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Men! Don’t ever learn how to use a washing machine – Derek Draper’s answer to modern relationships

March 19th, 2009

Dr Petra

The Daily Mail has a feature today based loosely on ‘Chore Wars’, a term given to arguments couples have over who does the housework. In the piece Mr Draper defends why he does not share housework equally.

At first glance it seems like a staged debate between ex-labour lobbyist Derek Draper and his celebrity newsreader wife to promote his new self help-book.

However, this is actually a serious case example of poor therapeutic practice and one we need to take notice of.. Mr Draper is an ex-labour lobbyist and more recently a psychotherapist (more on this later).

In today’s Mail he opens his case for men not doing the housework with the following: “There’s a Draper family joke passed down the generations. When asked to do domestic chores by our wives, we Draper men retort: ‘What’s the point of having a dog if you have to bark yourself?’”

He goes on to stress this is a joke, but follows up with “many a true word is spoken in jest, and I have to admit I am pretty old-fashioned when it comes to cooking and housework. You would rightly conclude that this is largely down to laziness, but I also have some more fancy justification”.

The ‘fancy justification’ is he has studied gender differences in preparation for his new book and in his role as a psychotherapist. From this research, he says, “I reached the conclusion that, despite the drive for equality in recent decades, real differences do exist. And far from worrying about this, we should actually celebrate it”.

Up to a point he is correct. There are undoubtedly differences between women and men and there’s no reason why these should not be celebrated so long as problem aspects of masculinity and femininity can also be interrogated.

However, causes of gender differences and how they are experienced vary dramatically depending on what theoretical standpoint you are working from. Research in the social and natural sciences have concluded that women and men do vary, but how much of that is innate, learned, or constructed is still up for discussion.

Presumably if Mr Draper had undertaken a systematic review of the literature of gender for his book he would be aware that there are often as many differences within the genders as between them, that frequently studies that set out to find gender differences usually do (because they ignore contrary outcomes), and that scientists are often more likely to get a paper published if it describes a large gender difference than if it notes similarities.

One would hope that a careful and ethical practitioner would note that we can interpret gender in many different ways. And that often, particularly in the area of gender, we find that science can uphold stereotypes and maintain gender divisions rather than challenge rigidly constructed roles that are unhelpful to women and men.

Unfortunately it seems Mr Draper has not considered the evidence in this way. Instead he bolsters the rest of his case with anecdotes from his home life: “In our house, Kate does all the cooking. I have never really learned, and whenever I try, I don’t enjoy it. Grilling fishfingers is about as cordon bleu as I get. I also – get ready to growl, girls – don’t know how to work the washing machine and while even I can figure out how to vacuum, I never actually do it”.

While there are studies out there showing women and men are different, I don’t think science shows there is any biological predisposition for men to be unable to work a washing machine. There may be many reasons why men don’t do the washing, but that’s not the same issue. It’s problematic that Mr Draper is confusing his initial statement of how this is all based on science, with what he does at home.

Draper continues to admit his wife does most of the household chores (those that aren’t done by their cleaner). He argues this is not a case of sexism, but a celebration of gender differences and he makes it clear that he does his part with the DIY (changing lightbulbs, taking out the bins).

He states “Most of these things are naturally seen as the domain of the male, so what is so wrong with seeing cooking and cleaning as more naturally the domain of the female?” Later he argues “I really do think that fixing, fetching and fiddling are more naturally male activities, while homemaking, as they call it in the U.S., is a more naturally female one”, following up with “Men are competitive and goal-orientated (think Horatio Nelson), while women are nurturing and consensual (think Florence Nightingale). That’s why a man will get more gratification out of putting up a really good set of shelves than from keeping everything homely and welcoming”.

Certainly in the domain of the pop psychology book and the reductionist Mars/Venus approach to gender these activities are ‘naturally’ seen as gender divided. However if Mr Draper truly had read the literature in this area he’d know even the very concepts of ‘natural’ and ‘gender’ within such debates has been questioned and perhaps wouldn’t use the terms in such a cavalier manner.

Being critical about Mr Draper’s ability to understand evidence is only one part of this problem. The other part is much more worrying and a lot more sinister.

Mr Draper is a psychotherapist who publishes self help books. Couples often look to these when having problems within their relationship, and frequently relationship difficulties are related to the division of labour within the home.

Research suggests that where gender roles are unequal and where women do more of the unpaid work in the home, resentment, arguments and psychosexual problems can often follow.

While marriage therapy in the past has been criticised for maintaining such situations, contemporary therapy aims to help couples find solutions and encourage greater support of each other. In particular this may involve challenging the flashpoints generated by couples who are trapped in a situation where the main wage earner feels they can treat the other partner as an employee. Or encouraging couples to appreciate ‘I do the DIY’ is often a false argument since such activities are not happening on the daily (or more) basis that washing, cleaning, cooking and childcare happens.

If Mr Draper truly operates a gender divided approach within his own home, believes this are natural and can be supported by science, and thinks we should all live this way, then what hope is there for a client whose husband refuses to help her with the ‘household chores’? Would Mr Draper recommend she learns to see this as part of the natural order and accept her position? Is this in keeping with current good practice in psychotherapy?

Mr Draper has already been criticised around the way he has presented his qualifications. He has previously described his MA in psychotherapy as coming from Berkeley, implying the University of Berkeley CA. Whereas he studied in another college located in the area.

He also states in publicity and on his website how he has a qualification in Clinical Psychology (MA) which is very misleading. It implies he is a Clinical Psychologist, which he is not. When people have pointed this out to Mr Draper he has responded by refusing to clarify details on his website, or threatening them with legal action. You can read an account of blogger Gimpy’s experience with Mr Draper here.

Mr Draper seems to want to be a celebrity, a self help guru, a labour lobbyist and a psychotherapist. Since the former activities do not work particularly well with the latter one, and since Mr Draper appears set on promoting particular versions of science there are questions journalists, the therapeutic community and the public ought to be asking:
- What exactly are Mr Draper’s qualifications and what do they qualify him to do?
- What supervision and support does Mr Draper have over his therapeutic practice?
- What research did Mr Draper undertake for his book, can he provide evidence of the literature he searched, the systematic process he used to do this, and how he critically appraised the research that appeared within his book?
- Does the literature/theories used within Mr Draper’s book match the wider evidence base and are they recognised and supported by other therapists/academics/clinicians working in this area?
- What are the ethics of a therapist promoting outdated and selective interpretations of science?
- What do professional organisations such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (of which Mr Draper is apparently a member) make of Mr Draper’s views?

We can dismiss this latest story as just a bit of spin and self-publicity, or we can ask ourselves is this really an example of good practice in a therapist?

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