Women and Habituation

What does it take to resist habituation? Pointed question: Who has more time for leisure in your home? Male or female?

This post is from CBE: Susan Howell, Ed.D. is professor of Psychology at Campbellsville University, where she teaches classes in gender, development, and the integration of psychology with faith. Susan has written for CBE publications, professional journals, and several devotional magazines.

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I sat in a sociology class listening to the professor talk about the discrimination women in other cultures experience, how they are often deprived of the same privileges as men at home and in the world of work. She spoke of gendered expectations that lead women and men down different paths toward different goals. She spoke of inequality in pay and in time devoted to childcare.

Next week, she said, we would discuss the status of gender in the United States.

Oh, good, I couldn’t wait! It would be nice to focus on how we Americans have overcome gender barriers, how we have risen above discrimination, how males and females are treated equally and therefore share equally in occupational and household activities. I enthusiastically read the assigned chapter for the following week.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that females are still lower on the pay scale than men, even in the US. That even though the number of hours women spend in paid employment has increased, women still perform the majority of childcare tasks. That husbands’ responsibilities still tend to focus on chores requiring sporadic attention (cutting the grass, fixing broken things), while women typically do the tasks requiring daily attention, like meal preparation and laundry. That this leads to a “leisure gap,” a difference in the amount of time men and women have for leisure pursuits.

All of this was happening right here in my own “backyard”! Why had I never noticed these inequities before. How had I missed seeing the many ways males and females are treated differently here in my own country?

Social psychologists tell us this “habituation” to the familiar is not uncommon. We get so used to something, it no longer demands our attention.

While habituation saves us time and effort by reducing the amount of information we must process, it can serve to make us error-prone. We sometimes fail to see the misspelled word or unclear sentence when we’ve looked at our piece of writing for too long. This is one reason a fresh pair of eyes can see in an instant what we have failed to catch.

Habituation can also be dangerous, like when we fail to see inequity between people because it’s the way it’s always been. We often need someone else to point out what we’re missing.

I admit it. I enjoy being that person. I enjoy pointing out the obvious gender inequities we still have in our culture and seeing the “Aha!” moment register on my students’ faces. When they tell me they now notice what they have previously dismissed and wonder why they haven’t noticed it before, I know I’m doing my job.

I’m also thrilled when they go out and increase others’ awareness. I know I’ve accomplished my goal when they begin passing on to others what I’ve given them.

I appreciate those who have opened my eyes, cherish the opportunities I’ve had to do the same for my students, and am proud when I see my students join the ranks.

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  • kybo

    I for one have come to the absolute end of my patience with this kind of cant. Too many women do not want to be equal they want to be superior. Some women choose not to work outside the home so that they can pursue other interests like art and sport or advanced studies. In such cases the man does regular often grinding work every day, often 10 to 12 hours a day, 50 some weeks a year and would love to be able to have the opportunity to go back to school, be a ski bum or whatever.

    Our reformed denomination has female pastors and female profs in our seminary and college and our church has female deacons and elders so I do not exist in a male dominated church world.

    During my career I had many female managers, one was the best manager I ever had and one was tied for worst. When both parties in a couple worked and had no children the female often tended to have as good a position or better than the man as in such cases the female dedicated the necessary time, dedication and effort to their job to get ahead. Even when the couple had children the female often had a better position than the man.

    Where I live the divorce laws are heavily biased in favor of the female. In our extended family I am aware of one case where the female was often abusive of the children and the husband, did not work most of the time and the man did over 50% of the child care eg he got the children up in the morning, fed them, made their lunch and came home at 6:00 to cook dinner while the female went out at night to do who knows what. Yet the female got the cars, the house in a very nice subdivision, over 60% of the man’s income… The father gets the children 1/7 of the time and gets to live in the rough part of town as that is all he can afford after paying off the wife and taxes.

    My mother worked as a teacher, full time before I was born and after I was six and in my opinion had a better career than did my dad. The local teacher’s college did not consider her a model teacher for students to observe but THE model teacher, way above the rest. Even my dad admitted that she was a better teacher than he was.

    Women and men are not identical and often have complimentary gifts and abilities but I reject both the CBE and complimentarian position on women that polarizes evangelicals. At work our experience was that females often made better 1st line managers than men did but that at higher positions things evened out. I know one man who quit in disgust as almost all the managers in his chain of responsibility were female and it seemed virtually impossible for a man to get ahead.

    Now having said all that I certainly agree that there are lots of marriages, churches and work places where men abuse women but I would assert that the opposite also exists in spades!

  • DRT

    I am a very clear hypocrite in this and it hurts. Thanks for calling my attention to it.

    My wife regularly jokes with me that I live up to the neanderthal methods where I sit and wait for the elephant to come into my view then I go out and slay the elephant, so I can sit and wait for the next one. While the whole time she is back at the cave cleaning, cooking, making sure the kids are OK.

    I have started to change, but deep down believe I am best at slaying the big animal.

  • Mike DeLong

    I don’t think it’s proper to call differences “inequities”. Men and women ARE different. Women ARE better suited for childcare tasks. Men ARE better suited for pushing a lawnmower. In most cases, husbands and wives have agreed with the separation of home care tasks. These are differences, not inequities. This post seems to make it sound as if being used to these natural and agreed-upon differences is somehow bad.

    Also, what does “lower on the pay scale than men” mean? Does it mean that men in general make more money than women on average? If so, that is accounted for by job choice and preference. If it means that men make more than women for the same job and experience in companies (teachers, nurses, service jobs, etc.), I would like to see studies that prove that. That kind of discrimination is illegal, and I don’t think it is happening.

  • Phil Miller

    I actually do the laundry, cook, and clean the dishes more in our home more often than my wife, but I think she does more of the other housekeeping tasks like vacuuming, dusting, etc. I think it’s pretty even. I do think that many men grow up with mothers doing all this stuff for them, and they just kind of take it for granted that their wive will do it once they get married.

    I don’t know – it’s hard for me to get all worked up about these “inequities”, though. I mean, I’m a hardcore egalitarian, but I can’t deny that there is no shortage of women who seem to want to do these thing voluntarily. Personally, I think there are a lot of woman who have something like a martyr complex. I’ve noticed on my Facebook page that many of the Evangelical mothers I know seem to have something of a contest going on as to who can make the most sacrifices for her family.

  • Lord Valiant

    My girlfriend doesn’t let me do any home tasks even when I ask to because I am horrendously, grossly incompetent and manage to make a mess, burn myself, or stumble over something near every time. I thank her for her handling of all of the actual ‘hard work’ through offerings of chai tea and the written word. I’ll fully admit she is better than I am and I am far better for having her- she has her head screwed on much, much more tightly than myself.

  • Deana

    Yes. Women voluntarily do more housework and child care because they are better suited for that. Any because they have martyr complexes. I used to be more suited for housework and childcare myself. Then my kids grew up and I decided that if my husband wanted to wear dirty clothes and live on hot dogs he was an adult and free to make that decision while I made different ones.

    So now I have almost as much leisure time as my husband and no more martyr complex.

  • DRT

    mmmmm hot dogs…..

    I remember the day that my wife said I can do my own laundry. Shocked the heck out of me. She loves being a martyr, but has decided that in some areas she will martyr herself by making me do the miserable job that I do.

  • Deana

    @DRT – about two years after I went back to work my husband looked around the house and said, “I used to wonder what you did all day long, but now I think I know.” Ha.

  • My husband’s developed back problems and he is no longer suited for pushing the lawnmower. So we bought a self-propelled, which I’m just as “suited” for as he is. In return, he does more dishes.

    But I was raised from earliest childhood to understand that the house cleaning, dishes, laundry and cooking were going to be my jobs because I would be the wife. To this day I can’t shake the voice in my head that tells me these are my jobs. My husband was raised from earliest childhood to believe that none of these were the husband’s jobs. We both fight against these instincts now– but that doesn’t truly change our deep-down learned “instincts”. And yes, I still do the majority of all of the “wife’s jobs” (plus lawn care now too). If that makes me a martyr, I guess I’m a martyr. But I don’t want to be, and I still haven’t really figured out how to change.

  • Mike M

    Since moving to a farmette, Angie & I have come to a mutually acceptable arrangement: Ben & I do the outside work (which is not sporadic but constant and physically demanding) while Angie & Savannah do the inside work. Yes, we all do things we love like gardening and cooking yet we all do things we hate like snow shoveling and washing clothes. Just two observations though: the inside jobs get done more rarely than the outside jobs, and since I spend up to 12 hours a day at the clinic often 6 days a week while my wife has the kids, she spends way more time doing fun things than I do like bowling, going to parks, and special events.
    Having gone through a divorce in Illinois, I can testify that the whole thing is a scam designed to humiliate men and get their money. There is an unspoken contract between the lawyers, judges, politicians, and police to (in the words of one social worker) “nail men to the wall.” That’s neither right nor fair and speaks more clearly about inequality than whether an entry-level receptionist should get the same pay as an entry-level waste hauler does.

  • DRT

    Mike M, I have found that I get much more satisfaction referring to my place as a “gentleman’s farm” rather than a farmette.

  • Mike M

    As of today, DRT, I am a “Gentleman Farmer.” Thanks.