Megan McArdle almost approves of patriarchy

Megan McArdle (probably my favorite non-reactionary blogger) has written an article which comes right up to the brink of saying the unsayable:

Marriage also enables specialization. Which can be illustrated by a piece of wisdom I have developed in my brief three and a half years of marital bliss and now pass onto my friends who are getting married: “Marriage makes you stupid.”

I mean, I used to know where I kept my batteries and old documents. But when we got married, my husband, who is much tidier than I am, took over organizing the house. Now, unless it’s a piece of my clothing or kitchen equipment, I have no idea where we keep anything. And while I’m pretty sure I used to be able to put up shelves, now all I know how to do is ask my husband to do it.

On the other hand, he has no idea how much money we have, or in what accounts. And he can’t do the grocery shopping, because he doesn’t know what we consume. Individually, we are less competent to survive on our own. But collectively, we eat better, and we have a tidier house and better-managed finances. And our shelves don’t fall down so often.

Obviously, child-rearing is a major area of specialization. One interesting thing I’ve heard from gay parents is that they find themselves falling into roles that you might describe as “Mom” and “Dad,” even though this is obviously not some pre-programmed gender destiny. It just doesn’t make sense to try to jointly manage a kid 50-50; one parent keeps the social calendar and decides what kids Junior can play with, because two parents trying to do it actually makes the task take a lot more time, as both people have to learn about all the friends and the birthdays and the parents, and then negotiate what Junior does with her time. I’m not saying this happens with every gay parent. I’m just saying that gay parents I know report considerable benefits to specialization.

In other words, gender specialization is natural, efficient, and economical. Of course, this is something that anyone who’s been married for more than a week already knows; yet the existence of gender-driven social roles for husbands and wives is supposed by feminist orthodoxy to be an example of patriarchial oppression. The problem, of course, is that a feminist insists that hanging your own shelves is liberation, and forgetting how to do so is oppression, when in reality giving certain areas of responsibility up to your spouse is a tremendous relief. If society partitions certain marital responsibilities to husbands or wives ahead of time, it’s merely saving every couple the trouble of figuring it out for themselves.

Additionally, marriage is obviously awesome, for all of the reasons that McArdle mentions.

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One thought on “Megan McArdle almost approves of patriarchy

  1. From my own standpoint as a (male) third-wave feminist, my objection to patriarchal gender roles isn’t specialization, it’s that specializations *automatically* get sorted to the masculine and feminine halves of a partnered pair, without regard to the individual human components of the relationship. If Dad is better with the kids and Mom has a higher-paying job and more career prospects, why not have Dad devote more time to the kids and Mom bring home the money? Or in a real-life example, if the wife doesn’t have much talent or liking for cooking, and the husband enjoys making food and does it well, why the heck would you make an ironclad rule that goes “IF THOU HAST A VAGINA, THY PLACE IS IN THY KITCHEN”?
    I am referencing US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her late husband Martin: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/12/143352409/at-the-high-court-a-tribute-to-a-chef-supreme
    This is my objection to much pro-patriarchy discourse (and a fair chunk of feminist discourse, as well): it deals with people as Platonic ideals, the Man and Woman who God created in certain ways, and not acknowledging the messy and contradictory ways people might deviate from that set ideal. This has been a big part of my frustration with neoreactionaries, like the one who said something around the idea that women with physical courage “do not and should not exist” in a Slate Star Codex comment thread. (I’ve been trying to find the comment to back this up, but haven’t been successful.)
    (This is also my problem with much evolutionary psychology, especially the PUA variety – many many species display a wide variety of psychological reaction, so generalizing specific behaviors into “natural” and “unnatural” on an evolutionary basis is just plain silly, in my view.)
    Though there’s another sorta-data-point in favor of your hypothesis, though – there’s a not-terribly-accurate stereotype of lesbian couples that one will be very masculine (the “butch”) and one will be more feminine (the “femme”) that may reflect this kind of specialization, seen through a patriarchal lens.

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