I went through this slideshow today, showcasing “7 Reasons We Still Need a National Women’s Equality Day”. One slide/reason in particular has struck me more than any others – “Women Still Do Most of the Housework…Even When They Work Outside the Home”. This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, as a woman who (you guessed it!) does most of the housework, even though I work outside the home.
Now, I don’t mean this post to be some kind of passive-aggressive, veiled insult of my husband. After all, he’s actually pretty helpful and it isn’t totally his fault that I end up doing more. Some of the blame lays with me, some with our culture, some with how we both were raised, and the way that we have set up our own household arrangements – choices that we made together.
But I think the amount of housework and childcare women do – and getting men to step up and take on their fair share – is one of the biggest challenges feminists face, and achievement in this area would signal a wider achievement in the culture at large. When more men are willing to be equally responsible for the grunt work they let their working partners and wives do without thinking twice about it that will be an indication of a true culture shift.
This is a really difficult change to affect though, not least because it can often be “easier” not to challenge the roles so many of us fall into so easily – especially later in a relationship when these types of choices have already been in practice for an extended time. So it starts with women being vocal, women being demanding – and men not brushing it aside as “nagging”, not falling into gaslighting our very real concerns.
My first suggestion to all women entering the beginning stages of a domestic relationship is to set and maintain clear boundaries and expectations from the word go. I, personally, love to cook and I especially love to cook for others – so it was natural in the beginning stages of our live-in relationship for me to handle dinner – I, in fact, reveled in having someone to cook for, I still do. There was also a period of time very shortly after I first moved in where I quit my job and was unemployed for about a month. During this time, I felt a lot of guilt about not contributing and so I tried my best to contribute in other ways – I took on doing laundry each week, I cleaned a lot. Sometime after our first year or so together, I began doing most of the grocery shopping on my own. Early on, he gave me grocery money and I did the actual shopping – at the time this seemed very reasonable and fair to me.
But five plus years into our cohabitation, our situations have changed, but the way we split housework has not. I don’t cook as much as I once did, since I’ve been either in school or at work most evenings for the last three years. It would be nice if that responsibility had shifted, if maybe he took on more of the cooking for both of us. Certainly, Trevor has to fend for himself most nights, but then, so do I. Although I have been employed full-time for over five years now, I still do the laundry every week, something that until recently was an even bigger pain in the ass then it is now (we just moved into a house with a washer/dryer). Now when I go grocery shopping, I usually pay for it myself since I make much better money now than I did even just one year ago. Somehow, even though I am now paying for the groceries, I am still doing the shopping.
Which brings me to my next suggestion – you both have to be adaptable, and you have to make changes as your situations change. In my case, I also have to be willing to let go of some measure of control in order to allow for a more equal division of labor. If you don’t “trust” your partner to get the right brand of toothpaste at the store, you have to decide which is more important – that’s he’s doing it at all, or that you get the right brand of toothpaste. If you’re going to watch someone cook and tell them all the things they’re doing wrong, you might as well do it yourself.
My third suggestion is that you also have to decide what works for both of you, in real life. Putting aside my lofty ideals for an equal division of labor, there are some things I just do better or more quickly and some things he just does better or more quickly. There are also some things I care a lot about that don’t mean much to him, and vice-versa. A great way to divide up labor is to write it all down, have each person pick the stuff they like (or, at least, don’t mind) doing and then take the leftovers and divide equally down the middle with each person getting a fair share of the more challenging stuff. Then, every once in awhile, just swap lists – so no one gets tired of always being the one to do that one thing they hate.
My fourth and final suggestion is to have a discussion with your partner about what the division of household labor means to you. Let him know that it isn’t just about being lazy or trying to dodge the hard work, it isn’t just about how much you hate doing dishes or cleaning the bathtub. Let him know that when he doesn’t do his fair share, he is sending you a message that he thinks his time is more valuable than yours, that his work is harder or more demanding, or that he can “pay” his way into not doing anything at home. And when all else fails, just ask! We too often become resentful instead of just communicating our wants and needs. I am certainly guilty of this in a major way. It is easier to go with the flow, to do it how it’s always been done, than to challenge the norms – both cultural/social norms and those you’ve developed within your own relationship thus far. It is never too late to try to make changes, but it does become challenging the longer those norms are in place. If your partner is even half as understanding and loving as mine, he will understand and he will work to make those changes with you.
I’m not about to pretend that I have done all these things, risen to these challenges. But I am a work in progress – our marriage, in fact, is a work in progress. These are just some tips to get you started. Good luck!