Kathryn Jean Lopez writes about her sadness about the revelations of that Jean Vanier, founder…
Can masculine genius be a thing?
My husband knows what’s in our walls. Dan built our house, and so of course he knows what wiring is where, and what the plumbing looks like in there. I, however, haven’t a clue. I flip a switch, and the lights come on. I turn a faucet, and water flows. This is all I need to know.
I thought of this privilege of mine in recent weeks when a 2017 opinion piece by Gemma Hartley in Harper’s Bazaar made a resurgence among many Catholic women I follow on social media. In it, Hartley describes the concept of “emotional labor,” work that is largely done by women — the noticing of all the little details, the remembering of birthdays, the minute communications about school and carpools and who can bring snacks to play practice — and she cries foul. She’s frustrated, she’s exhausted, and she’s worried about the example of gender inequality she and her husband’s division of duties sets for their children.
There is much about the concept of “emotional labor” that I understand, and the description of it makes me feel seen and heard. I, too, am frustrated. I, too, am exhausted. Why does my husband not notice the dirty socks lying on the bedroom floor, and yet their very existence weighs heavily upon my soul? Why do I have the interior of my local supermarket memorized down to the last detail, and yet Dan can’t find the toilet paper? Why do I know the date of his parents’ wedding anniversary and the time of our son’s basketball practice? Why am I the one who writes the thank you notes and makes the dental appointments?
It can be good for women to share our challenges and affirm the vital importance of the taxing and seemingly endless minutiae we attend to every day. But, as we pat ourselves on the back and share our “woe is me’s,” I have to wonder if there is another side to this story. A masculine side.
Perhaps our husbands’ failure to see things clearly from our feminine perspective is not really any kind of failure at all; it’s a consequence of how God made them. Which is different from us. Perhaps differences between the sexes, though often a very real source of frustration and conflict, are actually part of God’s plan for marriage, for the family and for the world at large.
We women like to talk about the “feminine genius,” St. John Paul II’s concept of the unique feminine gifts and strengths women bring to the world, (heck, I wrote a whole book and study about it), but let’s not forget that there can exist a masculine genius as well.
I see it when we walk through an airport and I casually sip my coffee while Dan continually scans the crowds and places himself between me and anyone who looks untrustworthy. I see it when, the night before I leave for a long road trip, Dan checks the oil and washer fluid in my car, but I never think to lift the hood. I see it when Dan remodels our kitchen and knows exactly what kind of lumber, nails, and tile he needs for the job. For weeks, he works inside the walls, under the floors, and under the countertops. He doesn’t complain about the fact that I never in my life have installed a kitchen cabinet. When the work is complete, and I step in to turn on the lights and run the water, he simply smiles.
The nature of Dan’s approach to work is often different from mine, but that’s largely because his nature is different from mine. The details of each person and each marriage will vary, but we lighten everyone’s load when we note our individual strengths and celebrate them instead of bemoaning the fact that God has not made us all the same.
What might happen if we acknowledge our privilege, both male and female, and honor the hard work of those who make it possible? What if we focus on cooperation, gratitude and pouring our whole selves into using our gifts to serve the people God gives us to love? What if we recognize that equality between the sexes does not mean everyone needs to do exactly the same stuff in exactly the same ways? What if we decide that, in this enlightened age, we can love each other, offer the best of ourselves as a gift and find unity in the division of our labor?
Today, I will pick up socks and thaw chicken for dinner. I will answer an email from my son’s teacher and call my father-in-law to make plans for the weekend. I can bemoan the fact that no one will applaud the emotional labor it takes to do many of the small and hidden tasks I attend to, or I can choose to love and serve with all my heart. And give thanks to God for the privilege.
Danielle Bean is an author, speaker and brand manager of Catholic Mom. She writes from New Hampshire.