The Tyranny of Effort
By the current rules of our political debate, it usually falls to women to criticize the modern feminists, on the premise that a man is inherently suspected of seeking to perpetuate the "patriarchy." This is even formalized in the concept of "mansplaining," which is used to invalidate anything said by a man to a woman. In other words: "Shut up, she explained."
But a prominent feminist has just treaded into an area where I can speak with some personal authority: Slate's Amanda Marcotte has denounced the tyranny of home-cooked meals.
I am a man who does most of the everyday cooking for my family. I don't mean that I share the cooking; I do virtually all of it. Nor do I mean that I'm a stay-at-home dad. I work full-time, and then some. I bring home the bacon and cook it up in a pan. So I can say a little something about this supposed "tyranny."
Which is, obviously, no big deal. Everyone does it and has been doing it since man first tamed fire. It's not a hardship any more than any other aspect of life. You might as well write an essay on how difficult it is to get out of bed in the morning, or do the laundry, or mow the lawn, or keep track of the bills, or do a thousand other things that people do every day. Cleaning toilets is a real bummer, you know, so maybe that's tyranny, too.
The only examples of real, actual hardship that Marcotte cites are people who are desperately poor. "One low-income mother interviewed 'was living with her daughter and two grandchildren in a cockroach- and flea-infested hotel room with two double beds,' and was left to prepare 'all of their food in a small microwave, rinsing their utensils in the bathroom sink.'" But who reads this story and thinks this woman's problem is that she's expected to make home-cooked meals? Obviously, life for the very poor is hard, but it's hard in every way. Yet a longstanding theme of modern feminism is upper-middle-class, college-educated women looking down on and condescending to poor women. So Marcotte regards these low-income women as helpless and wonders, in effect, why they don't just order takeout like sensible career women who live in Brooklyn.
The title of Marcotte's piece, by the way, seems to have been changed from denouncing "The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Family Dinner," presumably because someone at Slate realized how stupid it sounded. It now reads: "Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner." Which doesn't make it better, just more revealing. It turns out that this argument has very little to do with women or feminism—or cooking, for that matter. Instead, it reveals a deeper premise of the left: a hatred of effort.
It's actually a diatribe against ideals, against striving, against ambition. This is a huge theme of feminism, the idea of being oppressed by "expectations" about all of the things you are supposed to do in life. Yet feminism is just being used as a mask for the real complaint. It's a way of giving a respectable cover for something that sounds like insufferable whining if you say it on its own.
The basic fact is that everything worthwhile requires work and effort. Getting a job, keeping a job, buying a home, maintaining a home, getting married and staying married, having kids. Everything.
The most disturbing aspect of this article, by the way, is the implication that Marcotte doesn't like the idea of cooking for the family because she doesn't think that particular goal—having a family—is worthwhile. She complains that cooking is "expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway." In fact, she's pretty much on the record as hating babies (as well as descriptive adjectives of more than four letters). This strikes me less as "feminism" than as simple misanthropy. If you like human beings, how can you dislike them in their juvenile form?
And here's where I can speak from personal experience as someone who cooks for his wife and kids on a constant basis. I do it because I love it. I do not regard it as drudgery, as a selfless duty, or as some kind of impossible imposition. I do it because I want the people I love to be healthy and happy. It also happens that I'm a pretty good cook and take pride in being able to whip together a variety of delicious meals. I enjoy making something for my family that they enjoy, and I can't imagine the self-renunciation of saying: to heck with it, it's too much bother, they can go eat fast food and leave me alone.
That there are angry, bitter misanthropes out there with a chip on their shoulder about having to cook is not significant. What is significant is that this outlook gets taken seriously and finds a home and a ready audience on the left. What's significant is that there is a constituency out there that is ready to complain about each and every basic requirement of human life, to resent the effort of taking responsibility for it, and to denounce as tyranny any expectation that life is supposed to be about work, effort, and striving.
I recently wrote about the American Dream and argued that's it not about some static level of income but about working to improve your condition, to rise to a higher level. The American Dream is also about pursuing non-economic values, too, and for most of us, the American Dream includes having a family and a home life.
It's a lot of work and effort and responsibility, and gosh darn it, it can be really hard. And so is anything that's worthwhile.