If you’ve been paying attention, you know women average approximately 30 percent more housework and childcare than men do, regardless of work arrangements. And you know that in Mogul, Mom & Maid I make the case for:
- companies to create more family-friendly cultures because the pressures of managing a career and a family are crazy
- men to do their fair share at home, and
- women to put down the “proverbial” mop. By lowering your standards, even just a little, you can free up some valuable time and make space for other things in your life.
Well Sunday in The New York Times, writer Stephen Marche advocated for no. 3 because he says no. 2 is never going to happen.
In his op-ed, “The Case for Filth,” he writes, “Unlike many other rubrics by which you can establish the balance of power between men and women, there isn’t much evidence of a cohort shift in housework. Younger men are doing roughly the same amount of work around the house as their fathers did. It doesn’t look like they’re going to start doing more, either.”
He offers several different theories from the ancient Romans to Marx and Engels as to why the housework gap hasn’t closed but the bottom line is he predicts, “The future probably does not involve men doing more housework,” and therefore, “The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it.”
When I’m out speaking to professional women’s groups about my book, I urge them to “put down the mop.” Let go of one household chore for just a week. Don’t make the bed. Maintain a messy linen closet. Forgo the vacuum. Just let your standards slip a little, see how it feels, and what kind of time and space it frees up for you to pursue something else. I promise no one will get hurt. And I know from personal experience that letting go gets easier with time. It’s why I live in fear of neighbors dropping by unannounced. But hey, I found time to write a book. (And I just learned that JK Rowling credits not doing housework for four years with her ability to write Harry Potter while raising a baby.)
But perhaps a greater challenge than the physical chores like cooking, cleaning and laundry, are the invisible tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, arranging carpools, and organizing play dates. It seems to be much harder to get a man to plan birthday party goody bags than it is to get him to fold hospital corners. (Of course some trailblazing women are forgoing the goody bags too, and I applaud them.) Marche refers to these invisible tasks as “emotional work” and writes, “What about planning summer vacations? What about figuring out which washer to buy? And what about that far more important but far vaguer business of caring? We all know families that are held together because a woman knows who likes what in their sandwiches, who can or cannot read on a road trip, who needs cuddles after a hard day at school.”
A few of the women in Mogul, Mom & Maid say they own these invisible, emotional responsibilities because they are deeply vested in creating a certain type of childhood for their children. A few others confess to what is called maternal gatekeeping; they either don’t trust or don’t like the way their husbands do things – from feeding to dressing the kids. But many women say their partners just don’t seem to think about these tasks and so we are challenged with how to make the invisible visible and enlist our partners’ support in completing them.
For example, just recently a woman told me she forgot to have her toddler picked up from daycare. Normally one night a week her husband picks up because she has a standing appointment. But that week her husband had a meeting and the woman forgot to make alternative plans. She was feeling really guilty about what happened until I asked her why it was her responsibility to arrange a backup plan for her husband? If he couldn’t fulfill his responsibility why didn’t he look for an alternative? Arranging backup had become an invisible task.
Marche writes, “Caring less is the hope of the future.” That depends on what we care about. We can live with dust bunnies and some dirty dishes in the sink but we can’t leave our kids at daycare all night. He continues, “The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.” I agree. But the solution to the invisible tasks is a bit more complex. Women need to make these tasks visible; men need to see what’s right in front of them.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimonomania/2423688896/