Unfinished Business

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a prominent international lawyer, foreign policy analyst, professor and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State… okay, she has too many titles and accomplishments, but the point is that she wrote this book that was published last year called Unfinished Business, which the media often portrayed as the counterpoint to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Lean In primarily argues that change relies on the individual; Unfinished Business argues that change needs to happen at the societal level, but that means that the way we all think has to change. Obviously both are necessary for full and true equality of men and women, but there are a lot of points that Slaughter brings up that are a bit hard to swallow, especially when you realize you enable a lot of the behavior you may not rejoice about.

In her second and current marriage, she says that for the most part, she and Andy are equals… but are they really? They have raised two sons and generally share in teaching, disciplining, clothing, and feeding them, but why does it always feel like she is asking her husband to do things that he should just do? Why should she be checking with him about the medication they need to give the kids, or reminding him to give one of them a bath when he should just know it? Why does she always have a sense of urgency when it’s time to clean the bathtub or mop the floor, and he seems to think it can happen later and asks why it needs to be done at that very moment (which really means… probably never)? When it’s time to clean, she finds herself doing the lion’s share of the cleaning and organizing not because she thinks he’s unwilling, but because it’s just easier if she does it herself and doesn’t bother asking him. Because shouldn’t they both know that cleaning needs to get done?

He may be guilty of being less willing to clean, feeling less “urgency” to get those menial tasks done, but at the same time, she enables him by justifying in her mind that it’s quicker for her to take care of certain tasks. So she just gets them done. This then enables the imbalance in duties. So then the problem remains: how do they both have an understanding of what needs to get done and by when so that it doesn’t feel like one party is doing significantly more than the other, or that one is nagging the other to get things done?

This feels like my situation. Or maybe it’s the situation of most couples who live together because nothing is ever truly “equal” or egalitarian. But then that begs the question of what imbalance are you going to be comfortable with to really be happy and fulfilled? It’s all too easy to fall into gender roles in heterosexual relationships where the woman “owns” most of the domestic duties. But then that’s not really fair if both work, right? It’s far more challenging and a constant work in progress to continually evaluate how “egalitarian” the methods are that duties are divided and see what can be improved upon.

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