In light of recent media buzz over research on how much sex husbands may or may not be “getting” for helping with the housework, the question of an equal-gender split of chores is back on the table (or maybe just stuffed it behind some bills and takeout menus on the counter).
Academic work on this topic often wanders into big, macro-level thinking about gender roles and social structures, but a recent article in The Atlantic pushes us to think about this issue in terms of the small, everyday choices that make home better for everyone. Alexandra Bradner outlines the problem for heterosexual families:
Because no one can afford to fully replace themselves at home while they are at the office… working mothers have famously picked up the slack for both partners, subsidizing our market with their free labor… this means that mothers are important, in all of the ways in which socially conservative forces routinely note. But it could also mean that [they] are exploited… to do more than their fair share of the family’s work, all without compensation.
Bradner offers three possible explanations for this problem:
- Men don’t see the work that needs to be done
- Men see what needs to be done, but don’t think they can do it as easily or effectively as their wives can
- Men’s workplace structures won’t let them take the extra time to do their share of the chores
Instead of arguing for a large-scale overhaul of “women’s responsibilities” or workplace regulations, Bradner addresses all three issues with one simple suggestion: Men should ask their partners, “Do I do half the laundry? Do I change half the diapers?” Then, couples can make conscious choices about work distribution.
When husbands and colleagues come through with these “small acts of heroism,” splitting the work, Bradner, agues we get closer to a society that cares about caring for people:
It’s not, exclusively, a conversation for and among women. This is a conversation about families and about babies and their care, which makes it a conversation about kindness, responsiveness, and our nation’s collective future.