I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.Even the Daily Mail is convinced, suggesting that husbands should “pull their weight” domestically if they want to avoid divorce. And, considering that the same paper also published a piece on the Georgia State University research that suggests that heterosexual couples enjoy better sex lives if the man takes on an equal share of childcare. Ayesha Vardag agrees that married women often initiate divorce, but she isn’t convinced that housework per se is the cause of marital tension:
In our experience at Vardags, it’s almost always women who push the button on a divorce. If a man starts the divorce you can usually be pretty sure there’s another woman in the background who’s given him an ultimatum. I don’t find it’s about housework. My experience is: men, with the traditional freedom of working outside the home, will try to have their cake and eat it for as long as possible – why get out permanently and jeopardise your infrastructure with your wife and kids at home when you can go out to play whenever you like? Especially with the old (incorrect) idea that women keep the kids. Whereas women tend have been brought up to feel more romantically and to want the whole existential soul-mate package from one partner and bail when that goes awry.So even if it’s less about who does the dishes than the Daily Mail might have us believe, there’s clearly very much a kernel of truth about gender expectations and the influence it can have on married couples’ attitudes and behaviour. Things could be shifting, however. Ayesha says:
As women increasingly go out to work and have their own independent lives outside the home, they’re freer too. I think you’ll find there will be more women having affairs and still choosing to keep their marriages together, not least because if they don’t they can increasingly expect the kids to share their time equally between their parents.
It may be that if men shrug off a bit of their freedom and knuckle down to some dusting, while women embrace their social and economic liberty a bit more, we could be on the way to concocting the recipe for the perfect marriage.