The problem isn’t that women are trying to do too much, it’s that men aren’t doing nearly enough.
A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women—even those with full-time jobs—still do the bulk of housework and childcare. On an average day, 48 percent of women and 19 percent of men did housework. Married women with children who work full time spend 51 minutes a day on housework while married men with children spend just 14 minutes a day.
The breakdown of childcare responsibilities was not much different—55 percent of working men said they cared for their kids on an average day, whereas 72 percent of working women did. Women also reported spending more time during the day caring for their children than men.
This isn’t news to most; statistics (and feminists!) have long showed that women work a second shift at home. But despite the glaring inequality on our doorstep—and in our kitchens—the recent debates do little to address tangible ways men can be held accountable. Sure, they’re mentioned as an aside every once in a while—It’s good to have a supportive partner! When men “help out,” life is easier!—but men’s participation in the domestic sphere is largely discussed as optional, while women’s is assumed to be mandatory.
I’ve seen straight, partnered women explain their decision to stay-at-home by noting that childcare would have taken too much out of their paycheck—as if this cost was just theirs to bear! Or couples who call a woman’s decision to quit her job a “personal” issue, while in the same breath noting that it was because her salary was lower than her husband’s. (The last time I checked, the wage gap was a political issue.)
But even more dangerous than the “I choose my choice” brush-off that tends to surface when someone takes the politics of housewifery to task, is the contention that women want to be doing all this work. That we are naturally inclined towards things domestic—especially caring for our children. Perhaps for some women this is true; but the generalization hurts all of us. After all, how can we effectively fight for workplace policies if the presumption is that when push comes to shove, we don’t really want to be there?
As an aside, I have a secret fantasy of gathering a team of men to go to every male-dominated discussion (on specific issues in the law or a certain genre of film or investigative journalism or whatever) and when it’s Q& A time, earnestly ask the male panelists how they balance work and family.
As a not-aside, the harder question is what to do here. I think there are a few solutions, at least for the heteros among us:
First, don’t marry or move in or reproduce with men unless they pull their own weight. Seriously. That might mean you end up alone. That might be a better option.
Second, don’t just let things fall into “natural” patterns. I’ve heard parents give other parents the advice of, “Parenting is hard enough, don’t try to force yourself into particular roles! Just let things work themselves out.” No. Don’t do that. Because letting things work themselves out = mom does most of the work.
Third, dudes, get it together.
Fourth, remember that even our perceptions of how much work we’re doing aren’t always accurate — we see a 70/30 split as being “equal” since it’s more than we’re used to seeing men do. In self-reported studies, men routinely over-estimate the amount of time they spend with their kids and doing housework.
Fifth, if the kid’s father is watching him, that’s not “baby-sitting.” If you wouldn’t go out for a night and leave your baby home alone with your husband, perhaps you’ve married the wrong person. If you wouldn’t go on a business trip for a week and leave your baby home alone with your husband, perhaps you’ve married the wrong person.
Sixth, dudes, get it together. Guilt and shame each other for being shitty dads. Cast judgment on men who don’t help out around the house.
Seventh, men are not useless, nor are they idiots or chimps. They are just as capable of being nurturing and loving and caring and aware as women are, so let’s also give them the chance to demonstrate that. And just don’t accept the ones who pretend to be chimps in order to abdicate responsibility.
Eighth, I don’t really know what else, except all of these discussions are part of the reason why I am extremely hesitant to reproduce.
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- Thank you, Jessica by Jill February 2, 2011