The more we talk about change the more we stay the same, according to the results of our recent quiz on sex roles. We appear to be as comfortable in our old habits as we do in our old jeans.
Eight hundred readers told us who does what for whom at home. They reported that men still do the traditionally male jobs such as driving, drink-mixing and car-packing. Women are still writing the thank-you notes, cleaning the house and clearing the dishes.
The numbers speak volumes--but they don't tell the whole story. The scores of letters and comments that were returned with the quizzes raised some interesting images of a generation caught between rhetoric and reality--between the way we are and the way some of us think we ought to be.
These are some of our findings:
* The women's movement seems to have moved mostly women. More women are sharing family money management and car maintenance chores along with their traditional housework. They are also shoveling and mowing, painting and plumbing. Noted one wry wife, "My husband firmly believes in the equality of women. . . . He would gladly let me do every chore."
Conditioning aparently is stronger than consciousness-raising. Habit still puts the man in the driver's seat, even if his wife paid for the car. Habit still pushes women out of their chairs at dinner parties to help clear dishes, even if the host, and not the hostess, cooked the dinner.
Even people who have been liberated from their old roles have trouble remembering it. One woman wrote that her husband encourages their three sons not to be sexist by insisting that they learn to cook, clean and do laundry. She noted, however, that when her husband changes diapers, cooks dinner or throws in a load of wash, he still says he's helping her with her job.
* Domestically, most men are still only dabblers. We received reports of male paragons who fussed over their ferns, cooked gourmet feasts or shared in the shopping. But most were merely helping out, not taking over. The proud pot handlers who claimed they could find a thermometer for the meat, if not for the baby, still were cooking only when the spirit moved them--an event that rarely occurred with the same regularity as family hunger pangs. It was evident that while many men shared individual chores, very few shared day-to-day responsibility for running the household.
* All chauvinism isn't male. A lot of women claimed domestic duties were assigned according to talent, not tradition. They decried the efforts of their mates to do everything from packing to parking. And they said they preferred to do things themselves rather than teach, preach or plead with their husbands for help.
It is true that women are usually better bed makers, turkey basters and button sewers. Just look at all the opportunities they have had to perfect their skills. But it is questionable whether we are doing any favors for our daughters, our sons or ourselves by perpetuating the myth of female superiority in removing ring-around-the-collar or around the tub.
Following are the questions we asked and the answers we received. Our aim was as unscientific as the quiz itself--to start discussions about the way we live with the people with whom we do the living. From all reports, this happened. We may even have inspired a few arguments. One reader added a final question of his own: "Who started the fight over this quiz?" He checked both boxes. [TABLE OMITTED]