Despite the great strides made when it comes to changing the way we view gender roles – dads can push the stroller! women can be the breadwinner! the ‘man of the house’ is an outdated trope! – women STILL do more housework than men in most homes.
According to a(nother) study on the topic (seriously, how many times do we need to hear that women do more housework than men or, worse, that men will do more housework if sex is on offer), women still do 1.7 times as much housework as men in 2012. However there is some good news, women have been doing less chores ever since they started entering – and staying – in the workforce and men started stepping up to the plate. Somewhat.
But the problem has many layers. Housework, despite the successes in creating gender equality and modern partnerships built on those principles, the drudgery of housework and the less drudge-worthy but still difficult work of child care is still seen as women’s work. We know this not just because women do more of it, but because when men do participate in such tasks they’re inundated with praise from the entire universe. Also, when was the last time you saw an advertisement where a man found pure and unadulterated joy from his sparkling toilet seat? Yes, it seems that doing the housework is, as Jessica Grose wrote in the New Republic, the last frontier of feminism.
However as the new study points out, there are a few interesting takeouts. Men do less housework than women even when there’s nobody to tell them pick up after themselves. As Liana Sayer of the University of Maryland writes,
“In 2012 single women with no children reported doing almost twice as much cooking, cleaning, and laundry as single men with no children.”
So men are happier, generally, to roll around in their own filth than women.
The other factor that a study, from Jill Yavorsky, Claire Kamp Dush and Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan at Ohio State University noted was that when a baby comes along, the housework dynamic dramatically shifts.
“Gender disparities in the work of the family, including paid and unpaid work, were magnified across the transition to parenthood for the primarily highly educated dual-earner couples we studied,” their paper says. “The women in these families experienced a large increase of 3 hours a day in their total work (not including child engagement) across the transition to parenthood, whereas men increased their total work by about 40 minutes a day.”
So how to fix this? Stephen Marche famously wrote in The New York Times that the solution was that everybody just got used to living in a little bit of filth.
“The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it,”he writes.
As previously mentioned, there’s been a whole lot of studies suggesting that men would do more housework if sex was promised. Which, as Jessica Valenti pointed out in The Guardian, reinforces that women are for sex and housework is a woman’s work.
“Perhaps it’s true that couples have sex more often when men take on an equitable amount of domestic work. But I’m sure that has less to do with women wanting to screw men who do dishes, and more to do with pissed off women not wanting to have sex with lazy sexist husbands who won’t do a damn thing around the house,” she wrote.
There does need to be less praise for men who do step up to the plate by pulling their weight in the chores department – that merely emphasises that they’re not doing men’s work. Which is ridiculous. Also, enough of the stereotype that women derive so much satisfaction from a clean and sparkling home – and also that a clean and sparkling home is a credit to the woman.
Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, has started a support network for tackling gender stereotypes, Lean In Together, which applies her famous book, Lean In, philosophy to the home. Teaching men not to give their daughters less pocket money, or the ‘girl’ chores in the home. If children grow up without rigid ideas of what men and women’s work is the world will be a better and more equitable place. This is all good stuff.
Yes talking about the housework – and doing it – is boring, but we need to highlight these small, irritating gender discrepancies, so that’s room to talk about the stuff that really matters.
As Jessica Valenti wrote on the topic in The Guardian one of the other times that the housework gap reared its ugly head,
“caring about equality across the board shouldn’t be a zero sum game, and women are not going to be able to make progress on more urgent and public and political issues if we’re too damn tired from doing so much work at home,” she wrote.