Equal-Split Parenting

by Harry on February 12, 2004

Laura has two interesting posts, the first on the desirability of equal-split houseworking and parenting, and how difficult it is to achieve (prompted by reading Naomi Wolf’s self indulgent whinings about the issue); the second a collection of vignettes from her readers about how they try to manage equal-split houseworking and parenting (and, in some cases, fail). Generally, it seems, the women do more than half. Laura’s response to Wolf is interesting, and less daring from her than it would be from me:

bq. My first thoughts were to advise all my single friends to stay away from careerist husbands. Girls, go for the slackers. They might not make senior partner, but they’ll make your dinner and play with the kids. You might not be able to afford a house in a town with a good school district, but so what. He’s made lasagna for dinner.

That’s not my first thought. But it is a thought I sometimes entertain when thinking about this. Why do women marry careerist men if they want to share the domestic and childrearing work equally? One obvious reason springs to mind: the pool of eligible non-careerist men is pretty small. A second might be that a high energy careerist attitude is very attractive for whatever reason, whereas a slacker’s attitude is not. A third might be that both parties underestimate the importance that equal-split will play in their lives: both parties think that the woman will be happier putting up with doing the lion’s share of the work than she actually will. Finally, at the time of marrying it is very hard to have palatable discussion about dividing up these responsibilities. Even if men say they are willing to go equal-split, things are often different when the kids come along, and, anyway, my guess is that men typically underestimate the amount of work child-rearing involves, so they don’t know what they are committing to.

(This last is pure conjecture on my part; I now know that I dramatically overestimated the amount of work it would be, and also underestimated how many non-child-related things I don’t like doing that it would get me excused from. I already dread the time that I don’t have child-caring as a legitimate excuse. But I’m one of the slackers).

Laura notes that women like Wolf (and, let’s add, their husbands) end up dealing with their situation by exploiting nannies (and maids). Gosta Esping-Anderson has a nice discussion of why this might be in Chapter 4 of his book. He says that equal-split parenting and domestic labor (at high levels of familial care) would be less successful in releasing women into the labor market than outsourcing domestic and child-rearing labor (diminishing inequality by diminishing the amount mothers do rather than by increasing the amount that fathers do — he has fancy mathematical explanations of why this is). More disturbingly (to me) he suggests (quite reasonably) that since the welfare state is greedy for taxes it therefore has a reason to pursue policies designed to encourage outsourcing rather than policies designed to get equal-split.



Andrew Edwards 02.12.04 at 4:40 pm

I my expereince the driver of women’s greater share of HH work is women’s lower tolerance of HH mess.

Most good men will gladly agree to split HH work 50/50, in principle. And they’ll really intend to do it.

But a man might have a dirt tolerance that says the bathroom needs to be cleaned every 10 days, while a woman might prefer every 5 days. This means that the man will gladly clean the bathroom, but it just won’t occur to him to do so until the 10 days are up.

Meanwhile, over those 10 days, the woman is uncomfortable in the bathroom for the latter 5. This leaves her with two options:

1) Clean the bathroom herself after, say, 6 days.
2) Nag her partner to clean it.

Nagging is unpleasant to do, of course, and can create broader relationship problems. So what often ends up happening is that, at least some of the time, the woman will just clean it herself, thereby basically taking the chore from the man. This leaves her doing more than an even share of the HH chores.

If you asked me why women have a different mess tolerance than men, I’d posit socialization – that women are tought from an early age to value domestic order. This suggests that inequal HH chore sharing sits deeper in our society than just ‘men are lazy’.

As far as practical advice, I guess there are two ways to deal with this:

1) Partner up with someone with a similar mess tolerance to you (e.g. my current girlfriend. We both have a pretty high mess-tolerance. Moreover, she has a higher need for a clean bathroom than I, I have a higher need for a clean rest-of-the-place, so we end up splitting chores fairly well.)
2) Assign chores in such a way that the mess-tolerance-differential will not be a problem – for instance, the man could be assigned to bill payment, car maintenance, child-picking-up, and cooking, the woman to cleaning and repair. Or whatever.


David Adams 02.12.04 at 4:52 pm

Totally off topic, but:

You might not be able to afford a house in a town with a good school district

Can I tell you how much this myth bugs me? Unless the school is physically dangerous, then chasing after “good” school districts is more about property values than education.


adoherty 02.12.04 at 5:00 pm

“exploiting nannies (and maids)”–the assumption seems to be that hiring a nanny and/or maid necessarily is exploiting them. Why, if they are paid decently & treated decently?


Lis 02.12.04 at 5:07 pm

I don’t see why it’s so unusual. After all, that’s what I did.
When my husband and I started dating, he was taking a leave from college, and I’d been in the workforce for four years. I was on a good career track with no patience for housekeeping, and he wanted to be a fulltime parent and househusband.

It worked rather well until the economy tanked, I lost my job, and now we’re both working at lower wages than I used to be making.

At any rate, it’s been interesting living in an effective 1950s family-structure (with the genders swapped). I’m glad I read Betty Friedan, and tried to be careful not to let him fall into the traps described in The Feminine Mystique.


harry 02.12.04 at 5:09 pm

Absolutely right, adoherty, its not exploiting when they are paid and treated decently. The extremely high turnover in both occupations, and the data, suggest that’s rare.


Russell Arben Fox 02.12.04 at 5:10 pm

David–don’t worry, it’s not totally off topic. On the contrary, it’s dead center on it. For all my talk in the other thread about “environment creation,” the fact is that most of the factors which American middle and upper-class parents routinely feel obliged to take into consideration when seeking out “good schools” generally have, in my experience, very little to do with creating such environments: on the contrary, they have much more to do with the sort of socio-economic lifestyle, ambitions, workloads and labor distribution which a family buys into, or feels obliged to buy into. It’d be interesting (and revealing) to correlate families which make use of in-house help (so to displace the complicated costs and allotments of child-rearing responsibilities) solely with patterns of school choice.


dsquared 02.12.04 at 5:11 pm

Is it me, by the way, or is the bar being set pretty low by someone who thinks that making lasagna for dinner is incredibly different. It’s an unbelievably fire-and-forget dish to cook.


DJW 02.12.04 at 5:13 pm

Following up on that, if the wages and treatment are acceptable, is there any clear problem with the use of nannies, once we get past the fetishization of the nuclear family as the alpha and the omega of intimate social life? Isn’t the welfare state exactly the kind of state that ought to be able to provide those working as nannies with health care and access to affordable education such they’re not stuck there?


carla 02.12.04 at 5:15 pm

Part of the problem is that, even when chores are assigned to certain people, they may not get done: “Honey, how do I do this?” “Oops; sorry; I ruined your piece of clothing.” On one hand, this whole thing is/was so important to me that it was one of my major criteria–I had no desire to be the mommy for someone I hadn’t birthed or adopted (or, in the case of my current situation, stepparented)–and I realized early on that it was, indeed, major. Part of it is the mess tolerance that Andrew mentioned, but it’s also the case that many men had their mothers, former girlfriends, etc., clean up after them for a damned long time–such that they’re pretty clueless about what, exactly, is involved in even minimal housekeeping.

OTOH, a close friend was talking about divorcing his wife over this issue–and she was the one who didn’t pitch in, recognize dirt, etc.


DJW 02.12.04 at 5:18 pm

And by ‘that’ I was referring to adoherty’s post, which I thought I was posting behind. They’re coming fast and furious here. I agree with Harry that I’m assuming away an awful lot.


n/a 02.12.04 at 5:22 pm

“Absolutely right, adoherty, its not exploiting when they are paid and treated decently. The extremely high turnover in both occupations, and the data, suggest that’s rare.”

Why? There could be dozens of reasons for high turnover. .

If they are paid decently, they will probably still eventually want to stop caring for other people’s children and washing people’s bathtubs and perhaps gain a job with better hours and better pay. Sigh… The American Dream!

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t being decently paid for their hours of work and skill set. If you paid a live-in domestic servant minimum wage (where I come from that’s not horrendus) and didn’t deduct anything for her food or living expenses, she could save quite a bit of money. Such a woman would probably have a net year-end income higher than mine.

Though I do suspect that many domestic servants ARE being exploited, namely on the job hours front, if not also on the pay front.


Chris Martin 02.12.04 at 5:24 pm

To follow up the comment on dirt blindness, here’s a quote from social philosopher and author Michael Gurian:

[a man’s] brain takes in less sensory detail than a woman’s, so he doesn’t see or even feel the dust and household mess in the same way.

More info here:


and Dave Barry’s take on this is here:



des 02.12.04 at 5:31 pm

Is it me, by the way, or is the bar being set pretty low by someone who thinks that making lasagna for dinner is incredibly different. It’s an unbelievably fire-and-forget dish to cook.

Which part of “go for the slackers” are you having trouble with?! As a(n unattached, incidentally, ladies!) slacker, the thought that anyone would snub a nice meal just because it was insufficiently complicated to prepare is completely baffling to me.

(“No, we’re having Venezualan bat-tongue vol-au-vents with caramelised camel-snot. Tastes horribly, but it’s unbelievably fiddly to make! You did pick up the kids on your way home, didn’t you?”)


harry 02.12.04 at 5:36 pm

bq. is the bar being set pretty low by someone who thinks that making lasagna for dinner is incredibly different.

I took her to be using this as a symbol. Of course, I routinely make gourmet meals, and crepe suzette on high days and holidays.

No, I’m joking.

n/a and djw — Esping Anderson argues precisely that in generous welfare states it is incredibly hard to get people to perform personal services, because these are things people only want to do when they are part of a large low wage pool. He identifies this as one of the dilemmas of the social democratic welfare states.

Now I write that it seems I must not be giving the argument quite correctly. But he says something like that.

But (and I’ve posted on this before but don’t know how to link to it) I think in the US parents spend less time with their pre-school kids and more at work than is good for them or their kids and than they would like. I’m totally in favour of a mix of childcare and part-time work allowing parents to stay home some of the time with kids. And making that affordable for the low-wage earners and practicable for higher-wage earners (by upping the wages of the low waged and regulating the workplaces of all). I don’t think that is fetishising the nuclear family, though it is certainly priveleging the preferences of parents who want to spend a lot of time with their kids over those who don’t.


harry 02.12.04 at 5:47 pm

And yes, I think that household tasks and child-related tasks raise different issues, and find inequality in the former much harder to evaluate. Some people enter the union with particular domestic expertise which make a particular division of labour more efficient. And for some people some domestic work is leisure. Of course, that sounds sexist when it’s women doing it all, but here are two examples: I love vaccuuming which helps me think when I’m stuck with a problem, and love making the kid’s breakfast. The vaccuming is not a household task by my lights, and I’d feel deprived if I couldn’t do the kids’ breakfasts. Do they count as part of my 50% or should we discount them?


nolo 02.12.04 at 5:49 pm

“No, we’re having Venezualan bat-tongue vol-au-vents with caramelised camel-snot. Tastes horribly, but it’s unbelievably fiddly to make!”

My coffee went out my nose . . . ow.


Russell Arben Fox 02.12.04 at 6:09 pm

Harry, I feel the same way about breakfasts; I love making pancakes and waffles and omelets, and would be annoyed if I thought it necesary to “share” that task with my wife. Melissa feels the same way about bread-making and (to a lesser degree) laundry; it’s theraputic and important to her, and she wouldn’t stand for me intruding on her “responsibilities” there (unless of course she was down with a sickness).


dsquared 02.12.04 at 6:10 pm

Which part of “go for the slackers” are you having trouble with?!

The part where they get huge amounts of credit for “ohmigod he made LASAGNA!”. Bechamel sauce is very quick and easy to make. Ragu is very quick and easy to make. It is quick and easy to pour things into a dish. Ergo, anyone who wants to eat lasagna can eat lasagna any time they want, however much spare time they have. And any husband who wants to cook lasagna for his missus can do, “slacker” or not. If I was at home all day, I’d try to make something a bit fancier than baked pasta, for heaven’s sake. The bar is being set really low here.


brayden 02.12.04 at 6:15 pm

I think Daniel is overestimating the amount of time parents have at their disposal even if they stay at home all day. There is no such thing as a free hour (or a free 15 minutes for that matter) when a two year old is wandering the house. As I quickly type this comment I am running the risk that my two year old daughter has grown bored of reading a book to her doll and is now disassembling the entire bookcase, which is a fine activity insofar as it doesn’t involve ripping the pages out of daddy’s books.


Lauram1111 02.12.04 at 6:18 pm

I’m a total rush right now, but I have to make one quick comment.

Is it exploiting nannies if you pay them fairly? I’m not sure yet about how I feel about this topic, yet, but some recent writers have said that the whole arrangement is exploitative even if you pay them fairly. The fact that they are in your home is leads to weirdness. And being paid fairly, that is by the going rate, is still very low. Often these women have children of their own who are in substandard childcare situations. Joan Tronto has an article on this. That’s basically what Wolf says, even though she employs one. Also, see the Caitlin Flanagan article in the upcoming Atlantic Monthly.


zizka 02.12.04 at 6:30 pm

On these threads I always point out that childraising is tremendously costly in time and money and not an economically rational activity. The kid is a free individual at 18 and goes away and all you have is the memory of raising the kid. Some kids are nice, some not, but economically individuals A and B have given a lot to individual C with no hope of return.

Which is just to say that childraising is communitarian and not individualistic. Since I think that economic rationality is a noxious way of making personal lifestyle choices, I’m cool with childraising, which I’ve done.

The nanny problem is just the same old economic-class problem. Has the nanny had to renounce having children? Does she have children she’s neglecting? Does she have a sub-nanny back in Mexico or across town? — often the answer is yes to that one. Only if the mother’s work is valued significantly more highly than the nanny’s does hiring one make sense.

Not to go all sociobiological on you, but more women than men seem to have a nesting-instinct-type trait. But many gay men do seem to have it. Possibly another solution for career women there.

2 years ago friend of mine observing a role-reversed couple concluded that a couple needs to have one husband and one wife, and that in this case the man was functioning as wife — looking to the woman when serious questions were asked, etc.

On the other hand, are role-reversed men sexy? to the extent that the old-fashioned desire for an intense, larger-than-life Zorba / Heathcliff man is a factor, the slacker out isn’t going to work.

Renouncing respectability and normality really helps a lot, but you do find that it costs you. Some seemingly-rational people really do have serious problems with people who drive old, ugly, imperfect cars and wear out-of-style, slightly-worn clothing. In the US, anyway.


DJW 02.12.04 at 6:54 pm

Harry, now that you’ve re-explained Epsing-Andersen, I get it and it makes good sense. Actually, I think I was supposed to read it myself for my generals. Ah well.

I didn’t mean to accuse you or anyone of ‘fetishizing’ the nuclear family. I would say, though, that we here in the US tend to treat the preferences of parents who wish to sacrifice various other priorities to spend as much time as possible with their children as honorable (especially the women), but we generally don’t think of the parents who have other priorities as honorable, even if they take measures to assure their children are getting top quality care (perhaps even better care than they themselves would be able to provide). A bit of distaste for the latter group out of social justice concerns may well be appropriate, but I suspect that’s not the main reason they’re rather looked down on.


Idiot/Savant 02.12.04 at 7:45 pm

Why be satisfied with lasagna? Go for the guy whop will make you chocolate cake


Another Damned Medievalist 02.12.04 at 8:03 pm

I think that people often do have different ideas of “work.” Things I count as HH work: cleaning bathrooms and kitchen, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, ironing, tidying, paying bills, emptying litter boxes, upkeep gardening, car maintenance, doing dishes (filling/emptying DW and by hand), cleaning up after dog, generally tidying up.

What I don’t consider to be work:
feeding pets, walking dog, cooking (except when no one wants to cook — fairly rare)

Which things I do when adult stepchild is not doing housework in lieu of rent: Bathrooms, floors, laundry, litter boxes, 3/4 of vacuuming, ironing, paying bills, maintenance gardening (but slack on it), 1/2 dishes, 3/4 dusting.

What my husband does: the rest — including the tidying, which is his pet peeve. He hates clutter and I just don’t care as much.

He does all kinds of other things, but they are usually big projects that he takes on willingly. I don’t consider them work per se, because Neither of us consider my vegetable garden to be work — it’s something I like doing and it doesn’t have to be done.

OTOH, he considers some things work that I don’t so sees himself as doing closer to 50% of the HH work.

Generally speaking, though, I think that most men in our society value their contributions more highly than do women, and so their perceived contribution towards HH work is correspondingly higher. There’s also that difference between “looks clean” (see Barbara Ehrenreich for more on this) and “is clean.”


brayden 02.12.04 at 8:48 pm

Medievalist – Arlie Russell Hochschild talks about how “gender codes” affect how men and women treat housework. A couple can split household labor evenly but often they give different meanings to the housework done by the opposite partner. For example, when men do housework they often treat it as a gift to their wives. They do the laundry so they expect some sort of special acknowledgment for their willingness to help. Women rarely expect nor receive special acknowledgment for household labor because it is not perceived as a “gift” but as a duty.

These set of meanings are not applicable to every household. If a couple has a genuine egalitarian relationship, they give in other ways. But I think it’s fair to say that in a majority of U.S. households, men’s household labor is still interpreted as a kind of “gift” to the wife.


emjaybee 02.12.04 at 9:29 pm

I, too, looked for a man who didn’t want a mommy, but a partner. Someone who had spent some time living by himself, paying rent, doing his own laundry and cooking. It’s invaluable experience.

We split things evenly, so much so that I sometimes wonder if he’s doing more than me. I hate cooking and he hates cleaning, so those are easy to split. We both hate laundry, so we take alternate weeks.

I am more of a day to day dirt-cleaner-upper (sinks, toilets, bathroom, kitchen grease) while he is better at getting rid of clutter. I loathe filing after years of horrible clerical jobs, so I have to leave that to him. So far, it’s working out well.

I do wonder if adding a child will completely unbalance our system though, and that’s a little scary .


Scott Martens 02.12.04 at 10:11 pm

Harumph. After a week together, I found out that my then girlfriend and present wife had a far lower threshold than I when it came to the quality and diversity of meals. It took most of a year before I realised that she had a much higher threshold for messes too.

Sure it’s “50/50” split. She makes 70% of the money and cleans the bathroom. I do all the shopping, all the cooking, all the dishes, everything to do with the kitchen (she hasn’t yet mastered putting garbage in the garbage can instead of the counter, much less taking the garbage out) and nearly all of the laundry. Plus, I have to deal with everything that involves public services or dealing with non-English speaking clerks since she can’t speak French or Dutch.

Perversely, I get a kick out the role reversal.

What makes an even split impossible is the impossibility of doing the necesary accounting or living up to each other’s standards. There are households where the men do the housework and there are households where the women do the housework. There are no households where all the chores get split 50/50.


a different chris 02.12.04 at 10:17 pm

It’s an unbelievably fire-and-forget dish to cook.

Oh for christ’s sake D2D SHHHHHHH!!!!! You damn fool.

Listen up:

You have got to realize that there is not only a large contingent of men, but also women that have no idea which end of the stove is up. This has historically been used to massive advantage by those of us who have the beginnings of a clue, but not much in any other areas to commend us as a mating partner.

You start letting secrets like that out on random blogs and the long term result will be a population plumment that would shock even eccentric MaxSpeak poster Matt Young.

And if you think I am just going overboard here, realize that Mr. Young’s favorite examples of ethnic doom are the Italians, a country where everybody understands cooking. Coincidence? I think not.


Joe 02.12.04 at 11:38 pm

Here’s a question though: Is it acceptable if the man doesn’t do 50% of the chores, if he works three times the hours (and makes eight times the money, though that is neither here nor there) as his wife?

And yes, I’m a lawyer and my wife’s an academic.


Laura 02.13.04 at 12:26 am

Joe, if the money is really neither here nor there, then why did you mention it at all? If you work more hours in an office than your wife who also works in an office, then I think it is okay to take on less housework. But if the wife works at home taking care of kids or writing articles, then the husband has to take on more. Work is work.


Joe 02.13.04 at 12:37 am

Good point. Maybe I mentioned the money because (1) I believe that it IS relevant to the contribution each spouse makes to the family, but (2) I understand that my wife finds this opinion to be unacceptable, and that financial contribution should be completely discounted when apportioning household responsibilities due to the fact that many people cannot control the monetary value assigned to their labors.

As for kids, there are none as of yet. She does have a half-dozen or so times every year when she is working long days getting out an article or chapter, but during those times I either clear my schedule to take care of the household, or explain that if we’re both working 18 hours a day, only those chores that will result in physical harm to us or our dog need to be done.


zizka 02.13.04 at 1:52 am

According to Quentin Crisp, if you don’t dust or vacuum at all, at about four years the situation stabilizes and doesn’t get any worse.

The dark secret at the heart of suburbia: many studies show that excessively clean houses are dangerous to small children, leading to problems with the immune system. (Documentation at my URL).


Dan Simon 02.13.04 at 2:03 am

The problem with treating family organization as a glorious adventure in customized, creative relationship engineering is that most people draw their ideas about appropriate family structure from the culture around them. And in today’s culture, which is the larger-scale, more pressing problem?

1) “Non-slacker” fathers who have been socialized to believe that contributing to the housework isn’t important; or

2) “Slacker” fathers who have been socialized to believe that materially supporting their sexual partners and children isn’t important?

(A more elaborate version of this rant can be found here)


tim 02.13.04 at 2:40 am

Harry writes:“And for some people some domestic work is leisure.”

Just because one gets pleasure from something does not (not, not not!) mean it doesn’t count as work. Elizabeth Anderson makes this point explaining why, for example, firefighters ought to get paid for the socially-valuable work they do, and compensated for the extra danger nad health hazards, even if it is true that they are adrenaline junkies and love their work. We’re not paying them for their pleasure, but for the work. (that some communities have volunteer firefighters doesn’t mean others shouldn’t make a paid career out of it elsewhere). (“What is the point of equality?” Ethics, 1999)

Harry, you have a grand situation, imho, you allocate chores 50/50 between the partners, in such a way as to maximize the pleasure (or minimize the aggravation) for the partners, given their different tastes. Bravo.

I remember reading about a study that concluded that the happiest couples divided the labor 45%/45% with 10% done by the kids. Apparently people need to do slightly less than half in order to feel that they are not doing more than half, at which point they can more graciously appreciate the other people’s effort.


maurinsky 02.13.04 at 4:50 am

My husband and I are both wage slaves (he’s a bookkeeper, I’m a secretary at one job and a singer at the other). We definitely have a very even split for childcare, but we are both horrible slackers when it comes to housework, choosing to do things like read or put together a puzzle or play a game or check out some blogs, or even watch some TV. We do the minimum we need to do to keep our house from being disgusting or subject to health inspection. I really like a neat house, I love to see miles of clear counters and I would love to sit down to dinner without having to move some books or papers off the table first, but frankly, between working 50+ hours a week and having children who are involved in some activities, I don’t have the time or inclination to keep the house as neat as I would like.


MQ 02.13.04 at 5:21 am

Dan Simon: your post seems off topic to me…the problem with single motherhood isn’t women stuck with men who want to be sensitive, nurturing fathers at the cost of cutting back on their earnings, but women hooking up with promiscuous men who want to extend their roaming adolesence and abandon their kids entirely. They are very different phenomena culturally, emotionally etc.


Dan Simon 02.13.04 at 7:14 am

MQ: I agree that these phenomena are different, but I don’t believe they can be treated completely separately. Both influence, and are influenced by, societal norms, assumptions and expectations. And they thus may be more connected than you suggest.

For example, as it becomes more acceptable for men to give up their breadwinning responsibilities, the arguments for doing so can be (mis)used by irresponsible, immature men, and are harder for the less strong-willed among their partners to refute. The arguments don’t have to be justified in any particular case–their widespread implicit acceptance alone may be enough.


ginger 02.13.04 at 9:27 am

Why is it something to blame on the women, if their husbands are not doing anything to help with raising kids?

These are things that should come natural in a couple. It’s not a choice of “slackers vs. careerists”, that sounds like something from a fifties ad. It should be a practical matter, not one of gender.

If any of the two, be it man or woman, has a job that doesn’t leave enough time for kids and house chores, and the other cannot do everything by their own, then by all means hire someone to help, it’s not exploiting, it’s paying for a professional service like any other. If you can afford it, go for it. If you can’t afford it, then find alternatives. Get support from family and friends. These are all things to think about _before_ getting married and having kids…


MQ 02.13.04 at 11:03 am

Dan: you seem to have a certain amount of paranoia or insecurity about the male gender role here — that if it changes or is redefined in any way then it will collapse entirely and men will turn into feckless boys. In particular, men are so weak that unless they are in an authoritarian breadwinner role in the family norms supporting male responsibility will collapse altogether. But taking the primary role in caring for the children and the household is easily recognizable as a form of responsibility. The key seems to me to be responsibility vs. irresponsibility. Both men and women would still be able to valorize responsibility as sexy in a world where some men stayed home with the kids. I mean, there is always the possibility that you are right about men, but I like to think of my sex as a little broader than you are depicting.

To others: looking at the posts above I see we have some lousy cooks represented among the comments. To make good lasagana, you should make your own tomato sauce and also pre-cook the vegetables and meat. Plus add other spices or sauce for some recipes. Only then do you get to “stick it in the oven”. Good lasagna is just as hard to make as any other baked dish. My conclusion is that none of you deserve to marry a hot, sexy career woman.


ginger 02.13.04 at 11:46 am

mq: and don’t forget, for real lasagna, you also have to make your own bechamel.

The best is to make your own fresh pasta sheets as well, but that’s too much to ask, I guess. :)


rea 02.13.04 at 3:07 pm

“for real lasagna, you also have to make your own bechamel”

What, not tomato sauce?


ginger 02.13.04 at 3:23 pm

Both tomato sauce and bechamel.

Something like this. Even if mushrooms are not in the original recipe. The classic Lasagna Bolognese is only bechamel and ragu (tomato sauce + minced meat). Like this here.

A nice alternative is ricotta and spinach.

Lasagna is really not a good example of a quick dish anyone can make, is it? It takes too long… I’d stick to pasta with readymade tomato or mushroom sauce. Not even the most cooking-impaired man can go wrong with that one.


harry 02.13.04 at 4:02 pm

Daniel, did you have to start this lasagne thread?

bq. Elizabeth Anderson makes this point explaining why, for example, firefighters ought to get paid for the socially-valuable work they do, and compensated for the extra danger nad health hazards, even if it is true that they are adrenaline junkies and love their work. We’re not paying them for their pleasure, but for the work.

I know Anderson’s argument, and see its force, from the outside as it were. But I find it harder to feel the force from the inside. ‘Oh yes, I know I enjoy vaccuming and you hate putting out the trash, but they’re both work, so its ok that I am doing better than you’ What if we both hate putting out the trash, and she hates vaccuming? I’m not really arguing the point, just musing.

djw — I didn’t mean to accuse you of accusing me of fetishizing the nuclear family — it was more a consideration of a self-accusation.

The points abut different thresholds that people have made are absolutely right — my own mess and dirt threshold is much higher than my spouse’s and I don’t see that as a character flaw. But sometimes we stay in homes where women do *all* the domestic work (that is, all the necessary domestic work — the men might have DIY as their dangerous hobby, but that’s different). Mary Wollstonecraft has a lovely passage about the indignity of having other people do one’s own self-reproductive labor for one, and I am moved by that. Let alone the millions of men who, apparently, *don’t know how* to do self-reproductive tasks. Its only a less extreme version of Prince Charles needing someone else’s help to pee. So, sympathetic as I am to people whose paid-work splits are very uneven wanting to compensate with an uneven unpaid work split there does seem to be something undignified (to me anyway) about having someone else do all of one’s washing cooking and cleaning. In our 12 years of marriage there have been 3 when I was paid-working more hours, and about 7 (so far, and presumably the rest from now till retirement) when she is paid-working more hours. I’ve done more than half the HH work during most of those 7, and I was very uncomfortable in the 3 with her doing more of it. I think this is why lots of people are very uncomfortable with outsourcing house cleaning. (And, yes, as Laura suggests, I think the income is completely irrelevant to the indignity of having someone else clean up after one — we both regard how many hours we work and what jobs we have and what courses we take etc as collective decisions. And the higher earner, longer hour worker, is enhancing his own future earning power and depending for the conditions on his life on someone whose earning power is not being enhanced).

Russell — thanks for linking to this. I have to confess that the daily breakfast is usually porridge (waffles etc are for special occasions), but it is porridge which my daughters declare that only I can make properly, and (for Daniel’s interest) is an absolute bugger to make (and for the interest of the Irish contingent is Irish — I’m trying to keep all the CTers happy).


Joe 02.13.04 at 4:14 pm

Or even homemade sauce. It’s actually fairly easy, so long as you use canned tomatoes:

1 Chopped Onion (medium size pieces).
3-5 Cloves of Diced Garlic (depending on size and taste)
2 Tbsp. (or so) of Olive Oil
1 Large Can of Crushed Tomatoes in Puree
Pepper, Salt, Oregano, Garlic Powder, Crushed Red Pepper

In a sauce pan, sautee the onions and garlic over high heat until the onions begin to caramelize. There should be enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan thoroughly, but not so much that the onions or garlic are completely submerged. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, reduce to medium heat. Add a modest amount of pepper, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Be careful–you’ll add more later, and the sauce won’t begin to taste right until the tomatoes begin to cook in any case. When the sauce starts to boil, reduce to very-low-to-low heat and cover. After 15-20 minutes, taste and add spices as necessary. Go easy on the salt, as the sauce is intended to be more sweet-and-spicy than savory. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and begin to cook the pasta, which should take 15-20 more minutes.

You can add meat to the sauce if desired. If you are using sausage, broil the sausage until it is about 80% done, slice, and add to the sauce 10-15 minutes before serving (you’ll want to keep it a little hotter than simmer in this case). If you are using ground beef, cook it in a skillet until fully done.

Voila. Homemade red sauce.


maurinsky 02.13.04 at 4:19 pm

Lasagna is certainly not difficult, but it is time consuming – when I come home at 5:30pm, I need to have dinner on the table within an hour or my younger child won’t make it to bed on time. And I’ve never made tomato sauce – my sister makes huge batches of it and gives me some in exchange for babysitting services.

My mother boiled everything, so I had to learn how to cook at least a little if I wanted to avoid eating things that tasted like hot water. When I say everything, I mean everything. We frequently had boiled chicken for dinner.


Toni 02.13.04 at 7:31 pm

As Laura’s single female friend, I’d like to comment:

1. If your Italian, a good lasagna takes at least 30 mins to prepare! (Nice recipe Joe!)

2. While workign and finishing my Ph.D. I’ve been both a full time nanny and a high-paid babysitter. Paying your sitter well is important and like any work relationship there are those which are good and those which are bad. (Sorry for the oversimplification.) But in general, nannies in the NY metro area do quite nicely.

3. Having been privy to a number of households, the division of household work is often uneven though the wealthy tend to do a bit better because they can hire help. I argue that all relationships are based on negotiating (a la Dr. Phil)….so if you’re doing more of the work well, perhaps you need to re-negotiate. I have seen some situations, where the mom is the bread winner and the dad is essentially working part-time and the dad STILL doesn’t pull his share of the work. (How hard is it to call up the local store so they can deliver groceries?)

4. I need to dash and find me a slacker or careerist, oh, that’s after I clean the bathroom because I don’t have a husband : (


adoherty 02.13.04 at 11:21 pm

I am bewildered by the idea that there’s something inherently morally wrong with having other people do a portion of one’s housework and/or childcare–even if they are paid well & treated well. Why? People (like Caitlin Flanagan) seem to be accepting that idea & saying gee, I wish I could be as holy as Barbara Ehrenreich who “doesn’t want that kind of relationship with another person.” What kind of relationship–employer to employee? What’s the difference between hiring someone to clean the kitchen floor & hiring someone to type (or to draft a will, for that matter)? Is there a philosopher out there who can explain this–I’m genuinely confused. If it doesn’t degrade me to clean a toilet (and I don’t think it does), then I fail to see how it degrades someone else (provided they are paid properly, etc.)


tim 02.14.04 at 1:27 am

Joe: Try two batches of red sauce, side by side, only in one, use fresh garlic (fresh as in, picked that day, bought fresh that day from the store, but not simply bought fresh and not yet sprouted), and the other garlic powder. Fresh makes an enormous difference. It’s the most important non-shortcut I care about, won’t add much to prep time.

For that matter, make large quantities of red sauce (meat or -less) and freeze, just nuke and use.

Harry: Okay, what’s the porridge recipe – actually, can you make that a new CT post rather than comment, easier to bookmark? If it’s as good as my father-in-law’s (UK, not Eire) I’d love to try it, especially on a long weekend!

Adoherty: It’s not philosophy, it’s simple bourgeois guilt, with a gendered twist. Some people don’t enjoy being employers, feeling that it seems to deny they believe in equality, or something. Judging and paying are awkward. Especially when you’ve been raised to think failure to do household chores makes you a failure, or at least lazy and inadequate. People who grew up with two working parents tend to be quite happy with a work relationship with decent people and pay.


dsquared 02.18.04 at 7:41 am

I don’t know what depresses me more; the idea that someone is out there not only putting vegetables into lasagna but boasting about it, or the (probably true) fact that most of our readers would need a recipe to make tomato sauce.

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