This article originally appeared on the Neiman blog in 2012
My master’s thesis at Penn looked at the comedy of the sexes–and how digital and social media make it even funnier.
Staying in touch with family and friends has long been considered “women’s work.” So when 2/3 of heterosexual couples in a recent study claimed they shared that task evenly, I was skeptical. Sure, I’m hardly qualified to argue with the Pew Internet & American Family Life Project. But advertising has taught me a healthy distrust of statistics, so I interviewed 16 American couples to see how they talk the talk.
Here’s what I learned.
Women are still more likely to do the labor-intensive communication.
Yes, even women under 30. Women make more phone calls, send more greeting cards, write more letters, and remember more thank-you notes. Some are still performing the Female Phone Pass–calling his relatives, chatting briefly, and then handing him the phone.
Thanks to digital and social media, men can communicate more broadly, but women still communicate more deeply. Guys may imagine that they’re contributing more than they actually are. “Sure, she called my sick aunt and talked to her for 15 minutes, but I texted four of our friends and invited them to meet us for drinks on Friday, so we’re even.” It’s a quantitative versus qualitative argument that can easily skew what you say to the nice researcher on the phone.
Some traditional vestiges remain. Even in families that swore they split household and relationship-tending tasks right down the middle, with no gender prejudices, some surprises remained. For instance, 15 of the 16 men I interviewed were the sole taker-outers of the trash. Figuring out why would take another master’s degree.
What’s the takeaway here? First off, don’t give startup money to someone launching a greeting card line just for men. It’s also interesting to note that most of the women I interviewed didn’t see relationship-tending as women’s work; they did it because “I’m better at it, and it needs to get done.” And as long as there’s a woman around who’s willing to write Christmas cards, men can cheerfully avoid it.