Sage at Persephone’s Box highlights an article that advises women that to get men to do housework, they should train them like dogs, using social conditioning/ behaviour modification similar to that explored by Pavlov. This concept was also explored in a BBC reality show ‘Bring your Husband to the Heel’. Sage rightly questions whether an equitable partnership should be based on manipulation and dominance.
For me, this discussion brings to mind the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. Modern conceptions of masculinity seemed to have rid men of their responsibility. In the early modern period, the expectation upon men to be responsible was immense. They were expected to conform to a wide range of roles including upstanding member of the community, breadwinner, and patriarch of the household. As patriarchs, they were held responsible by the law and by the community for the behaviour of all members of their household, including their wives, servants and children. The role of patriarch brought them great power as it brought the prestige and the ownership of everyone in the household, but it was to some extent balanced by the responsibility of managing everything and everyone they owned. In contemporary society, the nature of the household has changed and the patriarch, while not a distant memory, does not have the same connotations. With this change came great freedom for men from the responsibilities of ownership, while women increased their right to be recognised as human beings, rather than possessions.
Contemporary society has embraced the idea that men should be free from the responsibilities of being a patriarch, while not letting go of the power. This has led to a society where men are given more and more leeway in their behaviour and not held responsible for their actions. Men who are unfaithful, who refuse to participate in the running of the household, who put hobbies before family, and, even in some cases, sexually assault or rape women, are not held to account. Instead, society buys into the idea that ‘boys will be boys’. Despite the fact that men pride themselves on their rationality, society promotes the idea that reasoning with men or asking them to fulfil their responsibilities is pointless. Instead, women should resort to pseudo-scientific techniques that are time-consuming and degrading for both parties, instead of simply asking them to step up and take responsibility. The fact is men do not want to be asked to take responsibility as it restricts their power and freedom. Complicated game-playing, which is more demanding of the ‘trainer’ than the ‘trained’ allows women to feel like they are in command, while occupying their time and energy for only minimal social gain.
The move from household patriarchy has often been seen as liberating for women, but it was equally liberating for men who kept their power and lost the responsibilities that came with it. Real change to power dynamics within the home requires a revolution.
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