In a Whole 2019, Women still do the Majority of the Housework. Why?

Sexism exists in modern households too. Step TF up, guys

Around the world, women still do twice as much housework as men. WTAF? We know women have traditionally done most of the cooking, cleaning and laundry in the household, but hasn’t that started to change as gender roles shift? Apparently, not all that much. Based on data from 83 countries analysed by the UN, women do more than double the unpaid household chores (and care work) men do – today still.

When Both of You Have Jobs, Yet One of You does Most/All the Housework

Most of the time, in heterosexual relationships particularly, that person is the woman. Not shocked tbh. This is something that’s familiar to many women and femmes, around the world.

In her New York Times Modern Love column, Honey, I swept the floor!, Brooke Williams writes about how her male partner feels the need to boast about completing basic household chores. That is, the few times he steps up and does things that she has to do all the time. The times when men do in fact step up and do simple domestic chores, they are celebrated (because these times are rare). Williams explains that women do the same chores regularly without prompting. She talks about the “who is doing more” fight.

Similarly, in the Cosmopolitan UK piece, What is the ‘mental load’ and are you carrying it in your relationship?, Arielle Tchiprout writes that she often feels like she’s babysitting a man-child. She then drops the “mental load” (organising, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping) for a week and tracks what happens. By the end, his unwillingness to share domestic and emotional labour makes her worried about their future together.

There’s a common thread in these two writer’s stories. Both are in modern relationships where both partners have jobs. Both tell the story of women dating straight men, and negotiating housework. Despite both partners being employed, the female partner still does the majority of the housework. And in both cases, she is unhappy with this.

What your Partner May Be Saying, Without Saying it

Why is the statistic that women do twice as much unpaid housework as men so disturbing? Well, because more women have jobs today than in previous decades. Our jobs are often no less demanding that theirs. Yet, in many families and relationships, a woman with a full time job still does most (if not all) of the household work for most of her life. Most of us have seen this, if not in our own relationship, then in that of our peers or relatives.

I wonder how much of this is a deliberate choice (some women are happy to do it) and how much of it is a concession we’ve been socialised into making? When both partners have demanding jobs and one partner simply expects you to do most of the housework forever, here’s what this expectation says:

  • My time is more valuable than yours
  • My task list is more urgent than yours
  • My goals are meaningful than yours
  • My profession is more important than yours

While these sentiments might not ever be verbalised, the reality is that your time is treated as more dispensable in the relationship. So is your potential. This, of course, would not apply to women (and non-binary people and men) who have deliberately chosen to become home executives in lieu of paid employment (feminism is about choice).

A Fairer Approach?

Some couples have worked out shared rosters, ways to equally split the housework, although this does not appear to be the majority. There are also cases where both parters agree to prioritize one person’s career for a certain time, and then switch up the supporting roles later (depending on opportunities): You support me now, I’ll support you later. These can be healthy, more deliberate ways to do things, if agreed upon by both partners.

Here’s how this Effects the Economy. Yes, it is that deep.

CNN reports that: “If women stopped doing a lot of the work they do unpaid, then the whole economy would collapse”. Shahra Razavi (UN Women’s chief of research and data) explains that the unpaid work that usually (disproportionately) falls to women is not calculated in GDP as society sees this invisible labour as less valuable. However, if women were to stop doing invisible labour, the ripple effect would be wider than we might think.

While women’s invisible labour cuts cross class lines and geography, it’s often more pronounced in lower-income families: “In developing countries, work like finding fuel or gathering water often falls to women. Even in developed countries, domestic technology … appliances like dishwashers, laundry machines or even slow cookers — still isn’t available to many poor women” CNN reports.

In the Mail and Guardian, Luke Messac makes a case for why women’s unpaid work must be included in GDP calculations. With a focus on the Global South, Silvia Federici argues that male “economic” production would be impossible without women’s uncompensated “non-economic” labour. In the article, Here’s what women could earn if household chores were compensated, Melinda Gates says that “On average, women around the world spend 4.5 hours a day doing household chores, while men spend less than half as much time.” Of course, this work (let’s call it what it is: work) is not compensated.

So the men who benefit from this norm would not be able to work as they do, if women around the world stopped fulfilling this role. And if this invisible work is not done, the economy would collapse. The work that many consider menial and expected of women (without compensation) is quite literally holding up the economy. With more women having jobs and more dual-income relationships, this after-work work cannot and should not only fall on women anymore.

So Why are Modern Women Still doing Twice the Amount of Housework?

Modern women and femmes who end up doing more emotional labour, domestic labour, invisible and unpaid labour – often know it’s not fair. So why? Subtle but deeply entrenched sexism exists in modern households too, in modern relationships, and in modern marriages. This is not to say that some male partners do not pitch in, but it’s clear who carries the bulk.

Gender roles are sketched out for us from a young age, creating the imbalance between girls and boys’ roles early on. For many, this is ingrained and perpetuates into adult life, relationships and family-building. Your mother always did the dishes, so now you do too, even if it bugs TF out of you. A part of this is outdated gender norms. The expectation is still there for women to manage the more menial tasks (child-rearing, caring for sick relatives, cooking, cleaning) – even for women with jobs that are equally demanding.

Read more on Gender Roles 

What are Some of the Consequences of this?

What is the effect of all this? Well, the disproportionate workload (worse in some places than others) impacts women’s capacity for education, employment and income potential. As a result, women have less energy, time and opportunity to build a career than men. A UN report shows that, according to the global average, men earn more than women in every country in the world. It also shows that women do 2.6 times the domestic work men do. This, of course, affects the gender pay gap statistics calculated by the UN.

Read more on Gender Pay Gap

Read more on Gender Pay Gap in Sports

Women (with full-time jobs and most of the household responsibilities) end up working longer hours than men. They have less time for paid work. This, in turn, affects career development, promotions, and capacity for innovation. All because so much mental space and physical energy is taken up by the “menial” tasks that fall mostly on them.

According to Brigid Schulte (director of the Better Life Lab at New America), “the extra time that men have to research their fields and interests better prepares them for promotions and professional opportunities. Women, though, are strapped working a “second shift” of unpaid work at home.” – CNN

Apart from the career consequences, the unfair split of household chores can also be a cause of fights, break-ups and divorce.

Something to Think About

So, in a whole 2019 when more and more women are entering the workforce and increasingly both people in the couple have full-time jobs, why is the housework split so uneven? Women’s roles are shifting, women are bringing in money, there are many dual-income families. Why haven’t men’s roles shifted too – to even the playing field? If the income labour is shared, shouldn’t the domestic labour be shared too?

Step TF up guys.

On this note, it would be helpful to gain the perspectives of queer femmes and non-binary people on this issue (there isn’t as much data on this, so please email us if you’d like to share your thoughts and experiences) for a possible follow-up article.

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