Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and the founder of LeanIn.org, says she’s figured out “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.” That’s the headline of the piece she co-authored with Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, in the New York Times.
Couples who share chores equally have more sex. As the researchers Constance T. Gager and Scott T. Yabiku put it, men and women who work hard play hard. One of us, Sheryl, has advised men that if they want to do something nice for their partners, instead of buying flowers, they should do laundry. A man who heard this was asked by his wife one night to do a load of laundry. He picked up the basket and asked hopefully, “Is this Lean In laundry?” Choreplay is real.
It’s not a bad idea for feminists to encourage men to accept their push for gender equity in all things by focusing on sex, of course. But there are four significant problems with Ms. Sandberg’s claims.
1) Study says the complete opposite of what she claims.
Sandberg only links to the abstract of the study, which contains the line about working hard and playing hard. In fact, the entire op-ed is mostly just linking to studies, suggesting “science” backs up the feminist claims of the authors. But if this link and a few others are any indication, Ms. Sandberg needs to “lean into” reading the reports she uses to substantiate her claims. Here’s what the study actually says (emphasis mine):
Although the notion that egalitarian marriages are sexier was widely broadcast in the media, there is little empirical support for this view. The claim rests on results of a small- scale (N = 300) survey and reports of couples in therapy conducted by Chethik, which, while intriguing, are difficult to evaluate (Chethik 2006; cf. North 2007). Moreover, other research suggests that for all the benefits of peer marriage, more egalitarian couples are more likely to have unsatisfactory sex lives and experience a lack of passion due to habituation, and these differences are not explained by a shortage of time (Schwartz1995). While couples in more traditional marriages may experience a range of marital difficulties, lower sexual interest is especially a problem among egalitarian couples (Schwartz 1995). More recent research finds that husbands’ housework is positively linked to sexual frequency, but women’s own housework hours are even more strongly associated with sexual frequency, suggesting that greater egalitarianism may not be associated with higher sexual frequency (Gager and Yabiku 2010).
In this article, we begin by outlining two bodies of theory that offer competing predictions about the relationship between sexual frequency and the household division of labor among heterosexual married couples. We first discuss predictions derived from exchange theory, then predictions from an approach that stresses the gendered nature of sexual scripts, and finally turn to a range of important control variables derived from the existing literature that emphasizes constraints and opportunities for sex. One key innovation is that rather than consider all housework as identical, we separately examine men’s and women’s time spent in traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine tasks. We use nationally representative data to test whether and how sexual frequency is linked to the household division of labor. Our results do not support the notion that more egalitarian divisions of labor are associated with higher sexual frequency. Instead, we find that households in which men do more traditionally male labor and women do more traditionally female labor report higher sexual frequency. This suggests that among heterosexual couples, the relationship between housework and a couple’s sex life is governed by a gendered set of sexual scripts.
It really doesn’t get clearer than that. According to this study, couples that stick to traditional gender roles get to knock boots more frequently.
If Sandberg wanted to use a study to base her call for gender equity in chores, she really chose the wrong one. Another study she cites — to argue that men should do housework while moms work — also shouldn’t have been cited, albeit for different reasons.
2) Choreplay is the worst word in the history of the world.
Feminists are really good at banning words. Or trying to at least. Remember the public relations campaign Sheryl Sandberg ran to ban “bossy”? How about when they tried to ban people from saying “sorry”?
Well, I have a suggestion for their list of words to ban: choreplay. Seriously, is there anything in the world more libido-killing than that word?
Back when my husband and I were going through pre-marital counseling with our pastor, he said something about how a husband taking out the garbage can be an aphrodisiac. We thought it was kind of silly but we’ve learned how true it is. I love my husband all the time but there is something really sexy about him mowing the lawn and changing the oil in the cars and, yes, taking out the garbage.
But if he ever seriously referred to any of the work he does for our family as “choreplay,” I would retch.
3) Think “division of labor” more than “equity.”
Economics is from the Greek for “household management,” so using economic concepts in the home makes sense. Here’s one that has saved my husband and me a lot of time: division of labor. This refers to individuals specializing in particular tasks and roles for greatest efficiency. It doesn’t need to be rigid, but there are certain things one spouse will do better than another, or one spouse will simply enjoy more than another (or hate less). It makes sense to divide labor and keep to a schedule. Yes, these divisions should be done equitably and with a consideration for everything that must be managed outside of the house, too. But rather than treat laundry as something that must be done fifty percent of the time by one spouse and fifty percent of the time by another, it might make more sense for one spouse to pick the job of laundry — and do it whenever he or she sees fit — and the other to pick cleaning the bathroom and kitchen.
4) Demands for justice sometimes end up achieving only resentment
The New York Times published a sad story from a woman whose divorce is hurting her 4-year-old daughter tremendously. She says in the piece, “[I]t’s not about me. It’s about her.” I appreciate that the author is attempting to put aside her own feelings for her daughter’s sake. I wish more people would adopt such an approach to the marriage itself. I don’t know where people got the idea that marriage is about personal satisfaction but successful marriages tend not to take that view.
It may sound counterintuitive but if you focus your marriage on serving your spouse and appreciating everything your spouse does for you, you end up being far happier than when you focus on how your spouse isn’t doing enough and how you’re working too hard. As joyful as marriage is, it’s most beautiful when your attitude of giving keeps resentment at bay.
All this to say that while it’s a great idea to talk out how you and your spouse will take care of your responsibilities, it’s important not to do so in a manner that seeks a 50-50 distribution. Instead, each spouse should think of it as his or her job to give a solid 100% at all times.