For years, I told myself a story. The story went something like this: Women are biologically better at invisible and emotional labor. Men, by virtue of their genetic makeup, are more or less hopeless. Boys told this story to justify the disproportionate amount of behind-the-scenes labor I was taking on around the house.
“It just comes naturally to me,” I told my sister with a what-can-you-do shrug. To be fair, it was an understandable assumption. I looked around and saw other women like me — strong, smart, feisty, and married to men who loved them for it — and nearly every single one felt backed into the same corner.
Somewhere along the Boys:
We had become household operations managers, along with the dozens of other roles that parents juggle daily. For my part, I had never, not once, considered a career in operations management, as it speaks to neither my passions nor my core Boys.
But in my home, I was the one who could recite the grocery list in my head. Who knew everyone’s schedule by heart; Created the childcare spreadsheets; Planned playdates, weekend outings, and vacations; Figured out the logistics of getting everyone where they needed to be each day.
Despite the fact that this work.
Made me stressed out and often grumpy, I clung to the notion that my two X chromosomes lent me a natural talent for organizing playdates and that my husband was biologically incapable of remembering what to get, or even knowing what we needed, from Walgreen’s unless I texted him The List.
Otherwise, how could so many women fall into these same roles, and how could our otherwise savvy and caring husbands be so clueless? It had to be biological, and if it was biological, then what else was there to do but grin and bear it?
My sister disagreed. The behavior is both socialized and teachable, she said. Women don’t have to be martyrs any more than men have to be clueless, Chris Pratt-esque partners.
I wondered if my sister was right.
But a part of me didn’t want her to be right. Being “naturally better” at invisible and emotional labor was easier, in a way. It helped me to rationalize the status quo. To carry on with business as usual.
That doesn’t mean it always sat well with me. I was acutely aware of my own hypocrisy. Here I was, trying to raise my daughter to be strong, smart, and feisty — and yet, every day I was showing her counter-examples of inequity and martyrdom.
Out in the world, I was espousing feminist ideals — and yet, I was failing at feminism in my own home.
I recently made a rare admission to my sister. She was right. I was wrong. My 180 started with the revelation that I’m not “naturally” good at many of the skills that invisible labor requires. Even more telling, out of the six people at my company who have Arranger as one of their top 10 strengths, five of them are male. An analysis of over 25 million CliftonStrengths assessments has shown that there is no definitive pattern when it comes to the ways in which the 34 strengths play out among men and women. That is to say, no strengths that naturally favor one biological sex over the other.
When I took the Boys:
Assessment at my job, four of my five top strengths were in Strategic Thinking. This popular assessment, developed by Gallup, offers a personalized ranking of 34 different strengths, which are divided into the four domains of Strategic Thinking, Relationship Building, Influencing, and Executing.
My company’s Operations Manager has five Executing strengths in her top 10. How many do I have? A big fat zero. The definition of her top strength, “Arranger,” immediately caught my eye. As Gallup describes it:
Arrangers are jugglers and orchestrators of improvement.
You are comfortable initiating reconfiguration. You are aware of the pieces and how to make them all fit. An Arranger wants productivity in the most efficient way possible. Being able to brave something really complex, and doing it with delight and mastery, is really what Arranger is all about. The value that you bring when you are at your best is being able to embrace complexity that allows others to relax.
Boys, minus the element of delight:
Perfectly encapsulated what I had spent most of the last decade doing inside my home, what I had so fervently insisted came “naturally” to me. And yet, out of 34 strengths, Arranger ranks 22 on my list. Not exactly a resounding endorsement of my God-given talent.
Even more telling, out of the six people at my company who have Arranger as one of their top 10 strengths, five of them are male. An analysis of over 25 million CliftonStrengths assessments has shown that there is no definitive pattern when it comes to the ways in which the 34 strengths play out among men and women. That is to say, no strengths that naturally favor one biological sex over the other.