Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Struggle for Housework Equality

I am a feminist and my partner of 7 years is a pro-feminist guy. From the outside we appear like a very modern-day equality-for-all type of couple. And in many ways we are… except for one: household chores.

In chatting with my other feminist friends who are shacked-up with guys, I’ve noticed a definite trend around housework. After first moving in together, the men are keen to help out and put in the effort to get chores done. But after a few months, the honeymoon period ends and the men slide into a more relaxed attitude about housework. My guy and I have been living together for 3.5 years now, and there’s no doubt about it: I am doing the majority of household chores. I can’t help but think, “I’m a feminist… how did I let this happen?!”

In the book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present authour Gail Collins reports on some interesting studies about the time we spend on housework. Apparently, couples who truly split chores 50/50 are extremely rare, even in homes where both adults work full time. Study after study shows that any way you measure it, women do about twice as much housework as men. It doesn’t matter if you’re working class, middle class, upper class, or the colour of your skin, the ratio remains 2:1. When child care is added to the mix, things become even more lopsided. In families with both parents working, women spend an average of 11 hours a week on childcare, while men spend three. The only households that seem to arrive at equitable divisions of labour more naturally are lesbian couples.

Lisa Belkin, a columnist for the New York Times who wrote on this topic, said she met a few couples who were seriously trying to divide household chores evenly, and it seemed like a tortuous process full of lists, negotiations and struggles on the part of the woman to get the man to understand her higher standards for cleanliness. I can completely understand this; I have tried a hundred different ways to get my partner to do more chores. We have tried everything from a white board where we list tasks to “scheduling” blocks of time into his iPhone calendar for him to do chores. So far, nothing has been very successful. The interesting thing is that he sincerely wants the housework to be divided 50/50, but that's never what happens.

What irks me the most is that I spend a lot of my personal free time doing things for “us” like grocery shopping, tidying the house and organizing our finances. When he has free time, he spends it doing things for himself like surfing the net, playing online games or going fishing. It definitely creates resentment in me, which I occasionally release by screaming at him. And so begins the cycle of the woman nagging, the man getting annoyed, the man not doing the chores, the woman getting even more resentful, the woman nagging again… and on and on it goes.

So what’s a modern day feminist to do? Why are all my straight feminist friends and I in the exact same situation? Should we lower our cleanliness standards, or should the men pick up their game? Thoughts, ideas, comments and suggestions are welcome!


  1. Ahhhh Jennie, I knew you had written this as soon as I started reading the post. My husband happened to see me reading it and a "discussion" ensued. In short, he disagrees with your post. Did your partner have a comment?
    I agree that I probably have too high of standards (I like some things to be cleaned a certain way) but I also think that guys only see the obvious chores and miss the little extras that we do; like wiping the counter when it's dirty or putting something back in its place. I think the battle never ends but both sides have to continually try harder to either help in the workload or let some things slide.

  2. Jennie,
    We must put a little tongue in cheek in our elbow grease. Have a look at my tactics at

    In short how-to videos, I'll show you how to flip-flop your mattress ( and, while emptying the dishwasher, that voodoo I do (!
    Helen Ellis

  3. Thanks for your comments, folks!
    After thinking about this, I realized that I neglected to mention that I'm also an over-achiever and try to do everything. I probably need to chill out and not worry if things get a little disorganized around the house.
    Like you said, Micki, both sides need to continually try harder to improve!

  4. Sometimes women don't remember there are many activities the men are often taking care of as well. If you are just thinking "housework" it is likely men do less but then you add in things like yard work, vehicle maintenence, bills/taxes, household maintence, planning/doing improvements, garbages and it becomes closer to equal in many families.

  5. I just read this piece and then I read your piece on National Men Make Dinner Day...which you end with something like...
    Forget it… I’ll do it myself! NO NO You have to persevere and NEVER give up...perhaps maybe give a little sometimes...