I’m a feminist blogger and I don’t want my husband to help with the housework

Image source: zazzle.com

No, I don’t! Really. I don’t.

The LSE published a press release a while back stating that they’d studied various households and they discovered that

Divorce rates are lower in families where husbands help out with the housework, shopping and childcare, according to a study of 3,500 British couples published on Tuesday.

The research by the London School of Economics (LSE), entitled Men’s Unpaid Work and Divorce, found that the more husbands helped out, the lower the incidence of divorce.

This was hugely popular – I googled the thing and it had been reported in practically every media outlet in Australia, as well as India, Pakistan, Libya and Ghana. Most of them simply reported the press release, without questioning the language in it. Most commenters, even if they supported the idea of men taking on more domestic work, didn’t question the H word.

Here’s the thing. Evidently even people who study these things for a living don’t get the fact that if you’re “helping” someone with something, that means that the task in question belongs to that someone. You may be delegated part of the job to do, or you may be doing it for them in their absence, but if you’re helping, you’re not the owner of the work.

Bluemilk posted recently about the exhausting routine of owning the domestic work (Death by a Thousand Negotiations): you might get “help”, but it’s up to you to remember, prioritise, triage, provision, and delegate. In other words it’s adding another job to the jobs. You might think that as an older feminist blogger with teenage children I must have the household work balance sorted by now. You would be wrong (it’s in my I-am-really-a-rubbish-feminist shame file). And occasionally, I rack up the psychic energy to engage in another round of discussion. In the past, I used to get the H-word constantly. While my attempts to get our household load closer to 50/50 have so far failed, I think I’ve managed to make him get why “helping” is inadequate and wrong. He does still think, though, that if I want him to do things he should be told what to do. (And readers, you all know how well that goes. You’ve all seen Seth Rogen movies and the wife as joy-killer.)

This area of our lives is going to give me endless brain pain and irritation as long as the domestic work is my responsibility and yours, female reader, and male input is read as “helping”. Let’s change the press release: “…In monogamous hetero households, the closer male partners came to taking equal responsibility for domestic work of their own volition, the lower the incidence of divorce.” There, fixed it for you.

Categories: gender & feminism, relationships

51 replies

  1. Oh, yes. We’ve had this discussion several times. Not very happily.

  2. You might think that as an older feminist blogger with teenage children I must have the household work balance sorted by now. You would be wrong (it’s in my I-am-really-a-rubbish-feminist shame file). And occasionally, I rack up the psychic energy to engage in another round of discussion.

    (First, you’re not a rubbish feminist, at all at all, Helen! Your partner might be able to do with a little work on this front, though ;-P). I think this is the bit that really gets me about how these negotiations (which no, I’ve never done with a partner, but have watched happen in other contexts, and have engaged with the not-the-same-of-course-but-sometimes-similar attempts to make housemates (especially men) take responsibility for housework…). It’s the work of planning, triage etc, and it’s the work of taking the deep breath to have the conversation yet again. And there are times when I’ve wound up resenting having to have those conversations, over and over, with the other party getting defensive and myself getting frustrated with the fact that this isn’t my problem, but it’s made mine to deal with and it simply does not get dealt with unless I force the issue. In a nice way. A productive way. A way that might mean it actually happens rather than the defensiveness hardening into recalcitrance. Rawr. No wonder I wanted to live on my own! (Which was a *lot* easier in this regard). Ahem. But of course, the dynamic was different for me; house-mates, thank goodness, are not partners. But these negotiations with partners must be even more complex, or perhaps just differently so. Nonetheless, no envy from this corner on this front!

  3. Spot on Helen.
    It would be the same as if hannah’s mum was ‘helping ‘ me when we cut firewood, fix leaking pipes outside on the irrigation property, chuck a few tonnes of gravel around, ‘help’ me plant a few hundred trees on the property and so on.
    After all, ‘outside’ work is the bloke’s domain isn’t it …..according to the ‘helpmeet/wife’ theory?
    What the report fails to notice,and why aren’t I surprised you did, is that it’s all about partnership in all that involves both and bugger the sex-role stereotyping.
    Its not even a case of ‘sharing’ the workload.
    Just simply a case of each of us working together at those tasks,enjoyable or not,optional or just mundanely necessary, that are important to both of us and which we as a couple share cos thats what we are on about.
    As a couple.

  4. Thanks all you commentators! I hope to have some more domestic work posts up in the not too distant future.
    WP, thanks for the vote of not a rubbish feminist. I can’t help thinking that a REAL feminist would have found ways to accomplish a more equitable load. Thing is, I do most of the outdoors stuff too – Bins, garden work, car maintenance (before he got his own separate car for The Business – now I do mine and he, I hope, does his, at least it hasn’t blown up yet.)

  5. (D’Oh! The ten minute edit feature is gone! Should have used the niffy buttons above, rather then attempting html from memory)

  6. *puts up hand* Another rubbish feminist here. Not with a partner, but with housemates. Spent as much time thinking of different negotiating techniques than actually cleaning.

  7. I feel this same twitch of huge annoying when dads are referred to as “babysitting” their own children. Dudes: it is not babysitting if you’re minding your own bloody children; that’s just called *parenting*!

  8. Thing is, you get home and like the olden husband of yore, you’d like to put your feet up and have a drink, and doing some chores in peace and being able to think is better than sitting down doing the round-and-round (“But I do… lots and lots of housework!!” “No you don’t. Really.” “Do!!”) and risking sulks or defensiveness. That’s Conflict Avoidance and it’s not good! I’m aware of that, but I’m… a conflict avoider.
    That is a great post, Rayedish. The comments, where comments were enabled, were pretty craptastic.

  9. (sorry, “annoying” should be “annoyance”. typing hands have a mind of their own.)

  10. Er, I mean the comments on the linked articles, not on your post Rayedish!
    I found the category “in which the mother does not work participate in the paid work-force and the father engages in the highest level of housework and child care” a bit of a mystery, simply because I don’t know of any households like that. I like that it was pounced on as proof of womens’ inherent laziness and evil.

  11. ”I found the category “in which the mother does not work participate in the paid work-force and the father engages in the highest level of housework and child care” a bit of a mystery, simply because I don’t know of any households like that.”
    You know of at least one – mine.

  12. @Helen – I knew which comments you meant. After all the comments at mine weren’t what I’d call craptastic.

  13. This dynamic is one of the reasons I stopped living with my dad. I had the choice between doing all the cleaning myself, nagging him to do it or tolerating the mess. All of which were tiring in their own way, and detrimental to my relationship with him.
    But then I’m lucky that I did have the option to move out, and it felt like the natural thing to do at that point in my life. I’m not sure how I’d handle it if it was a partner who I’d been planning to live with for the rest of my life.

  14. That’s right, Lauredhel, and going by your personal posts it appears you don’t spend your time lounging around eating chocolate and reading Mills and Boon, either, as the tabloid commenters seemed to read that setup!
    It may also be true of my inlaws – my SIL is ABI (aneurysm) and they have a feisty 20-year old son with Angelman syndrome, who is in adult nappies, home on weekends.

  15. I prefer to be a “bad woman”/”bad partner” and just yell at him when I’m feeling overwhelmed by his lack of doing housework. It’s got through after only a year or so of living with him, though the behaviours have yet to change I’m sure they will. I’ve made a chart of what needs to be done (ok I gave in a little) and I told him that if I have to “project manage” the housework I’ll count the time spent doing that 4x as much as I count work actually spent on housework, because that’s about the rate I charge for project management at work compared to the people actually doing the construction work 😉
    You’d think that as he grew up with a feminist mum that he’d realise that he needs to pull his weight in the chores department.

  16. Feeling a bit gobsmacked – he asked me to wash some socks for him this morning. Felt like snapping, “The washing machine’s in the laundry!” Bit bloody bizarre because I was sitting working at the computer when he made the request, and he was just standing around. #greatleapbackwards

  17. I know I have gotten mad at him and I’m certain he has cursed me over housework not done. We are both pretty relaxed housepersons but he will vacuum/clean/laundry etc like the devil while I’m playing World Of Warcraft (and visa versa);) We have big bonding cleaning days…crank the music and purge.
    For us it all works out pretty well. He does not help out, he does and the same goes with me.
    I blame the dogs..they never wash up.

  18. Deborah, that’s flabbergasting. Is there a reason you *didn’t* snap? I tend to think there’s something important about not protecting people from the consequences of their behaviour (like… pissing you off, for example ;-P). I’m intrigued by how much we *don’t* say the thing we’re tempted to, I guess?
    And now Radio National is talking about how men doing housework is sexy. Yes. That’s right. Do the housework and you might get more sex. [throws up her hands]

  19. Do the housework and you might get more sex.
    I have to plead guilty to using this one on my husband. I tell him that if I’m tired I’m not interested. If he does more of the housework so I can relax then I might not be so tired. It only works (both ways) sometimes.
    I think I made the point with him the other night when I was heading off for an early night and the cat immediately started miaowing at me to be fed. I told the cat to keep asking, someone would feed her. He laughed but he fed the cat. Our 4yo daughter jumped up and said ‘I’ll get you a spoon Daddy’ which she never does for me. Bah humbug.

  20. @WP – I didn’t snap because we’re both under pressure at present, and we just don’t need the fight.
    And I was coming back to this thread to offer a bouquet: when I got home from my singing lesson last night I found he had vacuumed, swept, and cleaned the toilets and handbasins. Unasked. He did it so we would have a clear run at the weekend, which will be busy.
    Swings and roundabouts…

  21. @ Deborah, I want one of those homecomings. But still isn’t it interesting that we still feel grateful when they do something like that. I’ve tried to feel like it was what I deserved but I just can’t.

  22. Oh, I’m not saying don’t use it, Mindy, and I do think the tiredness thing is a definite factor in libido asymmetries! I just think – women are just expected to *do* the housework – it’s not sexy, it’s not a thing that earns you anything, it’s just a thing you do… Men on the other hand…
    I wasn’t meaning that you should have in any big sense, Deborah – I’m really not a big fan of ‘always fight the good fight, no matter what’ – I just find it interesting how those negotiations take place in our own heads, y’know? About when and whether and why to have fights… how to pick your battles, and the amount of work that goes into that. Then again, I think there’s something telling that pointing out to someone that they’re being a bit unfair in expecting *you* to clean leads to ‘fights’ or ‘tension’; I just hate the way those are the terms of these kinds of discussions, y’know? But yay for homecomings to clean houses. Such a joy, when it happens! 🙂 And for me anyway, it earns back some of the resentment. Some. ;-P

  23. Sorry WP, I misunderstood. Now I get it, I think, in terms of here have a cookie nookie for doing the housework. Good boy.

  24. Dammit, forgot to use those little boxes up the top of the comment box. That ‘cookie’ should be lined through.

  25. Oh, that was entirely my lack of clarity, Mindy 🙂 A cookienookie does sound interesting!

  26. I hope to have some more domestic work posts up in the not too distant future.

    Oh, I hope so.

  27. I totally agree that ‘help’ isn’t an appropriate word. And it might actually be demeaning to some men. I certainly wouldn’t characterise what my husband does as helping! He’d right pissed off if I did, just as I would if my job was described as ‘helping my male colleagues run the department’. Guess what I’m trying to say is that it takes two sides to see things that way. One side who regards housework as his/ her own job, and one who thinks it’s their role to contribute a little or a lot, but not be in charge.

  28. I can’t help thinking that a REAL feminist would have found ways to accomplish a more equitable load.
    I find myself thinking that too, and I think many people who posted here and on bluemilk’s post probably do too, but I think this is an interesting issue in itself. Someone commented on bluemilk’s blog recently that if we think they are so stupid/incapable etc why are we in relationships with them? But the fact is that men who do share equally are few and far between, certainly not enough to go around. Is a REAL feminist someone who never has a relationship with a man, never has children with one? That seems a bit rough 😦

  29. Years ago we got into a really bad pattern, partly because I was working from home and suddenly housework became invisible and unacknowledged. It infuriated me and my attempts to negotiate backfired so badly that we almost split up.
    Oddly motherhood changed that (I know it’s often the other way around). Our decision to attachment-parent our daughter, who was a very high-needs baby left me with nothing left to give the house. Nothing. And luckily for us my partner hates mess and so he just stepped in to fill the gaping void. Years later nothing has changed. Many household tasks are defacto his responsibility – dishes, laundry, kitchen floor & bins. It’s not that I never do them, but he owns the responsibility for them. I take responsibility for dinner and both of us deal with the rest on a random basis…

  30. Kat, Twisty has been saying that as part of the Twistolution for some time. Fortunately or unfortunately there are a large number of us hetero women that are still drawn to the nuclear family thing despite its obvious problems, including me. I’m attracted to the idea of a massive national strike (housework and giving birth) for maybe five years, but of course that would cause pain to the ones who were planning to have their kids in that time.
    (And by the pricking of my thumbs I can sense a troll or mansplainer coming in to say, “Well, that just goes to show women just want babies, therefore feminism is wrong!” and I proactively reply no, we want the family and the photos of the kids on the desk JUST LIKE YOU HAVE but without having to pay such a higher price for ourselves and our life choices.)

  31. can’t help thinking that a REAL feminist would have found ways to accomplish a more equitable load.
    Responding to your earlier comment, Helen, I can’t help seeing this as a macro-version of being responsible for the housework project management. Teh womenz have to be responsible for making society better, it’s not far removed from the old temperance movement arguments for suffrage – ie women are morally superior and responsible for making things nice for everyone. I don’t think it is (always) a feminist’s role to have to educate others on how they should behave. The others should take some bloody responsiblity as well.
    And incidentally I used to be infuriated at how my house work was invisible when I was at home more with the baby. Now that I work out of home and the husband is at home more I just do less at home and let the shit fall where it may. I refuse to keep maintaining everything. The husband has come to take on much more of the burden of maintenance and organising as a result, but the process has been messy, unpleasant and frequently smelly.

  32. I’ve been married for 10 years and after working on my husband for half this time I think I know why this “guys taking equal responsibility for domestic work on their own” thing is impossible. While there are a few dream-guys out there who like to be organized and eat off clean plates, the majority of them will carve their way through the trash-laden floor to get to their computer, wear clothes that are “clean enough”, eat canned goods and pizza all the time AND think there’s nothing wrong with this life-style. It’s us ladies who are the housework freaks. We’re the ones insisting on having laundry folded instead of just jumbled in the closet and shut out of sight. So I figure, he’s not making me change the oil and tinker with the car, why should I make him change the sheets and tinker with the house? Sure, he lives here too and reaps the benefits of a house well taken care of, but I sure love driving that smooth-running car and reaping the benefits of his other perks. So this is no longer a tension-point in our house – I just do whatever needs to be done to make me happy and smooch on whatever his interests have to offer 🙂 It’s very liberating 🙂

  33. Margret: So I figure, he’s not making me change the oil and tinker with the car, why should I make him change the sheets and tinker with the house?

    I’m not a mechanic but I feel confident that your car does not need an oil change and a tinkering for several hours every day.

    Margret: It’s us ladies who are the housework freaks.

    Oh dear…

  34. OK I gotta jump in because this is one of my feminist issues I haven’t worked out either.
    With my last boyfriend – the only one I have ever lived with – I thought it would be ok, I expected to have conversations about this stuff BUT I observed his sharehouse habits and he was better than most, always insisting on washing up even when it made us late (this actually annoyed me a bit, dishes can be done the next morning!), doing periodic tidies of his messy bedroom floor, etc. Plus, he was all about ‘no taboo topics’, talking all problems through, etc.
    So I thought when we moved in together and HE was going to be ‘househusband’ for a year, it would all be sorted without too much fuss. There would probably be conversations but it would be ok.
    Turned out, he had an I’m-turning-30-my-youth-is-gone crisis, and that meant he could never mop, wash dishes, clean bathroom, anything, even though he was at home all day, and was so touchy I had 15000 conversations in my head with myself about how to approach him about the fact that I was working all day and he STILL seemed to expect the magical fairies to come do the washing up, and would only do tasks if I pointed out they needed doing… four days later.
    Anyway, it all became a rather spectacularly moot point when he decided :I: was what was holding him back in his life and left me (in a developing country… four months after we moved there for a year… that he had convinced ME to move to because we were going to get married and have kids and all that), but that’s kind of irrelevant, I just like giving all the horrid details.
    So what the FUCK do you do when they will do it for OTHER people, and you think it’s safe to establish a live-in relationship on that basis, but as soon as you’re in a situation that looks like girlfriend-is-your-mummy-who-will-do-everything, they revert to ‘you care more about mess’?
    It’s all a bit more sensitive for me because my mum was a stay at home mum for the first 15 years of my life, she said she saw the housework as her job even though she and Dad nearly split over his not doing any housework at one point. she is a pretty self-sacrificing person and although I’m a bit more relaxed about mess than her, I still like things to be quite clean and I wonder how much of this is necessary and how much of it is, I had such a strong model of a self-sacrificing, stay at home mum that this has been hardwired into me unneccessarily. And my mum is a strong feminist in many ways!
    I am a bit concerned about this when thinking about moving in with my new man, but he is lovely and mature and I think he actually :would: listen to me when I point this stuff out. He is also older than me (12 years older lol) used to living on his own and doing it all, and actively finds things to do around the house, handyman and housework stuff, and at least appreciates the thought of someone that would wash his towel for him (on occasion… I plan to make that, and ironing, a special treat lol). I can hear you all laughing now, but I think I’ve got more hope with this one than the last. I still expect to have the conversations (not least because I’m even taking time to think about it to make this comment) but am hoping it will be better…
    BitchPhD had a great blog post up ages ago which had a good response for ‘you care more about mess’, btw.

  35. I can empathise with the “but they do it for other people” confusion, Hendo. Because I have several male friends who have lived independently for many years and who are very competent domestic labourers, but who when staying under my roof will often expect me to assume all the responsibility for meals and laundry etc. One recently pissed me off royally by offering to shop for dinner and then bringing home a whole lot of high maintenance ingredients like unshelled green prawns and expecting a feast fit for a king to magically appear before him. It’s hard when you’ve been friends with someone for years and don’t want the odd occasions that you see them to be spoiled.
    Having just studied this topic, I can say that there is no guarantee that previously conscientious men won’t always default to this position and all the research indicates that they mostly always will. Similarly, men’s involvement in housework declines even further when a live- in relationship becomes legal through marriage.
    Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.

  36. that is a good translation Helen, it is worth pointing out that lower rates of divorce lead to happier and longer lived men, so i encourage men to own the housework.
    Raising my single mother in the seventies was a very different experience to some upbringings mentioned above, mum had a few ‘domestic’ style jobs, catering for a capitalist commune one summer, running a B&B another summer, but generally she stuck to builders labouring and the public service. She laughed at the Supermum trope and loudly refused to have anything to do with those kinds of expectations. My step mom tells me that she had to teach my sister and me how to use cutlery each time we visited.
    I got introduced to the laundromat when i was eight and for much of the next four years the laundry was done by a roster, at around the same age i was made responsible for my sisters as well as my own breakfast and lunch, started cooking dinner at 12, the list goes on. Now i do well over 50% of the housework and child rearing as my partner is at work. i hope that my girls are growing up with the idea that housework is a shared responsibility, but i fear that they will just realise that we are a bit weird and spend most of their childhood embarased by us.
    whenever i visited friends i was rather in awe of their parents and envious of their position, everything was done for them, their rooms were cleaned, the laundry done, minibikes repaired and fuelled up, their homework was checked, and the boys hung with their fathers in the shed and the girls hung with their mothers in the kitchen, except when the girls hung with dad too and mum was alone except when cakes were coming out of the oven.
    I don’t know how to get men to take responsibility for housework, ’cause i don’t really remember not having it, except to say that maybe they need to crash and burn a bit, but that can introduce another set of complications. there have been few more embarassing moments for me than sending the Hbomb to childcare with a dirty jumper. as for the kids, start them early, challenge a few child labour laws;)

  37. It’s not that I never do them, but he owns the responsibility for them. I take responsibility for dinner and both of us deal with the rest on a random basis…

    My wife and I have settled on the model where for most tasks someone explicitly owns it. We even talk about having the baby token. We have a lot less conflict that way as we don’t need to continuously negotiate who is going to do what – I hate bringing that sort of stuff up. And as a result we do have the concept of “helping”. Sometimes she’ll help me with the laundry, sometimes I’ll help out with the cooking on a night she’s responsible for doing it. We don’t have a 50/50 split but in the end when you add up paid and unpaid work we do we end up doing about the same most of the time.

  38. We’ve got a similar system going to Chris and his wife. All jobs are someone’s responsibility, so there’s no confusion. Laundry, dusting, cat litter, rubbish are his, floors, bathroom and toilet are mine. Cooking and washing up we alternate, whoever is cooking doesn’t wash and vice-versa. I make the shopping list because I tend to remember what we need, so he brings the shopping in and puts it away.
    Its worked well for the last year and a half, and it means that no-one ends up doing the “invisible” jobs by themselves or without there being an equal distribution. We have a chat periodically about the state of play, and if there are new jobs (Invisible ones like cleaning the oven or the fridge) They get added to the list.
    Then again, I’ve got one of the lucky ones who believes in actual equality, not just paying lip service to it and feeling self-righteous (Which my last partner did). No training or re-training required. None of it’s my doing, so I can only feel awe for those fighting the good fight.

  39. Do women expect to help pay the bills or pay half of them? Do they buy just as expensive gifts for their sig. others? how about during courtship?
    … 90% of women marry up. Stop marrying up then expecting your husband to do half of the housework when he wasnt raised like that…!
    Most men wouldnt take pat. leave if they were offered it cause they know how its going to hurt their careers. They have more stressful jobs ON PURPOSE because they pay more.

  40. Oh you guys! A troll for my birthday, you shouldn’t have. But thank you.

  41. LJ: do I pay half the bills? Yes. More than. Do I buy as expensive gifts? Yes. More than. During courtship. YES, we have been in ‘courtship’ (??) for over three years and I pay for half of all expenses, and yet I feed him several times a week, I cook lavish dishes and I buy extraordinarily expensive gifts because it brings me joy to give. So I pay more than half despite the pay discrepancies between men and women in general and he and I in particular – ie he earns more than double what I do. So stick that in your presumptuous pipe and smoke it.
    I hate to burst your bubble, but if 90% of women ‘marry up’…and they can’t yet marry women…and they’re more than half the population…well I guess that means MORE than 90% of men ‘marry up’!
    Maybe men should stop ‘marrying up’ until they’re prepared to treat their partners as partners rather than personal assistants/child care workers and cleaners? Until they’re prepared to see the home and family that they ‘marry up to’ as just as important as their career? Until they’re prepared to take the career hits in equal proportions to their wives? (And let’s not kid ourselves – it’s often the case that it is not feasible for the guy to stay home and the woman to go to work because there is still a massive issue with gendered pay: women’s work pays less and women are paid less in the SAME jobs, so perhaps men could also get off their arses and fight for changes to that as women have been doing?)
    Maybe you should quote actual statistics instead of ‘LJs magical home brew’ of statistics.

  42. And Happy Birthday Mindy! 🙂

  43. What fuckPoliteness said. The same goes for my relationship. And Trolly Dude, as long as women don’t earn as much, it’s pretty much inevitable they’ll “marry up” (I assume you mean money).
    Happy Birthday Mindy!! *Raises glass*

  44. Happy birthday, Mindy!
    (Raises a glass… oh no, wait, I don’t… but in spirit, I do.)

  45. Thank you all. A lovely birthday was had. Only two more days Deborah and Tigtog! Two more days. I am more in awe of you than ever.

  46. My birthday being in July pretty much ruins my chances of participating in Dry July…

    • I’ m super-impressed with mr tog’s discipline there – his birthday was last Friday, and although I could have bought him a Golden Ticket for “leave” for the day (helps raise extra funds even) he decided he’d rather keep on going with the tee-totalling. So it is possible, either with or without the Golden Ticket.
      Having said that, I entirely understand why you’d rather just not add the extra layer of complexity to birthday celebrations.

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