Housework: The Last Frontier

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British philosopher John Stuart Mill is widely recognized as the "father" of the women's movement in the mid-19th century. His essay "In the Subjection of Women" compared the legal status of women to that of slaves and argued for equality in marriage and under the law. American suffragists learned of his work while in England attending a conference on slavery (and how to end it), and the rest is history. Well, once again the Brits have upended Americans' self-proclaimed front-runner status on women's rights, this time with a study on housework.

Housework, you ask? Yes, housework. It is my firm belief that the biggest obstacle between American women and workplace parity is one of women's own making: women's refusal to either give up dominance in the housework and child-care domain or their refusal to require their men to do half the work at home.

A new British study confirms this, at least as far as English gender relations are concerned–-and things aren't that different on this side of the Atlantic. As reported in the Telegraph:

In these enlightened times of equality, when men are supposed to be just as comfortable in the kitchen as in the office, you would expect couples to share the housework. But old habits die hard, according to a report published today which suggests that married life, or indeed cohabitation, means more dusting, vacuuming, and other domestic chores for the average working British woman.

Now whose fault is this? Of course, men don't want to have to vacuum, clean up, cook (in most cases at least), wash dishes, etc., unless women require it of them. It's hardly fulfilling work. Argue with me if you will, but housework and child care are neither glamorous nor high paying. So either men have to pitch in of their own free will, or women must require their men to share equally in household chores as the "price" of family life.

When I suggest such a scenario to many women I know, they look at me as if I've lost my mind and say something like, "There's no way my husband would do half the child care, or if he did, he'd do it wrong." So what? A friend told me when her daughter was a toddler, she asked her husband to start helping her diaper the child. She left him alone with the child for several hours, and when she came back, her daughter's diaper was crooked.

"Did it kill her?" I asked. "No, of course not," she replied. But my friend's need for perfection overwhelmed her desire for housework parity. Rather than let her husband make mistakes and learn from them, she dove back in and took complete control over the diapering chore.

According to the Telegraph:

At a time when the pay gap between the sexes is narrowing and more women are gaining senior positions in the work place, the study suggests that equality at home is far from becoming a reality. The report, published today by the Royal Economic Society, claims that single working women spend an average of 10 hours a week on housework while single men spend only seven hours. As soon as women and men marry or live together, the amount of time devoted to housework increases to 15 hours a week for women and falls to only five hours a week for men. Differences like this–the so-called chore wars–mean that women derive less happiness from the relationship, suggests Helene Couprie of Toulouse University, writing in the latest edition of the Economic Journal.

It's time to reconsider the last part. I say that many (not all, but many) women are actually reluctant to give up control of the home front and that, at least as much as if not more than male bias, is what's holding women back in the work world. No one can have it all. Until women can share control of the home front, they'll never gain parity in the work world.