Division of Labor: Marriage


Here’s an article on CNN’s website that examines the connection between housework, employment, and the division of labor in most heterosexual marriages. What’s interesting about the article is the personal narrative behind the ongoing labor inequality in most marriages.

It’s behavior that wouldn’t fly in Corporate America but seems to be accepted at home.

…men create, on average, seven more hours of housework a week for women. That extra work may not be as obvious as doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. So-called “emotional labor” — tasks like writing holiday cards, scheduling doctor appointments and planning family gatherings — is too often left to wives, says University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock.

“As long as the invisible labor is borne by women, things aren’t going to be equal, even if surveys show they are,” Smock says. Such work can be a major source of mental stress, she adds.

And, it must be noted, men still do only 30 percent of the housework, according to a report released in March by the Council on Contemporary Families. That report analyzed data culled from more than a dozen studies over nearly 40 years, revealing wide-sweeping patterns in gender dynamics and housework in the U.S. and abroad.

These results seem a little ‘off’ to me. Maybe it’s a generational issue, but the only way I’m doing seven extra hours of work, each week, is if I’m getting paid.

If I had a husband who caused me to work another seven hours, I would spend those seven hours finding another husband. While I don’t presume to speak for my spouse, I’m sure he feels the same way. Neither one of us signed up for a relationship of subservience or ingratitude. While I’ll sacrifice quite a bit for my marriage, I’m not willing to operate as my husband’s personal secretary.

I suspect that the studies collected and analyzed in the CNN article are fairly homogeneous. In the wake of the California Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriages, I wonder if future studies will demonstrate differences in the division of labor between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.

My husband, who is quite a bit older than I am and holds an advanced graduate degree in a scientific/technical field, was unemployed for a short time while I worked & traveled. He’s not the kind of guy I would call a ‘house husband,’ but I always returned to an orderly home with clean litter boxes and freshly laundered sheets. I was thankful for the simple things: my clothes were clean and the dishes were washed. Towels were folded, bills were paid, and we never ran out of the important things: bananas, milk, stamps, or toilet paper. His efforts made life easier for me, and in turn, our marriage was better. I demonstrated gratitude, but above all, I did my best to reciprocate when I was home. I didn’t assume he would wash my dishes, but when he did, I was thankful.

Maybe my husband is well-trained by his mother, or maybe I’m just lucky. Here’s what I know: the behaviors quoted in this article would not fly in my house.

Mrs. Armiger recently got so annoyed about making dinner and being left with the cleanup, in fact, that she switched to using paper plates.

I have some advice for this woman: ditch the paper plates and stop making dinner. Over a bucket of KFC, tell your husband that you’d rather raise his cholesterol levels on a nightly basis than cook another dinner and wash another dirty pile of dishes. You’re not asking him to turn water into wine, Mrs. Arminger. You’re asking him to use a sponge and Liquid Palmolive.

“He’ll walk right past a sink full of dishes,” says Armiger, who has served as vice president of leadership for her state chapter of the National Organization for Women for the past two years.

Holy crap. This is when I would say, “I really hope you didn’t walk past that sink of dirty dishes. You might as well keep walking to The Days Inn and book yourself a room for the next few weeks until you change your behaviors and decide to be an equal partner in this house.”

“I’ve been bugging him for a few months that he needs to be more consistent about doing chores around the house. It will be interesting to see how the next few years unfold.”

The next few years? Way to set an example for the aspiring, young feminists out there who are trying to manage the pressures of work, starting a family, and maintaining a healthy and co-equal relationship.

Now I recognize that I speak from a life of relative luxury — I don’t have kids, my house doesn’t get that dirty in the first place, and I have access to a cleaning service if I really want to make the house look spiffy. I just don’t understand how women become victims to a disengaged husband, a growing workload, and a pile of laundry.

Maybe the advice to women is simple: you wouldn’t tolerate this kind of lackluster performance from one of your colleagues at work. Grow a pair, develop an action plan, and tell your significant other to shape up or hit the road.

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