Masculinity: Vive la [sexy] différence!

You’ll forgive me if I don’t have any life experience to bring to this topic. I’m not married. In fact, I’ve never even co-habitated with a romantic partner. But it won’t always be so and that’s why I’m paying close attention to Lori Gottlieb’s article about the dearth of sex in egalitarian marriages (Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?) in which she suggests that couples who divide household responsibilities equally suffer from a lack of zing in the bedroom.

Let’s get a little hurdle out of the way: I’m pretty sure she isn’t suggesting that men should just stop doing housework altogether in order to spice up their marriage. In fact, while the women interviewed weren’t particularly turned on by dutiful housecleaning husbands, they were definitely angry and turned off when their husbands didn’t pick up after themselves. So, no dude, you’re not off the hook. But you do have to find a way to be both manly and helpful, apparently, because women are hard to please (we’re so worth it).

A man who scrubs

A (shirtless?) man who scrubs

This could be another one of those “let’s blame everything that sucks on feminism” moments, and I can see how the issues could get confused. And yet I really don’t think things were better pre-women’s lib. Being a 1950s housewife couldn’t have been very fulfilling, plus that lack of independence, financial and otherwise, probably made a person feel not so hot. Now that women are in the workforce and face the same professional pressures as men outside of the home, it’s only logical that they don’t want to shoulder the entire burden for keeping things ship-shape inside of the home. The problem seems to occur when husbands and wives play the same roles: they both bring home an income, they both get the kids ready for bedtime, they both cook and clean, and they both bring the car in to get an oil change.

So really, this article is about gender difference and how a lack of it dampens desire within relationships. She uses the term “equal” in the title of the article (I get it, it’s catchy), but it’s clear the real question she’s asking is: Does more SAMENESS in marriage mean less sex? My first reaction to this was — yes! totally makes sense. Again, my willingness to hear the message is perhaps due to the fact that I pay a nice lady to do my hoovering and largely don’t have to deal with my man’s stuff on the floor. Lack of experience may be making me gullible.

I find her thoughts about homosexual relationships particularly remarkable. She suggests that men chose each other based on sexual attraction before compatibility which leads to couples wherein there exists more [sexy sexy] difference than within lesbian couples. This strikes me as a pretty broad generalization, but it is interesting nevertheless. Gender inequality isn’t in play in same-sex couples and so this could be a further sign that difference really is the issue. These postulations also make me suspect that I might secretly be a gay man (in my mate-choosing approach, though perhaps not in other key ways!).

The character Jamie Fraser from the upcoming film based on Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, another book series featuring a sexy violent manly man that women went crazy over.

The character Jamie Fraser from the upcoming film based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, another book series featuring a sexy violent manly man that women went crazy over.

I know what you’re thinking — But I love it when my man does the dishes! A man who mops the floor and who is strong and musky… and a total beast in the bedroom?! I want one. Hold on a minute, warns Gottlieb. Why did the normally discerning level-headed female masses voraciously devour a barely legible story about a rich manipulative jerk named Christian Grey if their beds were already on fire? Exactly. Something is amiss.

I was reminded of this article again last weekend when I watched a documentary on CBC’s Doc Zone about women who find love and/or sex in Cuba. The women interviewed said that Cuban men know how to charm women in a way that Canadian men do not. One of the Cuban men interviewed spoke of how unbelievable it is to him that a Canadian guy will see a beautiful woman walk by and not even acknowledge her. I myself once danced a cha cha with a friendly Cuban who explained that I should follow his lead. Though men and women are equal in Canada, he said, in Cuba, men are in charge. I chose to just go with it for the sake of my pleasant holiday dancing experience. But clearly he was onto something if so many Canadian women keep going back for more.

Gottlieb’s article and the crazy Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, I think, point to some confusion about masculinity in North American culture. Men are supposed to be kind and helpful, equal partners in marriage, but then women go off them and start to fantasize about being a young naive dolt who succumbs to the powers of a controlling asshole. Come on! Why are we so stuck on extremes — neutered housemen vs. violent pricks? Those can’t be the only options. I’m reminded of what struck me about my special Monsieur the first time we spoke: his quiet strength. Masculinity is not about being the biggest guy, talking the loudest, giving orders, and spending the most cash. For me, it’s represented by someone who is secure in his identity and beliefs, competent, and with the ability to be gentle, as well as to protect those he loves.

Being an asshole is all part of my manly essence.

Being an asshole is all part of my manly essence.

In the same way I like to play up my femininity, I also enjoy the ways in which men are uniquely manly. Whether by conditioning or by design (nurture vs. nature debate, anyone?), men and women are not the same. Being different doesn’t mean that we can’t be equal. But those differences probably help keep a certain frisson alive between two people after many years together. Besides, someone with strengths that are completely foreign to you is admirable in the long run. (While someone who does all the same things, except insists on folding the towels his way, is irritating). I love it that Mon Amour opens doors for me and carries my heavy groceries. True, I previously was someone who carried her own bags (schlepping the whole way) and I have a long history of opening car doors for myself. Yet these things are so very pleasing to me now… probably because they highlight our difference in upper-body strength, and it just feels nice that someone cares to make my life easier.

How will this translate to a domestic situation? I really can’t tell. But Gottlieb’s words will not be far from my mind. I can’t imagine dividing tasks down strict gender lines, but I know that I would happily cook and do laundry if it meant I never again had to vacuum or take out the recycling. I hope we’ll be able to take care of one another, each in our own distinct ways.

What do you think of gendered roles — Do you agree with Gottlieb’s hypothesis?


  1. Ms. Manners says:

    great post, brenda! i just moved in with my monsieur last month and he is living proof that a man can be strong and “masculine” and also be an equal helper in terms of household chores…and, i have to say, i didn’t hate seeing him vacuum the house shirtless the other day! a strong man helping out around the house IS sexy. and possible. so there. 🙂

  2. I read Gottlieb’s article and I was quite shocked. What struck me the most were the stats she mentioned that if the woman was making more money than the man, that’s when the relationship starts going south. I don’t know if me and my husband are freaks but we do not have children and the chores are quite evenly spread—if not him doing more than me! The only comment I can say about the sex part when a couple share chores, is that they both may become more tired because they both do everything around the house, while also having full time jobs outside of the house. That being said, I can’t even fathom how couples in the past DID have more sex, because really, the woman had her duties up to her eyeballs at home doing all domestic things, and the man worked the whole week bringing in the money. However, I do not think ANY of these things lessen or add more sex to an “equal” couple’s lives. I think those stats are merely excuses for other underlying issues. If you both really want to have sex and you are attracted to your partner—you will ALWAYS find the time to do it! Date nights once per month are the usual in our relationship. And who says that their has to be a certain number of times that a couple has sex? The couple should know how much of it they want and should be comfortable with that number, while making sure they can accomplish it. But honestly—it is totally unrealistic to think that you will have sex with your man 5 times a day (like a Christian Grey). The only people who can do that are the fictitious characters in Fifty Shades. And I’d rather have my husband than Grey ANY day, thank you very much 🙂

    • The only thing I can imagine was better in the days of yore is that people worked less. There’s an often cited stat that working moms now on average spend more time with their kids than stay-at-home moms did in the 70s. So, a gal who took time to chat with the neighbours and play a game of bridge may have felt a bit more frisky than someone who worked in an office, drove her kids to hockey, made dinner and THEN cleaned the bathroom.

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