I hear it from even the most educated, brilliant, feminist, badass women: “My husband helps out with the house and kids because I’ve been training him for years.”
I know this is supposed to be something like a compliment, a show of appreciation that said husband has come around. And yet, isn’t there something a bit… moldy about talking about the man who is supposed to be the love of your life, your partner in everything as something to “train”? Kind of like…a dog? It’s problematic. On many, many levels.
First of all, you (I fervently hope) did not adopt your husband from the local animal shelter. He should not need “training.” He should already be housebroken and equipped with standard levels of basic human decency like putting his laundry in the hamper and his dishes in the dishwasher, and doing his share of housework and childrearing.
Second of all, saying you have “trained” your husband belittles your husband. On the one hand, when I observe a man who clearly isn’t doing his share, I kind of think he deserves to be belittled. He deserves it because men who don’t do their share are little. They need to get their shit together. It’s not usually any woman’s fault that her husband needs to be “trained.” Many women marry early and there often isn’t much to clue a gal in ahead of time that Mr. Right is actually Mr. Only Helps Out When You Nag Him.
Now, listen, I know not all husbands need training. And I know some wives can nag unnecessarily. I’m also not talking about situations where both partners have agreed to split household duties according to preference and the work is divided fairly and everyone is happy with the arrangement. But the research is clear that in heterosexual marriages, as a whole, women do more housework than men. This is true even when there are no children involved. Barf.
But if you have to train your husband, it puts him in a student role—a child role. Wanna take a guess what that makes you? Yep, you got it: his mother. Eww. Wanna take another guess as to what is the quickest way to kill intimacy in a marriage? Ding ding ding! For women, one of the primary killers of intimacy is taking on a mothering or caregiver role toward her partner.
And then there’s that whole “nag” thing. Wives, in their efforts to train husbands who either don’t know how or are unwilling to do their share, get cast as nags. So, cisgender women married to cisgender men basically have to choose between being a nagging bitch or being a doormat. There are countless books and articles devoted to advising women how not to nag or mother their husbands. Many advise women to “tell him exactly what you want.” But… in some circles that’s called nagging.
Then there is the advice that encourages wives not to critique their husband’s efforts when he finally does pitch in. Here is a quote from an article written by a male writer: “For instance, if he makes the bed—but not to your liking—leave it be. If he does the grocery shopping and buys parsley instead of cilantro, don’t freak out.”
LOL. Um… makes the bed? These guys aren’t making beds. Wives don’t care about the damn beds. Wives just want to not be the only one to notice (and clean) the yellow pee grime clinging to the toilet bowl rim that only a penis could have put there. The freaking beds are the least of a wife’s worries. And, I’m sorry, but if a dude continuously brings home the wrong damn product from the grocery store because he is too lazy to read the label, then he deserves to get nagged to death. Women read labels and get shit right week after week and supposedly aren’t any smarter than men, and men presumably read words and follow directions at work, so… what’s the problem? Just read the damn label. It’s literally right in front of you.
A similar issue arises when it comes to parenting. Women are advised to “let him figure it out” and “let him do it his way.” That’s easy advice to give when you’re not the one who’s been reading about childcare for a solid nine months while your partner kept abreast of politics and the latest sports news. Is it honestly any wonder a new mom can’t stop herself from saying, “Um, that’s not how you do it”? She is the one—the only one—who did all the research. Of course she’s going to have opinions about how her husband who did zero research does things. But if she points out that the swaddle does in fact need to be tight in order to comfort the baby, she’s a nag.
As for husbands who are perfectly fine with having a wife who tells him what to do, that’s really not OK either. Why should it be on her to do all the research for how to do things and then on top of that also have to relay that information? It forces her to do twice the work. It’s one thing to agree in advance that one partner will do the research and be the go-to for a particular topic or chore. It’s great to divide and conquer and bring out the best in one another. But, too often, the heaviest emotional and physical load falls to wives and mothers.
Wives should not have to train their husbands. It should not be considered a compliment for a man to be “trainable.” He’s not a dog. He’s a human being with every capability to be a willing partner who shares in all the burdens of the household.
Even as I write this, I realize this puts wives into a bit of a pickle: If you’re not nagging — I mean, asking your husband to help — how do you get out of being the only one doing all the housework and childcare? This is a pervasive, complex problem with deep social roots. We all have a lot of work to do to shift closer to an equitable distribution of work in the home. And I’m really not trying to bash men here, either. If I were a married man, I think I’d be disgusted by the idea of my wife thinking she needed to “train” me.
It’s just such a low bar. So belittling for all involved. It’s not women’s job to train men. It’s not their job to make men “better people.” Men need to get it together and just fucking do the work. Women need to raise their expectations. And we as parents need to drill into our kids, regardless of gender, that household chores and parenting should be split equally.
Because the last thing I’d ever want for my daughter is for her to have to train a husband. And the last thing I’d want for my son is for him to have to be trained. They both deserve better than that.
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