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President Obama's joke is a reminder that marriage is still viewed as the woman's job

President and Mrs. Obama at the Congressional Black Caucus
President and Mrs. Obama at the Congressional Black Caucus
Pool/Getty

President Obama gave some free advice to a newly married woman recently, which he shared during a Friday visit to an Indiana steel plant. Rebecca Sinderbrand, the political news editor for the Washington Post, tweeted his comment:

This is a joke as old as the hills, and Obama certainly meant it in a self-effacing way, implying that he would be nothing without his wife Michelle in honor of the couple's 22nd wedding anniversary on Friday. He praised Michelle for her patience. Yes, it's all in fun. But that doesn't mean it's harmless.

According to the Labor Department's 2014 American Time Use Survey, women do significantly more housework than men, spending an average of 2.6 hours on chores per day compared with men's 2.1. Women also bear more the childrearing load. In houses with children under 6 years old women spent an hour providing physical care each day and men spent 26 minutes.

Obama's words were meant to lament this sorry division of labor, but they actually perpetuated it. Making men good domestic partners isn't yet another job that should fall to their wives. This is the kind of quip that reveals that, as with child care and household chores, there are subtle social expectations that put more of the responsibility for maintaining a good marriage on the woman. This joke is especially difficult to take lightly considering that President Obama has spoken before about how difficult it was for Michelle to balance her career and raising their kids.

What President Obama is suggesting, really, is that women — on top of dealing with internet trollsdomestic abuse, higher rates of sexual assault, and being paid less than men for the same work — must also deal with the mighty task of reforming all of the world's males into decent husbands.

At the event, Obama also said, "Eventually we learn, but it takes us a little longer, because we're not as smart."

The president may have gotten this idea from his wife, who claimed in August that women are the more intelligent sex. But if that's true, then it's important women are able spend their time developing cures for cancer and renewable energy sources rather than training men to do the dishes.

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