I know, you’d think I’d have figured this out by now, but I seriously didn’t think Dr. Laura’s new blog post was going to be infuriating to me. It’s about caretaking, and I thought, “Well, yes, caretaking is tough. There’s no doubt about that, we’ll probably agree.” Alas, I forgot that for Dr. Laura, everything is about girls doing girl things and boys doing boy things.
Her blog post was found here. Since it’s a blog post and not an answer to a question, I will post it in excerpts below.
“Psychology Today published an interesting article examining the differences between male and female caregivers. It applies what I’ve said all along regarding the caregiving realm: men and women are different.”
I read the article. Here’s a little gem that Dr. Laura seems to have overlooked: “Let’s look at what typically happens with each gender. Keep in mind that these are generalizations and don’t apply to either sex all of the time.” But for Dr. Laura, that doesn’t matter, and what is presented in the article she based her blog post on as “what might happen” has become “what happens.”
“Women provide the majority of care to their spouses, parents, friends, and neighbors. Biologically, women are the nurturers, so their caregiving role is more natural. They wear many hats – the hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate, decision maker, and/or advocate. Because nurturing is viewed as their natural role, women are expected to be caregivers and are often not very appreciated. People are less likely to offer a woman help than a man because they don’t expect him to be able to change diapers, wash clothes, or cook.”
Here’s the takeaway from this: expectations are screwed up. It is screwed up that a woman is expected to take on the role of caretaker if it isn’t in her skill set. It is screwed up that when a woman does do a great job of caretaking, it is seen as no big deal. But that doesn’t mean that the caregiving situation is screwed up, everybody who is in this situation does the best they can with what they’ve got. Instead, it means that the expectations, which are enhanced and expanded upon by blog posts like this and people like Dr. Laura, are screwed up. Instead of saying, “We should offer more support to women in these situations because of the screwed up expectations,” we should say, “let’s unscrew up the expectations.”
“Men, on the other hand, are generally the providers, protectors, and fixer-uppers. That’s their biological programming. Therefore, men see caretaking as a task, and the illness as something to fix. And when they can’t fix it, they feel like failures, which leads them to depression. So, men really need help to understand that they are not failures because they can’t fix the people they’re caring for.”
UGH. Again, the problem is not the men, and it’s not the idea that men have to hulk smash fix beer cars smash. It’s that they are told from early on, by people like Dr. Laura, that that’s how they should be. Sure, they often need different support, when they are the caregiver, than women do. But acknowledging this without doing anything to change expectations is the worst kind of band-aid solution.
With this in mind, you can see why divorce rates are much higher when a wife is sick. Basically speaking, men don’t handle the caretaking role as well. We’ve all heard stories of men in positions of political power who abandon or fool around on their wives who are seriously ill. Unlike men, women like to talk about stress. Men get a lot of relief by not talking. Instead, they do guy stuff – e.g. going out and playing golf for two hours. That’s what really helps them let go of stress.
I don’t know why Dr. Laura added this bit in, except that I think she wanted to reiterate her neverending stream of “men are manly and women are womanly.” The problem is not the genitalia, Dr. Laura. The problem is the bullshit that you start slathering onto people as soon as you know what shape their crotch is.
The truth of the matter is that some men are stereotypically masculine, and some women are stereotypically feminine, and some men react to stress in a different way than some women. But what is adding to the stress here is not inherent differences in men and women; instead, it is the expectations that society places on them. Women are expected to be caretakers, so they get less outside help; let’s change the expectations so that more support is available. Men are expected to fix things, so they are less willing to look for outside help because the outside has always told them that not fixing something is failure; let’s change the expectations so that it is less scary to ask for support.
If we’re really interested in offering suport to caretakers, the first step is to acknowledge that every person may do things differently, and while some of those differences go along the gendered stereotypes we’ve always been taught, each person is going to approach it in a unique way.