I continue to see these statistics thrown around about the gendered division of household labor; how women are still doing more than their fare share of housework. This is always presented in some direct or oblique way as confirmation of that most nebulous of boogeymen: The Patriarchy.
Now, as a man who has consistently done less than fifty percent of the household cleaning in my cohabitations, I would like a chance to respond. Note that I did not use the expression “less than my fair share.” Because, what does “fair” mean anyway? The assumption of those throwing the statistics around is that half of whatever being done is fair. I assert otherwise.
This particular argument was a source of much strife in my starter marriage, and it is from those experiences that I derive most of my arguments. Near the end of things in that lamentable relationship, my lovely spouse hit a point where she exclaimed:
“It’s almost like you don’t even care if the house is clean or not!”
Finally! I thought. She finally fucking figured this out! My face lit up in happy relief and I said:
Wrong thing to say, apparently. But I still don’t understand why that response should be such a shock. She saw the way I lived before we moved in together. When the filth reached a level I found embarassing, I would clean. To clean before such a state is reached was obsessive compulsive madness to me. In fact, after moving in with her, it took me a couple of years to learn to be comfortable without a nice layer of clutter around me.
This whole argument went down shortly before she left me in the most egregiously hurtful way she could devise, so draw your own conclusions as to the wisdom of exposing my inner monologue to her scrutiny. All’s well that ends well, at any rate. Water long since passed under a very thoroughly burned bridge.
But every time I run across those statistics, I go back in my head to that same argument. And I always ask myself: Is it fair to expect someone to do half the work that you require to be comfortable?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete sociopath with this. When one partner cooks, the other does the dishes. That’s courtesy. If one partner does the laundry, then the other should, say, clean the bathroom on a schedule that both find acceptable. But daily vacuuming and dusting? Polishing, waxing, buffing, and all the rest? Noticing that the fridge compartments need a thorough toothbrush scrubbing? That’s your emotional baggage and should be categorized as a personal hobby, as far as I’m concerned.
Then we can get into the whole, “well, you don’t do it well enough, so I’ll do it.” This seems like a free pass, but it is not. This apparently voluntary labor is added to the “what a douchebag he is” list she’s compiling to justify the great fuckover she has planned for you. (Yes, I know, I have baggage of my own.)
My point here is that in the domestic situation I just described, I was doing less than half the household chores. No question. I cleaned the bathroom on her schedule, did the dishes most of the time, and yet did much less than half of the work that was going on. But was that unfair?
As a finishing point, let me construct a fantasy scenario that illustrates my position.
A couple shack up. They’re happy and in love and it’s all bouquets of flowers and blowjobs. Hooray for love!
Now the man decides he needs to have an ice sculpture in the back yard all winter long. He can’t feel right about the abode without that. So he gets to it. What a lovely ice sculpture it is! And she thinks this is a bit stupid, but it is kind of nice to have an ice sculpture, so why not?
But, being an ice sculpture, it melts and needs to be recut into new forms and often replaced completely. Ice sculpture maintenance and replacement become a major nuisance in the man’s life.
As more time goes on, love sours and our husband is looking for ammunition to abuse his partner with. Aha! She’s not pulling her fare share of the ice sculpture labor! Let’s have couples counseling about it, and maybe we need to work out an equitable ice sculpture maintenance schedule. Of course she doesn’t follow the schedule, which gives him more leverage in the confrontational game of brinksmanship their relationship has become.
And she never even wanted that fucking ice sculpture in the first place. So is it fair to expect her to do half the work maintaining it?