Why Do Women Make All the Household Decisions?
She's Got the Power
Women may complain about the hoops we jump through every day, but most of us do get something out of this endless exertion besides the ability to play the martyr card. That something is power. Since I'm the spouse who's home on a consistent basis (Robb travels a lot for work), I pay all the bills and manage the taxes even though he's actually better with money. I used to gripe about this setup but at some point it dawned on me that it works in my favor. If Robb kept the books I'd be on a much shorter leash. As it stands, I don't have to account for every dime as long as everything gets paid on time and the bank account isn't overdrawn.
The upside of keeping the social calendar is similarly obvious: If husbands were in charge we might end up blowing a precious babysitter night at a sports bar. If we plan the activity, at least it'll be something we enjoy.
But the power and control that come with the role of domestic decider are precisely why it's so hard to break free. Diane Richards admits she still does more in her household. "But I put up with it," she says, "because I'm a control freak and I like being in charge."
And though we say we want men to take the helm, we often find fault with the results when they do. "What women want in the home isn't so much power sharing as a spouse who's better at following their orders, says Jerrold Lee Shapiro, PhD, a professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University. "The general sergeant setup works well in the military but in marriage it breeds resentment. Generals are not happy when sergeants don't respond to their leadership the way they want."
And sergeants (that is, husbands) feel as if they can't win. "When I try to help, my wife always gets on me about something," says one man with two kids and a working wife. "I bought pecan pieces instead of whole ones, or if it's my turn to cook I make ground beef too often. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't."
But women aren't the only ones who defeat power-sharing arrangements; men have their own means of sabotage. One of the most effective is to feign, consciously or not, helplessness, as in, "I can't find the potato peeler" or "you didn't tell me Jack needed his guitar for his guitar lesson." The classic scenario is the guy who's asked to do laundry and (accidentally on purpose?) tosses a red washcloth in with the whites. The resulting pink tint usually gets him a lifetime pass on laundry duty. Small wonder, then, that a lot of women find it easier to do a job themselves than to delegate it, given all the explaining, reminding, and cajoling required.
But Coontz cautions against surrender. "The first time a wife says he's doing something wrong, the husband may think, 'oh, that's a good excuse not to do it,'" she says. "And if the husband says, 'I'm not sure what to do,' the wife thinks, 'it's hopeless; he just can't learn.'" Allow this dynamic to prevail, she warns and you'll never achieve equality.