Posted by: jadanzzy | September 24, 2008

The Wedding Bells…and Whistles

By my girlfriend’s suggestion, I gave a chapter of Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift a read (it’s a long, but VERY engaging read). The book reveals the often-thought-about but not-often discussed inequalities of domestic responsibilities in the home. In the chapter entitled “Joey’s Problem,” we read about a modern couple, Nancy and Evan, and their struggle to live a balanced life with their four-year old son Joey. Hochschild observes a family that tries time and time again to establish domestic equality within the home and fails every time. Nancy is left deeply resentful of the fact that she has to work double shifts – one at work and another one at home. She returns home from a full eight-hour workday and is promptly greeted by dinnertime.  She does most if not all the cooking, cleaning, laundering, plus she carries about 80% of the daily parenting load (which includes but is not limited to feeding, bathing, as well as a trying bedtime ritual). And while Evan would never see himself as a chauvinistic and paternalistic husband, his domestic responsibility consists of… taking care of the dog. But he does all of it himself, you see.

As a male born to full-time working Korean parents, having been raised as the first son in a Korean household and fully assimilated into a (seemingly) progressive American culture, I was deeply affected and even saddened by the chapter.

Hochschild is very good about not casting the blame onto just one individual (which one could assume would be Evan). I appreciated how she was able to connect Nancy and Evan’s expectations (or lack thereof) to the way that their own parents had structured their marriages and raised their children. Nancy’s mother, apparently, was a doormat to her father:

“She didn’t have any self-confidence. And growing up, I can remember her being really depressed. I grew up bound and determined not to be like her and not to marry a man like my father.”

Evan grew up emotionally disconnected from his mother and was more like his father, oblivious to the progression of feminism while growing up in the ’70s. His ultimate fear was that Nancy would relinquish motherly attention that he had missed out on while growing up and still yearned:

“…Evan perhaps also feared that Nancy was avoiding taking care of him. His own mother, a mild-mannered alcoholic, had by imperceptible steps phased herself out of a mother’s role, leaving him very much on his own.”

Hochschild does a great job of revealing the multitude of factors that feed into the Holts’ domestic inequality – from their disparate employment experiences to their dysfunctional and separate relationships with their son, Joey. She carefully studies the sources of resentment that both Nancy and Evan feel, and the so-called victories as well as losses that come as a result. It’s not what you may think. It’s scary.

Reading this, I feared for my future marriage. Having been raised to view marriage through complementarian eyes and as of two years ago, having embraced the egalitarian model as being just as Christ-imaging (if not more), I was deathly afraid that somehow the way that my parents have lived and raised me would come back to bite me right in the ass. Being the first-born son to a smotheringly loving Korean mother and an equally affectionate Korean father, my spoiling was not in materialism, but rather in duty and responsibility. Meaning, in the lack of both. I, in a sense, had little to nothing to do in the house. I never did chores. I never worried about my bathroom being clean, or my room being tidy. It was done for me. And to make matters worse, the bouts of guilt I had were furiously swept under the rug, because it was just so nice not having to worry.

My relationship with my girlfriend has been the sharpening stone for me. Needless to say, I’ve been forced to grow up a lot being in a relationship with someone as forward-thinking as my girlfriend (which reminds me of my college pastor telling a handful of us male college students, “You guys need girlfriends. It’ll make you guys grow up”). I’ve had to face the way I was raised (and no, I don’t blame my mother for anything) and wrestle to change it. I’ve won some battles, but others I continue to fight. But as we’re not living together yet, my fear is that if and when we do get married I’ll slump into some subconscious habit of traditional Korean husband-dom. Or worse, think complementarianism is more “biblical” (in the words of Juno, “what does that even mean??”) and assume my wife should take care of the home while I proudly bear the title of “Spiritual Overlord.”

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  1. you have no idea. you think you have an idea. you have no idea. i say this not in a bad way or with any ill will. and marriage is one thing. raising a child and balancing work and passion has been very, very humbling. you will not be the same person, and that is a very good thing. but it is not easy. it will be the best thing for you, and you will be better for it – you can see it, you will agree with it, you will find it noble and worthy, but you will be changed. and of course, i mean this in the best way. again, i may have told you this before, the fact that marriage and parenthood are consistent metaphors for the gospel is no coincidence. so take up your cross and follow…

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