to the sack at a moment’s notice. In a dirty film, maybe. But not real life. I have spoken to men who have had as challenging a time as their mates getting back to sex post-birth and post-miscarriage, and who have found that grief from losing a loved one dulled their desire as well.
So it may be that men who contribute around the house more, who don’t just mow the lawn and then prop their feet up with a beer and football game, actually don’t want to have sex as much as other men because they’re exhausted from their toils. They may be more emotionally fulfilled from their role, and already feel the sense of connection to their family and partners that sex brings. Because yes, for men, as for women, sex creates an intense emotional response. Or good sex does, anyway. It requires trust, and communication both physical and verbal. Sexual chemistry is as much an emotional high as it is a physical one.
It may also be that the study’s twenty-year-old data hasn’t aged well, and that today, men and women who split the chores may also have a healthy, active, and spicy love life. A couple in which that division of labor peaceably exists, who eschew traditional gender divides, may find themselves turned on in non-traditional ways. I love seeing my wife wield a hammer, for example. And she loves watching me read to our son. And since I’m sharing, let me come clean (or, dirty, as the case may be): my wife and I measure up well against the average couple in the study, who have sex 5 to 6 times a month.
Articles like the New York magazine piece that’s at the heart of the past week’s “Mommy Wars” hullabaloo are missing part of the point, I think. As I’ve stated before, an article in The New York Times last summer cites census bureau numbers that more than double the amount of dads act as the primary caregiver today than 10 years ago. Parents staying home with their children is not just about feminism, rather, a bigger cultural discussion is happening right now about parenting, and men are a big part of the talk too, or should be. Where are the articles saying that stay-at-home dads are damaging the cultural image of dads, or are somehow detrimental to men’s rights? (Get on that, Limbaugh.) I don’t want to harp on my piece from yesterday, but talking only about women here, having a “Mommy” War” and not a “Family” or “Child-care Debate,” is unfair, another example of insidious sexism.
Change of this kind — of any kind — can be scary, especially to those with deep insecurities. Limbaugh, whose site is plastered with images of him and phalluses — smoking a fat cigar, leaning into his big ole’ microphone — reminds me of those high school bullies and blow-hards, whose Sturm und Drang in the cafeteria was a smokescreen for their fears, embarrassments, and failures. Or maybe I’m getting too analytic here, or too personal. It’s hard not to go there though, with Limbaugh’s type of rhetoric.
Bottom line: I don’t understand why anyone in this country would be against men playing a more equal role in a marriage and a family. Only someone’s who scared, I think, of engaging in actual debate with a woman, and seeing her as a human being just like him, with opinions, feelings, desires, and dislikes that deserve respect. It’s not about sex; it’s about human rights.
Here is the clip of Whit and I on HNL’s Raising America: