Forget the Enjoli Woman. The delegates to the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women taking place in Beijing, China aren’t interested in proving that they “can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.”
According the Grete Berget, who heads the Norwegian delegation, the conferees are interested instead in finding effective ways to “get men to share working at home.”
I’ve got a little tip for Ms. Berget and other delegates looking for men willing to help with the vacuuming and the dishes: go to church.
Now, that may sound like strange advice. And it’s probably not the kind of hint most Beijing delegates would consider helpful.
But a recent study by a sociologist Gary Hansen at the University of Kentucky found that the men most apt to help their wives with household chores are orthodox Christians.
That’s right, men who strongly believe the Bible is “God’s word” and “the answer to all important human problems” spend more time than other men doing household chores like cooking, cleaning, and dishwashing.
Lest anyone get the wrong impression, these Christians do not believe in gender blending. In fact, Hansen reports they are more likely than others to support traditional breadwinner-homemaker arrangements and to believe young children suffer when Mom is employed outside the home.
Yet, orthodox Christian men aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and help out around the house. According to Hansen, they devote more time to household chores than do less-orthodox and non-orthodox men.
That the women who get the most help around the house are married to men who attend churches that extol the virtues of male leadership seems rather surprising. Surprising, that is, until one considers that the Bible instructs men to mimic the leadership style of the One who said He came “not to be served, but to serve.” And who proved it by doing things like washing others’ dirty feet.
Challenging men to be “servant leaders” is one of the main purposes of Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s organization which has hosted a series of stadium-packed conferences this summer that have attracted more then 600,000 male attendees. Several of these gatherings have been picketed by activists from the National Organization for Women (NOW)—a fact which David Blankethorn of the Institute for American Values finds curious.
“The more I listen to Promise Keepers’ message—that men should be faithful to their wives and involved in their children’s lives and willing to express emotion and quick to admit mistakes—the more I hear the echoes of those frustrated housewives who gave 1960s feminism much of its animating spirit,” he says.
This is not to say that Promise Keepers is singing from one of Betty Freidan’s old song sheets. But it is to say that their tune is at least similar enough that 1990s women tired of coming home from work to loads of laundry ought to at least give a listen.
Indeed, Hansen’s research findings bring to mind the mid-1980s song by the B-52s in which Kate Pierson expresses longings for “someone who’s heaven sent, someone to help pay rent, someone to share dreams and wishes, someone to help me do the dishes.”
It is possible that the delegates in Beijing will stumble across new ways to make men more sensitive to women’s needs. But it isn’t likely.
Tensions between the sexes—and disputes about housework—date back to, well, Biblical times. And throughout history, the only way these tension and disputes have been eased consistently is to challenge members of both sexes to lay aside scorekeeping and serve one another.
Grete Berget and the other delegates attending the Beijing conference are right when they say that many men today are failing to serve their wives. But if the University of Kentucky study is any indication, the answer to this problem is less likely to come from the UN conference is Beijing that from the Promise Keeper rallies sweeping America.
Praise the Lord and pass the Palmolive.
William R. Mattox, Jr. is vice president for policy at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. This article was sent to the Interim via email.