A Booz Allen consultant I once worked with memorably remarked—in the context of some task that he had not attended to—that he had been: “Overwhelmed by life.” I thought it was a wonderful expression—especially when delivered with a tired, but ironic, smile.
The delightful Brigid Schulte has now written a book on the theme and I have been recommended to like it by that excellent journalist Tom Bowman via Facebook. Since I have great respect for Tom, I have done as requested. True, I haven’t read the book as yet—because it doesn’t come out until March—but if it is anything like as good as her recent Washington Post piece, I’ll be queuing up.
Everything you wanted to know about sex and housework but were too busy to ask
February 10 at 2:02 am
So husbands and wives who share work, housework and child care are sexless but equal? At least according to an explosive New York Times magazine article that is rocketing around the Web like a heat-seeking missile in the ongoing Battle of the Sexes.
Psychotherapist and writer Lori Gottlieb tells the stories of couples who are striving to more equitably juggle all the competing demands of modern life, but dropping the ball when it comes time to turn out the lights. She writes of egalitarian couples saying they’re bored in bed. Their sex lives mediocre and uninteresting. Or non-existent.
In contrast, Gottlieb cites a study that found that couples with more traditional marriages – she cooks and cleans, he mows and changes the oil – have more sex. And the wives in these 1950s-era unions report feeling more sexually satisfied — more turned on, apparently, by the site of a sweaty hunk swaggering around outside with a manly leaf blower than a milquetoast throwing in another load of girly laundry in the basement.
The full piece is well worth reading—but now let me jump to the end.
Natalie Angier, the New York Times science writer, in her fascinating book, “Woman: An Intimate Geography,” takes on long-held assumptions that women just don’t want sex as much as men do, and have to be pursued, won over with chocolates, wowed by manly wood chopping or obligated after a grudging bout of vacuuming.
“Men have the naturally higher sex drive, yet all the laws, customs, punishments shame, strictures, mystiques, and anti mystiques are aimed with full hominid fury at that tepid, sleepy, hypoactive creature the female libido,” she writes. “How can we know what is ‘natural’ for us when we are treated as unnatural for wanting our lust?”
After all, she writes, female primates, who share so much of our DNA, are pretty randy creatures.
In the end, what strikes me most about all the fury about sex and housework is just how much we are still on the bleeding edge of the first massive shift in gender roles since, oh, the Pleistocene era. It’s not surprising that things are confusing. And the demands of modern life leave us little time to sort them out.
But rather than mourn the supposedly sexier unions of the past, with dominant men and submissive women, or lament that the current move to egalitarian partnerships leaves us sexless roommates, why not, as Elliott suggests, throw out the old sexual scripts. Why not begin to imagine something entirely new – not only a fairer division of labor, but a more honest expression of our human sexuality?
Now that’s something to fantasize about.
Brigid Schulte is a staff writer at The Washington Post where she writes about work-life issues, gender and poverty. Her book, "Overwhelmed, Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time," on time pressure and modern life will be published in March by Sarah Crichton Books/ Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Based on my own experience—and some recent events—I have to say that I think Natalie Angier is right. I am further of the opinion that assuming the necessary chemistry is there, women are every bit as sexual as men. Perhaps more so. But, I will admit that my research has been somewhat one-sided. Some men prefer men sexually. That is their privilege. I prefer women.
Happy Valentine’s Day!