My husband and I share the domestic workload pretty well. Sometimes, he shoulders a lot more of the work than I do- the joys of living with a shift worker who might be home but is in no fit state to hang out washing or operate machinery.
Compared to some I’ve met, he does an awful lot of the unpaid work that many men still expect of their female partners. Not too shabby in the equitable household stakes at all. But still, there are some small things I feel like I’m always left with.
The thing I loathe most is vacuuming. It’s heavy work and my back protests quite loudly whenever I attempt it. The ground floor of my house is mostly tiled but even sweeping is a pain. Literally. So I decided I would just stop. No sweeping and certainly no mopping. I wondered how long it would take for someone else to do it. Not only is there a grown man in my house, but there are 3 teenage children.
Surely someone would notice the appalling state of the floor and do something about it? I even bought a new mop and displayed it in a prominent position. Enticing, no?
The floor was fucking filthy. Fluff, crumbs, errant Cheerios, dried drips of beverages and sauces I could no longer identify. A CSI team would have been horrified to learn they’d have been able to identify every meal and snack prepared in my kitchen over a two week period. The splatters had crumbs dried into them. A small colony of ants took it as an open invitation and moved on in. I cracked. There was furious sweeping followed by a bucket with hot water and the most toxic floor cleaning crap I could find to kill all the germs. I scrubbed that cess-pit of a floor with my new mop so hard that I almost bent the handle.
The love of my life walked in and saw me. He asked what I was doing, because apparently it wasn’t blindingly obvious.
“Mopping the fucking floor because no one else will do it!” was my reply. He obligingly got out of my way. His sense of self-preservation is beyond reproach. I then explained my experiment and, rather than taking offense or worse, attempting to defend himself, he said this:
“Why didn’t you just say so?”
This is where my draft ended on April 23rd, 2017.
I couldn’t put my finger on the problem or the solution. It was a problem, but one I couldn’t articulate. So I stopped writing, in favour of pondering.
You should have asked.
Then I read the viral comic called “You Should Have Asked” and saw the responses from women I know and women they know. The social media pages that shared it and the resulting comments from total strangers who so strongly identified with it. I trawled various forums to see other responses.
What I read made my thoughts about my floor experiment fall into place, however uncomfortably. To an extent, I manage a lot of the household. We have 3 teenage kids who will happily ignore their set chores unless
nagged repeatedly reminded (constantly), often by me.
Other women shoulder much more, if not all, of the mental and physical burden of household management.
Women who have asked for help, to no avail. Even in homes where both of them work, some men refuse to share the load. There are men who still cling to the ideology that women are meant to cook, clean and care for the family. Who believe it’s not their responsibility, either mentally or physically, to contribute.
I have known grown men with families who have never changed a nappy or cleaned a shower in their lives. These men are not as uncommon as I’d have thought, judging by the accounts I have read.
We shouldn’t have to ask.
The management of a household shouldn’t fall to one person in the family or relationship, regardless of gender or upbringing. It’s true that many people grew up in homes where Mum shouldered that burden, but does that mean we have to continue it? It’s not like gender inequalities aren’t spoken about in the media or anywhere else. There is probably more awareness around these issues than ever. The work associated with running a home and caring for a family is not only grossly undervalued but also still viewed as the domain of women. And that contribution to our society is barely valued at all.
When women stay at home to care for children, they often take on even more of the management and physical work in the home. They may return to paid employment and find that that burden never shifts back to where it was, let alone to somewhere approaching fair or equal. “You Should Have Asked” highlights the problem, but what can we do about it?
So, what do you do? Sometimes, we aren’t fully conscious of our behaviour or the benefits we reap from our culture until we are made aware of it. I think this is no exception and why there is room for a conversation to be had. If you are shouldering the mental load, as well as the physical, for the management of your household, you can say something. There’s nothing wrong with an agreement on the division of labour. You could sit down together and make a list of what you actually take responsibility for. I mean everything, from mopping to paying bills.This may well be eye-opening for your partner. From there you can divide it up. Include kids when they are old enough to take on some chores- they’re part of the family, too and they need to know how to run a home. They don’t have to plan things or pay bills but will it hurt them to do the dishes or fold laundry? No! In fact, they (and their future partners) will thank you for not sending them out into the world with no skills to look after themselves.
I can imagine a lot of rolled eyes and thoughts of “yeah, right, like that will work!” How many of us are thinking their partner and/or kids might even agree and stick to it… for a week or two? How many think they wouldn’t even get that far?
If you tell your partner that the burden is stressful, that you are managing more than your share and that you need them to co-manage with you, in theory, they should listen. Disregarding what you are telling them you need is kind of awful.
I asked around, to see if I could find someone that didn’t strongly identify with the comic “You Should Have Asked”. I wanted to see how they’d achieved a good balance or whether labour had always been equally divided in their relationships. Most of the responses I got were from women who said they didn’t actually know anyone in that boat. Very few said otherwise, though one friend remarked that dividing it up equally just makes sense. And it does. But as we can see from the world around us, making sense often isn’t enough and can be subjective.
There isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for each unique set of circumstances. I found this suggestion on Reddit and I like it a lot. It’s close to what we already do in my home. In a nutshell, it’s achievable for us. I know other households where things are less balanced and I think it would need a firm commitment from both parties to put this into practice. If it’s one-sided, you end up back where you started from.
Both parties need to be aware of what needs to be done and able to communicate well. By good communication, I don’t mean going back to the constant asking, but more like the example given in the Reddit post. If you’re really over doing something, let your partner know. Listen when they do the same. It requires both partners to be empathetic and committed to the happiness of the other partner. To be considerate, thoughtful and mindful.
Do you shoulder most of the mental and/or physical load in your family? Or have you got a good balance?