The Battle of the Sexes is Bullshit: A Review of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017)

imagesAt the dramatic climax of Traffic (2000), Michael Douglas’s character, the guy in charge of the War on Drugs, breaks down in the middle of a press conference and goes off-script: “If there is a War on Drugs then our own families have become the enemy. How can you wage war on your own family?” The overarching message of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017) is of a similar stamp: namely, that the martial language employed by “social justice warriors” and “men’s rights activists” is a toxic dead-end. The Battle of the Sexes is bullshit: “Rather than enrich the realm of politics with the difficult business of intimate life, identity politics flattens the personal until it fits into established intellectual categories.” If the hawkish ideologues who fan the flames of the “Gender Wars” in Social Media Land are to be believed, then our own families have become the enemy. But how can you wage war on your own family? And why would you want to? Your spouse isn’t the enemy: “The central conflict of domestic life right now is not mothers against fathers, or even conflicting ideas of motherhood or gender. It is the family against money.”

The Unmade Bed is a deeply moral book. And Marche treats his subject with all of the seriousness it deserves. But it’s also a remarkably funny book. The following scene is a case in point: “I was at a bachelor party, one of those bizarre rituals in which men have to stoop to their stereotype as a kind of recognition of common brutality, and we were all drunkenly heading to a strip club when my wife called. She needed to talk. A man she worked with called her ‘Honey.’ It pissed her off. It pissed me off. It pissed me off that this classic old-school garbage should survive. And so I found myself enraged, genuinely enraged at the sexism of a world that would call my wife ‘Honey’ just as I was entering a business in which I was going to pay to see women naked. Such are the everyday minor anti-epiphanies of living through the twenty-first-century rearrangement of gender. They subtract from rather than add to what I thought I knew about myself and others.”

Marche’s discussion of housework in the last chapter is equally hilarious: “Housework is the macho bullshit of women. And, in this light, it is perhaps not surprising that men have not started doing more housework. Men might be willing to lose the garbage of their own gender stereotypes, but why should they take on the garbage of another? Equality is coming, but not the way we expected. The future does not involve men doing more housework. . . . Caring less is the hope of the future. Housework is perhaps the only political problem in which doing less and not caring are the solution, where apathy is the most progressive and sensible attitude. Fifty years ago it was perfectly normal to iron sheets and vacuum drapes; they were necessary tasks. The solution to the inequalities of dusting wasn’t dividing the dusting; it was not doing the dusting at all. The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is that simple: Don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. . . . Never make the bed. . . . A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.”

As Marche demonstrates, in loving detail, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not, and we’re going to have to find a way to muddle through it together. We didn’t create this mess, this mess of world-historical proportions, but it’s ours to clean up: “Instead of furious despair, what our moment demands is humility and compassion.”

—John Faithful Hamer, Parenting in the Age of Studies Have Shown (2017)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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