Jillian Y. sent a really interesting example of the gendering of housework. The example comes from a non-profit organization, Cleaning for a Reason, that assists cancer patients with house cleaning.
The organization is for people struggling with any type of cancer (not just breast cancer, as the pink ribbon suggests), but it still only assists female patients.
Jillian didn’t want to trivialize how useful and important such a service is, and I don’t want to either. There are reasons why women may need this service more frequently than men. The first reason is, of course, that women do the majority of housework in the U.S. and most Western countries (see also the links below). So when a woman gets sick and she can’t do her job anymore, this organization steps in and helps. When a man gets sick, the housework (apparently) keeps getting done with no problem because it wasn’t his job in the first place.
This, of course, assumes that everyone who gets sick is (heterosexual and) married (and able-bodied to begin with). What about single people? Who does their housework? Much of the time their female relatives do some of it… but let’s assume that single people are especially vulnerable because they have no one to help them do the daily upkeep of the house.
I recently saw a study that stunned me. It looked at the frequency with which married couples separated or divorced after a cancer diagnosis. Get this: If you are a man, the chance that your relationship will break up after diagnosis was three percent. Three. If you are a woman, the chance is 21. Twenty-one. One out of five women diagnosed with cancer (compared to one out of every thirty men) finds herself single.
So, yeah, maybe it makes sense to be especially aware that female cancer patients have a burden that many male cancer patients do not (whether by virtue of the fact that housework is gendered or the fact that female cancer patients are more likely to end up single).
That said, I don’t appreciate that the organization reinforces the idea that housework is women’s work; nor do I like that it excludes men who need help (largely by making single men or men with partners who cannot do housework invisible).
For examples of how women are responsible for the home, see this KFC advertisement offering moms a night off, this a commercial montage, Italian dye ad with a twist, women love to clean, homes of the future, what’s for dinner, honey?, who buys for the family, liberation through quick meals, “give it to your wife,” so easy a mom can do it, men are useless, and my husband’s an ass.
And, of course, it’s hilariously funny to think that men would actually do housework: see our posts on “porn” for new moms (also here), the househusbands of Hollywood, and calendar with images of sexy men doing housework.