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I enjoyed reading Barbara Risman’s take on the whole Mommy Wars thing, allegedly reignited by the Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney flap.

Risman, the head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Council on Contemporary Families’ executive officer, called it a bunch of silliness, while acknowledging a truth (emphasis mine):

(T)here is a serious issue hidden in the silliness of the alleged mommy wars, and it is the contradictory, conflicting beliefs we have about the value of taking time to care for other people. Who should take care of young people and their grandparents, and how should they be rewarded? We claim to value families, but we don’t really value what it takes to care for them. tweet

Anyone, male or female, who has stayed home to care for their kids or parents knows how true that is. 

Then she talks about gender equality and the research that led to her book, Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition:

(E)ven in the consciously feminist families I wrote about in my book, “Gender Vertigo,” men share the “work” of raising their children; I didn’t interview one man who described fatherhood as a career. And it took me a long time to find couples that really shared the work equally. tweet

Her book came out in 1998  — have things changed? Yes and no, and I would say many women would say no, the work is not shared equally, while many men would say yes. But a big part of that, as I noted in Can same-sex couples teach heteros about equality?, is that we’re still mentally stuck in the “Mad Men” era of men as the providers and women dealing with the poopy diapers and dust bunnies — even if she’s CEO of a start-up. Marriage laws encourage specialization and even cohabiting couples gender up when it comes to chores and caretaking.

As Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law associate law professor Deborah A. Widiss says, maybe we should stop idealizing marriage as something that’s equal and realize it’s more efficient to specialize. Either that, or change our marriage laws.

Makes sense to me.

But there was something in Risman’s article that made me pause, her statement that, “All mothers work, nearly all of the time. And so do many fathers.”

So I emailed her, questioning: All” women but only “many” fathers?  Wouldn’t a father working to support his family be working “all” of the time?

And she graciously wrote back: “Some men work all day, as do their wives, and expect to be waited on at night.

That moved things from just Mommy Wars territory to Spousal Wars territory, which reminds me of two posts that address what I call the great gender divide: posts from Michael Noer and Elizabeth Corcoran in Forbes a few years ago, who debated the pros and cons of marrying a career woman, and from dating coach Evan Marc Katz, who addressed “What men really want from women.”

As Katz says (emphasis mine):

We are not nearly as concerned with your merits as much as how you make us FEEL. … Understand, men DO value intelligence, but they also want from their girlfriend what they CAN’T get from their business associates. Warmth, affection, nurturing, thoughtfulness. Lightness! tweet

Did you see the “nurturing” part? OK, I will say it: From my experience with men, that fact that I have been successful in my career mattered less than the fact that I am nurturing (as well as warm, affectionate and thoughtful). Not quite a woman who “waits on” her partner, as Risman notes, and certainly not a woman who treats a guy like his mommy (men really don’t want that), but a woman doing what most women do very, very well — nurture.

We don’t seem to want to give a decent monetary value to those who nurture and caretake, but our children need someone to do that. Who will it be? But when it comes to romance, men still very much appreciate that trait in women — especially when it’s directed toward them.

According to a recent study, both men and woman say these traits are essential in a partner: Mutual attraction and love, dependable character, and emotional stability. But men added “good cook and housekeeper” as desirable. That’s part of a woman’s nurturing side (although I question that study’s total lack of a mention of sex).

Nurturing — it’s what women (well, many women) do well. It’s what Cosmo recommends (not that I’m promoting that mag as words of wisdom!), and what relationship expert Dr. Gail Saltz advises (ditto). It’s also what Risman notes above: We claim to value families, but we don’t really value what it takes to care for them.

If being nurturing toward our mate is part of caring for our family, shouldn’t we value that as well?





11 Responses to “Do men prefer women who nurture?”

  1. nathan says:

    As a man, I do want a woman who is nurturing. However, it’s also been true that in at least half the relationships I have been in, I was the better cook, was more likely to keep a cleaner living space and readily help with cleaning, etc. To me, what constitutes nurturing is more a way of being with someone, rather than some set of specific activities. Odds are, though, men like me are the minority. And regardless, you are totally right that as a society, we don’t really value what it takes to take care of each other.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      I agree, Nathan — it’s more how you approach the relationship that activities. And I’ll have to agree that I haven’t met too many men who are nurturing (but many men who are sensitive and emotionally intelligent and aware. My boyfriend is a much better housecleaner than I am — too bad we don’t live together!

  2. Perdele says:

    I think they do preffer women who nurture.I’ve been in 3 serious relationships and they all liked the nurture.They like to be spoiled and have their wishes fulfilled.But that’s just my oppinion.I have friends that are the total opposite.

  3. Alexir says:

    Yes,yes and yes!Men do preffer women who nurture.My boyfriend is like that,my friends’ boyfriends too.Great article!

  4. Jaken says:

    Friends I know for many years told me that I’m a nurturing person and unselfish. I am fan of nurturing, dominant, and semi-submissive males. I, personally, I’m more dominant than submissive, but I don’t like to boss people around nor I ever dream of having a man to treat me like his housemaid or something. I don’t think that it’s nice to be a dictator to a partner. However, I cater for my husband such as cooking, ironing his working clothes, massaging his back, foot scrubbing, etc. He never ask for any special treatment. For me, he is my pet and I love to treat him that way. I care of people I love whether my children, friend(s), family, or husband. If I’m busy, he doesn’t get to be catered and he doesn’t throw a drama about me of too preoccupied. He knows that if no time constraint I would return to a normal state-shower him with all kinds of attention.

    To be fair, my husband does reciprocate and he does what I also ask or tell him. No matter how hectic his days are, he finds time with me.

    Well, I’m not seeking for equality in everything because I know it’s hard to accomplish it. I’m not implying that it’s okay for him to treat me like a doormat. At work, I would be happy to do more than doing less.

    The bottom line is that I only need a man who is reliable, affectionate (to me and to our kid[s]), dominant, semi-submissive, and nurturing. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but a man who can taking care of our kid(s) when I’m not around. Yes, he is that way and I haven’t complain that I do more than he does. As long he does his effort to contribute in our marriage, then everything is perfect.

  5. Emily says:

    I feel women that nuture are just falling in the traditional trap. I’m clearly the dominant one of my relationship and I will admit, I’m a bossy woman who gets my way. I feel as if women are brainwashed to be this “caretaker”. Uhm, hello, I’m the boss here. I don’t cook nor clean and if he asks me to fix him something really quickly, I don’t do it. he’s the submissive one and I like it. I’m a woman who was born to be the boss. 🙂

  6. anon says:

    Hmmm I’m not very nurturing (and don’t really want kids), guess I’ll be forever alone lol
    I certainly have no interest in housework, as I’m generally caught up with contemplating abstract thoughts or something and sort of forget about housework…I guess I am an unusual person, and possibly even more unusual as a female…
    I am not bossy or “dominant” at all though like Emily says they are (well said last year, late to the party), I do feel like the caretaker thing is kind of brainwashing and total rubbish though, but maybe I just don’t get it as I’m not the nurturing type…Oh well

  7. Vince says:

    Emily has got it so wrong and it is a wonder she isn’t single. My experience is that my grandmother, mother and sister and my ex-wife all lack this nurturing quality and it has caused me to be my chief desire in a mate.

    Whenever I have tried to talk to my mother about my search for a forever love interest (a wife), her eyes glaze over and it is like she can’t wait to end the conversation which is only a one sided deal anyway. This goes all the way back to when I was a teenager and wanted to talk to someone about a girl I liked… My mother acts like she couldn’t care less and I get more nurturing out of an older male friend than I do her. I wish I had a mother that was Italian, Jewish, Slavic, etc where they are all about nurturing their children. They want their children happily married and they are interested in health, well being and emotional state of their husbands and children. They don’t wait for you to ask for food or comfort as they are already concerning themselves with that and will ask or bring you that comfort (be it emotional or in the way of giving of time or food or whatever).

    I married a woman who was self absorbed and had a character disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder. Not only was the relationship hell but I played mom and dad to my children. I had to be the caregiver, the cleaner, the cook because my wife was to into herself to divest any time for her family. I am the one that my kids came to when they wanted to talk about personal stuff (like I wanted to talk to my mother about) and I would encourage them and listen to them. Even though I lacked a nurturing family, I somehow found it in me to produce that for my children.

    So now I am finally getting divorced and I look at the dating landscape and I want to avoid the pitfalls that have happened to me before. Yet on Match.com, Plenty of Fish, Okcupid, etc all I am finding is women that are more like my wife (sans the personality disorder). They look at nurturing as weakness and they see doing anything nice for their spouse as being under the thumb of the man. I know that many men will concur that dating has turned into contest where the woman is always trying to upstage the man. Those here in America that are in any way nurturers are already in relationships. That is another sign of how valuable it is to be a nurturing female, when I see that those that still retain that trait here are all not available. I am sure there is one or two that slip through the cracks or are between relationships but that makes them the rarity. By the way I (and most men) are not seeking their mother… they want a girlfriend/wife that can show love and care by nurturing them. It isn’t about serving them or waiting on them hand and foot. Guys like that are jerks who belong alongside women who speak like Emily above. Yet if my wife sees I am working in the yard and she takes it upon herself to bring me a cold drink… it is a sign of her love. I didn’t expect it and it wasn’t the action per se, it was the thoughtfulness and attention. Women desire the same from their man and we each produce the same but in different ways.

    When researching this, I stumbled in the direction of marrying a woman from overseas (primarily Ukraine and Russia). It turns out that because of communism suppressing the individual and forcing men and women to wear drab clothing and to suppress the natural gender roles that when communism fell, the women at least came out of it and started take to being feminine once again… they have always held to traditional ways and they aren’t confused by feminism. Many of you will balk at that… but let me explain. I am pro women’s rights, I am not pro women being over men and having to put men down and treat men like they now are beneath them. That is what feminism has caused. It has caused women here in western society to eschew the natural gender roles that go back eons. The natural gender roles were not created in the 1950s as a social experiment, they go back to the beginnings of the family unit. Is it any wonder why marriages break up and men leave their families. I am not defending them but at the same time much of this started in the 1960s with the advent of feminism. [Again I am very much pro women’s rights, but feminism was more about destroying the gender roles and the family than it was about rights.] So anyway the women of the exSoviet bloc countries are well educated and take care of themselves but have retained the traditional views of marriage, family, gender roles and they haven’t lost their nurturing quality. What they are looking for in a mate is a man of strength, a provider, and someone that will protect them. I have been on both dating sites of the U.S. and the U.K. and I have been on several that were for exSoviet countries and it is amazing what both sides want. I was constantly reading on the dating sites over here in America that women wanted a man who was either in Uniform, rode a motorcycle, had a nice car/house, had tattoos or was a bad boy. It turns out that based on a study which I don’t have readily available but I might be able to produce it if anyone wants to know (I’ll have to go back over my notes)… it turns out that 80% of Western women are seeking the 20% of Western men who are very very physically attractive and that if a man is not in that 20th percentile then he can become more desirable if he has an increase in money by 40,000 to 60,000 dollars (whether that was money in the bank or income I can’t remember). Yet my experience was that I wasn’t desirable to Western women because I was honest and was a nice guy. I was ignored on Plenty of Fish and Okcupid.

    My experience with Ukrainian women is that all of their profiles on the dating sites cited that they wanted a man who would be strong and faithful, someone who truly wanted to have a family. Many of them cited that looks and age were unimportant, that kindness, honesty, affection and wanting to start a family/loving kids… this is what I noticed about them all. I have heard them being called gold diggers but that couldn’t be further from the truth because the trend I noticed on western dating sites was more in line with being gold diggers than the Eastern European/Soviet bloc women… I read many of their profiles where they stated they weren’t looking for a rich man, just someone that could support a family.

    I tried emailing western women and all except one returned my email and the one that did said she wasn’t interested. Yet every woman that I have written on the eastern women sites has returned my email and has been very kind and interested. They like nice guys because the guys they have their in house are the knock them up and leave them types. So when a foreign man comes over there to fall in love with one of them they love it because it shows commitment and interest. It turns out that the rate of divorce among K1 Visa’s (U.S. fiance/fiancee visa for marrying a foreign person) is less than 20%.

    If love relationships and family relationships are like a garden. Women are naturally geared to nurture that garden by watering, fertilizing, weeding, and treating tenderly those plants… and Men care for that garden in concert by erecting fences around it and providing support and protection from the wind and shade for those plants that can’t handle the harshness of the sun. He and his wife are both plants in that garden too, and provide for each other what their God given natures have given them in their toolbox. This is when things work in harmony.

    So though I went on some tangents here and there, it is to point out that Nurturing is a vital aspect that men love and desire in a female.

    • Vince says:

      Correction from above: “I tried emailing western women and all except one returned my email and the one that did said she wasn’t interested.”

      This should read “…all except one, DIDN’T return my email”
      Meaning out of the hundred or so that I emailed, only one even deigned to respond.

  8. i guess i have never been fortunate enough to be part of any study. And i will ask those reading this to please forgive me for the completely unscientific , undocumented , and non academic personal observations. Does not mean they are not true.
    First off i am a male. And i personally would like to be the nurturer in the family. Hasn’t worked too well though . Evidently i have not yet met a woman who wants that yet.
    It may seem strange to some that a man even knows what that means.
    To me nurturing is a lot about intuition. Being attuned to the rest of the families feelings. Being able to read body language or being able to read people in general. Not in a bad way but in a good way. Knowing those silent cues when some one is not feeling well or frustrated or just needs a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. And most important a very big hug.Above all nurturing is all about empathy. Empathy is not just feeling bad when some one you love feels bad but it is also the joy you feel when you bring joy to another person. Men like power and to be in power. There is no greater feeling of power that a man can feel then when he is running smoothly his own family. Sad to say in this competitive society anything that does not reward people with money and power don’t seem to qualify as a measure of success. People are obsessed with success these days at any cost. . People have lost the joy of family these days. The true measure of success is having and being in a healthy family relationship.
    Now i also have come to believe i am like this due to the fact that as a child i had a very nurturing environment From my earliest memories i remember my parents and relatives taking time to talk to me. And more important listen. They took time to teach me values. I am not referring to religious values but values like being kind to others and saying please and thank you. You know the basic stuff.
    i am not really a great fan of the highly over intellectualized claiming to be a science , human psychology.

    As an adult at age 16 my grandmother was baby sitting to augment her social security money and she encouraged me to help. And i found i loved it.
    So i volunteered my time to my married friends to take care of their kids so they could go out once and a while.
    i learned so much.. You see human psychology starts with good parenting. yes good parenting is so crucial to people growing up to be mentally healthy adults.
    I would say most marriage problems are a result of two very damaged adults as a result of poor parenting. Far too often the cycle just goes on and on.
    As Children we learn everything. We learn to be loving if we were loved. We learn self esteem if our parents give us moral support.
    i guess i have never been fortunate enough to be part of any study. And i will ask those reading this to please forgive me for the completely unscientific , undocumented , and non academic personal observations. Does not mean they are not true.

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