The (gender) division of procrastination

dishiesred250px.gifI’m reading an interesting book at the moment called He’ll be right OK. It’s by a NZ woman who has been working with men in prison for twenty odd years. She got caught up in something called “The Good Man Project” run by some NZ boys only schools and it’s a memoire of her time doing that and what she’s learned together with ruminations on how to bring up boys better.

She says she wishes that she’d known what she knows now when she was bringing up her son (she was single). Not that it was a disaster or anything, but she says she realises now that women tend to misunderstand what’s going on with young boys. They tend to misunderstand their silences and are impatient about things that need time.

I bought the book having read the passages below in the intro.

 

 

hell-be-ok.jpgA few months ago, while I was still considering whether there was any real merit in writing a book about what I’d learnt as a result of my participation in the Good Man Project, I sat in a cafe and watched the interaction between a man and his three young sons, aged between four and eight. As I unashamedly eavesdropped on their conversation, it became apparent that the boys’ mother had passed responsibility to Dad for the morning.

What drew my attention was the very calm approach of the father as he dealt with three extremely energetic boys. He allowed them time to clamber up onto the seats they’d selected and spoke clearly and slowly to them about what they might like to eat and drink. He gave them plenty of time to make their choices and didn’t appear to get at all agitated when, more than once, they became distracted by something else in the busy cafe. When the youngest boy got down off his chair to investigate something he’d seen on the floor, his father just quietly asked him to sit down again, which the child did in his own time; no harm was done in the meantime.

When the food arrived, the father helped where necessary, but generally left the boys to manage it themselves and didn’t become upset when, as was inevitable, things got a bit messy. He let them wander from the table once they’d finished eating, never rushing to stop them doing whatever they were focused on, but always keeping an eye on them and pulling them back within his reach whenever he deemed it necessary. The boys seemed to relax into their father’s calmness, knowing intuitively how far they could go before he would call them back. His voice was their boundary: he knew it and so did the boys. As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder just how different things might have been if the boys had been in the company of their mother or another woman.

A week or two later I boarded a plane and found myself sitting across the aisle from a man and his son, a boy of about ten. The boy’s mother and the younger brother, aged about four, were seated behind me.

The father and son were talking in low tones about the plane and what was happening outside on the tarmac, and as we prepared to take off, I noticed the father reach for his son’s hand and cradle it within his, presumably to reassure him. Once the plane was in the air, a commentary from the seat behind me began as the mother checked continually on the wellbeing of her elder son. At least every two or three minutes, or so it seemed, she asked the father whether the boy was `all right’, while at the same time working to keep an energetic four-year-old under control.

Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on the woman, but she appeared to be undermining the father’s attempts to relate positively and reassuringly to his son. Having made several enquiries and comments about the boy’s welfare, she then went on to contradict her husband. When he asked the flight attendant for coffee, from across the aisle (and one seat back!), she said, `But wouldn’t you prefer tea?’ She seemed to have decided that she needed to be involved in everything that was happening with both her sons, while at the same time trying to manage what their father was choosing to drink.

In a way, the comparison between these two incidents has pushed me to write this book. I consider myself a feminist: I see feminism as the right of women to pursue whatever path they choose without in any way being restricted by their gender. My chosen direction in life has been strongly influenced by a desire to be free, while working to ensure that same freedom for everyone with whom I come in contact. I consider it extremely important that my freedom not come at the cost of anyone else’s. Unfortunately, my experience within the Good Man Project has left me with the impression that women’s quest for freedom has perhaps taken its toll on our perception of men and manhood.

Working for a while in all boys schools she discovered that boys are very different to girls. No surprises there. One of the big differences she says is that boys deliberately avoid planning. She says they have a deep desire to ‘live in the moment’. Maybe that’s right but another way to describe many of the same phenomena is that boys like to improvise. They like it, and they also like the idea of themselves as good improvisers.

They won’t plan what can be reasonably put off. Of course as she admits these are generalisations and there are obvious exceptions. In any event a lot of the generalisations she makes are not only true of my son and daughter. They’re also true of me and my wife. So I’ve been having a few Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus moments (though I’ve not read that book).

We often go out on Sunday nights. My wife tends to discuss when we’ll go, what to do so that we’re ready etc. Now the problem (from my point of view) is that this isn’t sensible planning – it’s planning because you feel good planning. I’m happy to plan if I think it might have decent benefits, but I prefer to just aim for some time and then do a bit of a call round and see if people want to go.

All this led me to think again about a column I wrote with some trepidation a while back about the household division of labour. Economic studies suggest that more total work is done by men. But there’s no doubting the resiliance of the domestic division of labour to a whole generation of feminist activism. A column doesn’t give you much room, but I was actually trying to say something that was a bit new it seemed to me – even if it was very simple and pedestrian.

It’s this. If a division of labour is chosen between two people, then so long as there’s no coercion involved then there’s got to be a very good reason for crying foul. I posed this question as differential fastidiousness in the column and asked – in effect – ‘if women get themselves more housework because they’re more fastidious’ is that a reason for complaint?’ I’m not sure I know the answer but I suggested there wasn’t except perhaps in egregious circumstances. In the comments thread there were plenty of people who suggested that I’d got it wrong and that there were plenty of men more fastidious than women. I don’t know the figures and I expect people have done the studies.

But what about differential procrastination?

Certainly the author of He’ll be right OK thinks about this in her own arrangements around the house (see below) and despite the cartoon at the head of this post I think some reasonable part of the explanation of the division of household labour might have something to do with what can and can’t be put off and who blinks first.

There’s no better way to illustrate this than by describing the task of putting out the household rubbish, which needs to be out for collection by 7.30 each Wednesday morning. It’s his job. We women think the best idea is to sort the rubbish and put it out the night before, allowing for such possibilities as the truck coming five minutes early or the entire household sleeping in and missing the deadline. He, on the other hand, considers that getting it out there at 7.28 on the Wednesday morning is time enough and that’s what he intends to do. We get increasingly agitated on the Tuesday evening when he shows no sign of doing what we’d like him to do – put it out now. Eventually we somewhat huffily gather up the rubbish and put it out ourselves, muttering as we do so about how hopeless he is and why can’t he do the one thing that’s actually his responsibility. We then sulk for the rest of the night.

hat we need to understand is that as we gathered up the rubbish and took it out, in his brain there was a tick: `She’s just done what I expected her to do. Now I don’t need to do it.’ He’s watched our increasing levels of agitation as the evening has worn on, knowing that eventually we’ll be annoyed enough to act and he’ll be saved a job. Some women will see it as entirely appropriate that men do things according to our schedule rather than theirs, usually because they consider we ‘know better’, ‘are better organised’ or ‘can multi-skill and anticipate possible problems’. Men, on the other hand, are fully aware of the possibility of the household sleeping in or the truck coming early, but, like their adolescent counterparts, they would deal with the problem if either of those things were to happen. And anyway, there could be an earthquake or a flood overnight and then it would have been a complete waste of time and effort to put the rubbish out.

hat are we women to do in the face of this male pragmatism? It’s simple really, and not unlike learning to walk inside the pragmatic minds of adolescent boys to get them to do what needs to be done or to keep them safe. We need to accept the reality of men rather than forever wanting to change it and them. There are two possible approaches. We can decide to leave it entirely up to him when the rubbish goes out, having agreed in adult negotiations that it will be his job, and that any consequences from not getting it out in time are his to deal with. Or we can decide that it’s such a potentially stressful issue for us, given the way we view the world and what we need to feel adequately organised in our lives, that we’ll put it out ourselves. Simple really.

I wonder what Troppodillians think?

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tigtog
14 years ago

*Counterexample raising hand*

My husband is the planner and I am the improviser. It drives him batty. He is also far more fastidious than I am, but it doesn’t translate to him getting up and doing the work required to have the place as fastidious as he would like. But I refuse to be shamed into meeting somebody else’s standards of housekeeping as social statement (which is what the “fastidious” standard is all about) above and beyond what is required for hygiene and comfort.

Also, diploma-mill Dr John Gray’s neverending justifications for forcing women to do all the emotional heavy-lifting and self-sacrifice in relationships drives me batty. Do yourself a favour and don’t bother reading the Mars/Venus canon.

Mark Richardson
14 years ago

Nicholas, the differences you point to are certainly true of my situation. I consider myself reasonably domestically conscientious by male standards, but I know that I’ll never meet my wife’s level of domestic organisation. I’ve compromised in trying to meet her half way, but I’m never going to match it with her and I don’t think she really expects this anyway.

Phil Gouge
Phil Gouge
14 years ago

These differences are most certainly the cause of much friction within marriages. I don’t generally like to plan things, I eschew recipes other than from the point of view of ‘thats a good idea’, I am a perfect example of ‘just in time’.

My beloved and I have discussed this aspect of my character, and I have been accused of inconsistency in that I have a morbid fear of being late. However this is just another manifestation of ‘just in time’.

She who must be obeyed however is always very well organised.

At 60+, we have managed to reach a point of conjugal equilibrium, where each of our quirks are accommodated.

Except for the stacking of the dishwasher………..

Patrick
Patrick
14 years ago

I’m in a relationship much more like tig-togs, insofar as fastitidy goes. But then again, Mrs Me certainly likes to do the planning, and I always put things off and then do it all in one spurt, which drives her crazy!

I think the points re children are probably applicable to all children.

observa
observa
14 years ago

My parents and grandparents would be amused at all this reinvention of the wheel http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,21724293-2682,00.html

James Rice
14 years ago

Sounds like an interesting book. Is He’ll Be Right the same as He’ll Be Ok?

Backroom Girl
Backroom Girl
14 years ago

Speaking of parents and grandparents (generation), Observa, my 80-something aunt who was a junior school teacher was firmly of the view that boys should not even start school until they were 7 because before then they were constitutionally incapable of sitting still long enough to be taught.

Clearly the tendencies we’re talking about aren’t always neatly correlated – in my family I’m the planner (but he gets upset if plans need to change later on, while I don’t); I’m the recipe improviser (also the shopper, it must be said), while he has to follow the recipe to the letter; he does most of the housework (I’m definitely with tigtog on that one).

On the bigger question that Nicholas alluded to as to whether there will ever be an equal division of domestic and paid labour, I have been forced to conclude that there will not. Not that it bothers me – I’m also of the view that if women continue to have a stronger preference than men for mothering and reflect that in their lifetime workforce attachment patterns, there is only so far that it is possible to go in terms of gender earnings equality. That is just the price of having systems and institutions that allow women to make those choices.

vee
vee
14 years ago

I’ll say on the Macro-scale its all true.

Or to paraphrase [my perception of] the authors viewpoint, women stress about things that are not that important/don’t matter [to men].

Helen
14 years ago

Oh, so one’s observations of two families, one in a cafe and one on a plane, constitute sociological data on all men and women? Feh.

In fact, in the cafe incident, the poor woman isn’t even there – NZer just assumes she’d be crap. Oh give me a break.

Hey: In this instance, Nicholas has forgotten to close his italics tags!! I hereby take this example to write a book claiming ALL MEN ARE CRAP AT HTML!!!! That’ll show ’em!

This woman’s rampant misuse of her unexamined prejudices has unfortunately exacerbated my own prejudices about the quality of intellectual activity in NZ

Amanda
14 years ago

I think its a reference to the weird thing Troppo as a whole keeps doing where suddenly everything is in italics. Then it goes back to normal. Then back to italics. It doesn’t happen to everyone? Might be a broswer thing.

Helen
14 years ago

That’s indeed what it is. It’s normal now.

*Music from twilight zone*

Ken Parish
Admin
14 years ago

No it isn’t. It happenes to me al the time, both on my home and work PC. And Jacques doesn’tknow anything about it. I asked him about it yesterday. It’s yet another weird thing about the current Troppo/Wordpress installation.

Ken Parish
Admin
14 years ago

Actually I can’t get Troppo to go italic at the moment no matter how many times I refresh or open a new window. Previously it did it just about every second time I visited Troppo. So maybe Jacques has managed to fix the problem after I raised it with him yesterday. We’ll see.

Amanda
14 years ago

It’s still doing it to me.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

I note from the comments that, while some disagree with the gender generalisations, most people are able to relate to the distinction between planners and improvisers as basic personality types. So it’s probably more important to recognise these differences where they exist, and build mutual understanding, than to establish whether improvising and planning are essentially male and female tendencies repectively.

That said, the garbage scenario and the whole characterisation of the genders fits our case like a glove. The standard argument I have with my wife involves her getting stressed because this, this and this havn’t been done, and my accusing her of behaving as if we were in a crisis. ‘I wonder how you would behave if we actually were in a burning building…’ On the other hand, she never exhibits any sense of urgency or superior planning skills when we have a social engagement to get to. Especially when it’s with ‘my’ friends.