American broadcast journalist Barbara Walters once did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked five paces behind their husbands.
Years later, she later returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands.
From Barbara’s vantage point, the women walked even further back behind their husbands, and seemed to appear happy to maintain the old custom.
She approached one of the Afghani women and asked: “Why do you continue with an old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?”
The woman looked Barbara straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said:
We don’t walk five paces behind our men here in North America, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves after a catastrophic health crisis like a heart attack, we might as well be.
A University of Iowa study followed married men and married women who had each survived a first heart attack over a six-month period after discharge from hospital. For female heart patients, the daily grind of cooking, cleaning, child care and other household chores barely skips a beat.(1)
In the first month after a woman’s heart attack, her household activity declines somewhat below her normal level and her hubby picks up the slack, yielding “equal workloads for both spouses” according to lead author Dr. Jerry Suls, who adds:
“But within a few more weeks, the domestic status quo returns, with women reclaiming a virtual monopoly on household duties.”
Male survivors rested at home during the follow-up, Dr. Suls remarked, with their wives handling most household tasks in their usual fashion. Dr. James Coyne, who studies survivors of heart disease, explained:
“Husbands of female heart attack survivors often exhibit a staunch unwillingness to assume domestic duties.”
And for advice about how to take care of your man when he’s sick, watch this hilarious little Man Cold video.
(1) Rose GL, Suls J, Green PJ, Lounsbury P, Gordon E. Comparison of adjustment, activity, and tangible social support in men and women patients and their spouses during the six months post-myocardial infarction. Ann Behav Med. 1996 Fall;18(4):264-72.
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about common responses when a family member becomes a heart patient in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).