Pedestal Effect

2 min
at 10:43 PM

Like many men, Larry Jin Lee thought he deserved extra credit for assuming many parental and household chores. His wife had other ideas.

I always thought that I was an enlightened example of the male species. I’d cook, shop, vacuum, change my children’s diapers and take care of them when they were babies. I believed in gender equality. When I’d venture out with my baby daughter, her head poking out of her wrap, my male esteem would get a boost. I would frequently get warm smiles and positive comments from women. “You’re such a wonderful father,” they’d say. Add my dog to the scenario, and the odds multiplied that I’d get lavished with positive attention.

Little did it occur to me that I was held to a low standard to merit such praise, that is, until my wife indignantly pointed out that there was an unfair double standard for women. This is what every mother and woman does every day with little fanfare and acknowledgment. What did I do that was so special? Why did I deserve praise or extra credit? There is actually a name for this called the “pedestal effect.”

I also enacted my unconscious privilege on the home front, where I’d expect recognition and praise from my wife, acting as if I were going out of my way to do her such a big favor when I’d help the kids with their homework, cook a meal or vacuum, and then act dejected when I didn’t get it.

I used to say, half jokingly, “I’m better than most, right?” She reminded me that she never expects extra credit. Why should I?

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Then I had an epiphany. To those accustomed to a position of privilege and choice, fairness is experienced as oppression.

Now, I am retired, so I do a lot more of the home tasks and errands but I’ve learned not to expect any special acknowledgment. Ironically, this shift has made me much more appreciative of my wife and how much she does. I’ve learned that this is partnership, to own my responsibility. I still have occasional lapses into expecting to hear that I’m an exceptional for being just a guy, but now I mostly do my share without any sense of entitlement or fanfare.

It took me a while but I finally think I get it.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Jin Lee.

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Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist and father of two.

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