How I got a man to do women's work and became the envy of my female coworkers

In my teens, I was one of the top three students of my graduating high school class. I had the highest SAT scores of that class. Based on those SAT scores, I won a National Merit Scholarship to the University of Georgia, one of the more prestigious institutions in the state where I was born and raised. People expected me to have a serious career. People thought I would be a self made millionaire by age 30.

But I ended up declining my scholarship and getting married at age 19 to my high school sweetheart. For a long time, I was a full time military wife and homeschooling mom. Then I got divorced.

Thus, in my early forties, after spending a lot of years in a very traditionally female role, I found myself the head of household and primary breadwinner in a household of three people. The other two were my sons, in their late teens when I got my corporate job.

At some point, I sat my sons down and I said "I am now the primary breadwinner, but I still load the dishwasher at least once a day, I still do most of the grocery shopping and I do all of the cooking. Meanwhile, neither of you has a job. Either, one or both of you can get a job or you two can take over all the women's work so I can put more of my time and energy into my job, work more overtime and try to get a promotion."

I laid out the fact that I would really rather they took over the women's work. My oldest son has a serious medical condition. I felt that if he didn't learn to cook and clean adequately for his special needs, I would never be free of having to take care of him. I also want a real career and I have studied this problem space enough to know that one thing that holds women back is the so-called "Second Shift" of homemaking and child rearing duties that many women cannot escape, no matter their job title.

I also felt sincerely that we would all have a better quality of life if I put more into my job than if they each got a part-time, minimum wage job. I didn't make great money, but it was better than minimum wage. When I got time and a half pay for overtime, 8 hours on a Saturday put more money in my hands than a part-time minimum wage job might pay all week and there was less additional overhead for the family in terms of uniforms, schedules and so on. But we would only all have better quality of life if they actually took over the women's work. I was ill and I just didn't have the energy to work overtime and also keep doing a large share of the women's work at home.

At work, "overtime season" was about to start. For the next four months, we would be asked to work overtime pretty regularly. My sons are both twice exceptional -- they are both very bright, but they also have some personal challenges. We had just gotten the equipment to connect the Wii to the Internet and discovered Wii Points. This was a means to buy inexpensive games for the Wii and my sons both love video games, perhaps more than life itself.

So I made the following proposal: For the next four months, if they took over all of the women's work so I could work as much overtime as possible, I would give them at least $10 worth of Wii Points from every single paycheck that had overtime pay in it. They kept up their end of the bargain and I kept up mine, even when one paycheck had very little overtime pay in it for reasons beyond our control.

My oldest son took over all of the cooking and most of the grocery shopping. Because he and I both have the same serious medical condition, his cooking had to meet some pretty stringent standards in terms of food quality. It was not okay for him to get TV dinners or microwave meals or canned goods. "Heat and eat" options were out of the question. He had to buy actual meat and produce and cook from scratch every single day. We also do not do leftovers because our medical condition predisposes us to food poisoning. I have had really bad food poisoning on more than one occasion when someone else consumed the same thing and was only very mildly impacted.

However, while there were some strict standards he genuinely needed to meet, there were other standards he really did not need to meet. I was well aware that women have a tendency to be very critical when men take over the women's work and don't do it to the standards the woman was meeting. I was clear this was a big barrier to getting male cooperation. In contrast to how many women handle it, I was mindful of the fact that a) someone doing it for the first time wasn't going to be able to do the same things I could do with many years of experience and b) in many cases, those extra flourishes aren't really necessary. Complaining about men failing to meet standards that aren't actually critical to quality of life is just a form of female sow chauvinism, one I had seen all too often undermine efforts to get men on board with doing essential household tasks.

So I was agreeable to my son streamlining dinner to one pot meals and making other choices that lightened his load without actually reducing our quality of life. Because I have a great deal of knowledge he lacks, I became the cooking consultant. I also remained the vegetable prep chef in the household. I don't mind peeling potatoes and chopping veggies and my oldest son has a track record of bleeding all over the place when he tries to do vegetable prep.

I have a really good relationship with my sons. When I would criticize my son's homemade flat bread for being lumpy and ugly, he would retort "It tastes as good as yours." He only had to chase me out of the kitchen twice before I relented and respected that was now his domain. To my shock and delight, I found myself asking questions I had previously only heard male relatives ask, like "What's in the fridge?"

My son (like my mother) has a keener sense of smell than I have. So, he turned out to be a better cook than I am. His food was often not as pretty to look at as mine, but it tasted a lot better. In fact, it was the best tasting, highest quality food I had ever eaten in my life.

In part because of my medical situation, I was deeply in debt and had chosen to give up my car and walk to work. It was a long walk and I worked on a corporate campus with upwards of 2000 employees. It was rare that I had to walk the entire way. Someone typically stopped to offer me a ride and many of these people worked at the same company as me.

We would chit chat as they drove me to or from work. With no car, I was obviously poor and I would talk about being divorced and having two special needs sons living with me, neither of whom had ever had a paid job. They would make sympathetic noises and, when driving me home, would say something like "You poor thing. And now you have to cook dinner after working all day!" I would say "No. Dinner will be nearly ready when I get home. My oldest son does all the cooking."

Their reactions were very telling. Most of them did an immediate about face, going in an instant from pitying me to envying me, in spite of the fact that they typically had a more established career and were clearly better off financially. Even very high ranking women in my department typically still did the housekeeping and cooking at home.

So, I started with a 1950's style marriage wherein I did all the women's work. I ended up getting a man -- my adult son -- to take over the vast majority of it, backed up by help from his teen-aged brother. With an entry level job -- in fact, my first full time paid job -- I accomplished something many career women never manage to accomplish.

Unfortunately, this write up failed to spell out the fact that a) my sons agreed enthusiastically and b) what their motive was. In addition to Wii Points (aka money for games), it also gave them freedom to continue pursuing their own dreams. Although their desire to someday make video games is still in the offing, their desire to write about them is beginning to bear fruit here: Vigaroe: Video (&) Games Are Our Only Education Their ideas could not have been developed had their lives been taken over by some wage slave job.


MIx Jon said…
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