It’s a common stereotype that men are lazy loafers around the house, refusing to do their fair share of domestic drudgery.
But here’s the hard truth, fellas: a lot of us are largely to blame for perpetuating it. Women have every right to be upset with us. New numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that they are still doing the majority of housework across America.
The BLS numbers show household tasks are still clearly assigned according to preconceived gender roles. Women spend about 8.5 hours on chores per week; Men contribute a paltry 5.4 hours. Women spend almost six hours a week on housework specifically, over three times the amount devoted by men. Men do more maintenance and lawn work than women, but barely. The problem is stubborn and persistent.
One major reason is that many women remain housewives. But the gender gap in chores stubbornly persists even now that stay-at-home-wives are in the minority. In 2010, households where only the husband works comprised just 19% of all married-couple families, and women contribute nearly 38% of income – up from 11% in 1970. While it’s tempting to brand the institution of the housewive as intrinsically sexist, the reality is much more complicated. Absolute equity in all things is not the way most marriages function, and that’s okay so long as both parties are happy with their arrangement.
But there’s no way to explain the numbers in full other than outright sexism, which has been closely linked to who ends up doing what in the household. Sexist views on women remain common; a 2012 poll by the Diane D. Blair Center found that 24.3% of U.S. men hold “extremely negative” viewpoints on women in the workforce. Women still do the vast majority of stereotypically feminine (and labor-intensive) housework like cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
I’m a big fan of the argument advanced by The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti, who suggested that many men feel entitled to relaxing without worrying about the burden of housework and have become exceptionally adept at dodging it:
Thinking about doing chores may not seem like a lot of work – but consider what an incredible privilege it is to have your mind free of multitasking. Men who don’t have to think about which chores have to be done and who is going to do them have the luxury of headspace to think more about work, hobbies or any damn thing they want … (Speaking of kids, the latest numbers don’t even take child care into account, a huge – albeit cute – time suck for women.)
The more we all let men get away with saying that they just “don’t care” about filth or that women are somehow naturally better at picking up around the house, the longer the chore disparity will last.
And let’s face it, it’s more or less an open secret that men are pretty dang good at evading doing their fair share of the housework.
There’s strategic incompetence,described as feigning incompetence until “your failure to perform the activity stops counting against you.” Most household chores are not particularly difficult. If you can’t wash and fold laundry, do the dishes or cook a basic meal without screwing up, but expect the women around you to do those functions, you’re almost certainly a moocher.
Methodist University’s Carl Dyke explains:
It seems that men who have done their own laundry just fine as bachelors will become helpless and, if necessary, error-prone (the red sock in the whites load) once they’re married; women who figured out just fine how to change tires, get things from high shelves, and take out the garbage when they were single become damsels in distress when a man is about.
Men might think this is a sneaky way of getting out of things, but an informal poll of my female friends revealed that every single one of them was familiar with this strategy.
Another way men dodge work is by doing it to a lower standard. Whether it’s thatmen have lower hygienic standards than women or are willing to do a half-assed job in exchange for getting off the hook, the answer is the same: “Fuck it, it’s good enough.” In the UK, a Salsbury’s poll of 2,000 women found that they spent three hours a week re-doing chores done poorly by men. Women in the poll tended to be critical of men’s performance – but perhaps that’s precisely because they know if they don’t supervise, it won’t get done properly. The results are backed by a study from Cornell’s Sharon Sassler and UI’s Amanda J. Miller that concluded women tend to supervise men performing housework. This is a terrible dynamic that breeds frustration, and it’s mostly men’s fault.
Amanda Marcotte does a great job of explaining why doing things half-assed is terribly unfair at Raw Story – the inevitable result is that women end up picking up the slack when jobs get half done, because they need to be completed despite men not giving enough of a shit to do it right. The counter-point from Jonathan Chait is that women should just lower their own standards too. But research has suggested women are already lowering their standards in response to male inertia, meaning they’re already putting up with more dirty dishes and crud-covered floors to compensate for their partners’ laziness while still doing more of the work overall.
Try pretending you did more than you really did. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated men over-estimate their contributions on basically everything. Polling firm ComRes found earlier this year that men tend to significantly overestimate the amount of housework they perform. If the house is clean and they cleaned some shit, then what’s the problem, right?
Then there’s the tried-and-true method of just flat-out being lazy. Sassler and Miller found that men do less of the chores even when a female partner holds a full-time job and they don’t. “When men aren’t working, they don’t see domestic labor as a means of contributing. In fact, they double down and do less of it, since it challenges their masculinity,” Sassler told ScienceDirect. The men retained head-of-household responsibilities even where the contribution gap was large. Basically, many men feel entitled to a dominant role in relationships.
Most of the women polled said they had originally expected more equal partnerships.
Here’s why you should care: One, this should bother you on a moral level.The 2013 American Time Use Survey concluded that men have significantly more free time to spend on things like leisure, exercise and recreation. Male inertia on household chores is literally stealing the free time of countless women, and if you’re at all interested in equal partnerships this should bother you immensely.
But since the status quo benefits men so much, simply appealing to ethics probably won’t convince you to change your slothful habits. So here’s something that might: women are on to you. You are not as clever as you think. Disputes over chores are one of the biggest factors negatively impacting marriages; when women perceive that they’re doing more chores because of their gender, they are “more likely to experience restlessness, nervousness, anxiety and other symptoms of psychological distress.” A Just Eat poll found that two-thirds of UK couples fight about chores, while another discovered 70% of men blame persistent nagging as playing a role in their divorce.
By failing to do their fair share of household chores, men are sabotaging their relationships. Chore equity is one of the most important markers by which women judge their marital satisfaction. Married couples who split chores equally are much happier and – pay attention, dudes – have more sex. The Atlantichighlights extensive research linking chore equity with happier pairings. Men shouldn’t require a justification to pitch in more, but there it is.
Basically, an awful lot of men need to take a hard look at how they’re letting implicitly sexist patterns of behavior seep into their relationships with women. [I’ll fully cop to this – I’m sure there are certain women reading this article shaking their head at me.] The next time you feel tempted to dismiss your partner’s concerns about housework as irrational or unjustified nagging, take a couple seconds and ponder whether they in fact have a point. You’ll probably be a better S.O., and maybe even head off a lot of relationship problems.
If Sweden can do it, you can.