Gender and Housework (A Confession)

Among cohabiting straight couples, married and otherwise, women do more housework than men on average, regardless of employment.  There are a lot of studies backing this assertion up, although this article is particularly damning.  But I want to talk about the particulars for men, and specifically how it’s related to my own life.

I’m a slob.  I’m not good about keeping a clean house, and without significant conscious effort on my part, living alone, I will find myself surrounded by trash and dirty dishes.  It’s a really big personality flaw, and it’s one that I’ve dismissed as not being that big a deal at times in the past.  I’ve said that it doesn’t bother me personally, and I don’t really have people over so it’s not a big deal, and so on.  And I’ve really believed those things.

But when I sit down to think about it, I know I’m actually much happier in a clean home.  I can find everything, I don’t have to scrub dishes when I want to eat off something clean, I cook more because the pots and pans aren’t all disgusting, and I can actually have people over (since I would never invite someone to my filthy home).  And yet, when I’ve cohabited with a girlfriend (or now with my lovely wife), I haven’t picked up the slack.  I’ve given the same excuses, even when I know damn well they’re bullshit.

And I think that can be traced back to patriarchy.  I get whiny and petulant when I have to clean, because I don’t want to do it.  And in the back of my mind there’s this idea that if I don’t do it, it will still get done.  By, you know, someone else, or something.  When I live alone, it results in me living miserably.  When I live with someone, it’s frequently resulted in them living miserably.  And they’re both pretty silly problems to have, since I have the ability to pick things up and put them other places (sometimes turning a knob on the place I put them to clean them).  I just have to get over my sense of entitlement and do it.

I’ve gotten a lot better about this over time, although I’m still not where I want to be.  But at the end of the day, being aware that it’s a gender dynamic helps motivate me a lot.  If I know, flat-out, that I’m treating my wife poorly because of some bullshit about “but I don’t want to cook and clean,” it suddenly becomes a lot easier to get over it, stop whining, and do a little work.

It helps me, a little.  The house gets cleaner with both of us chipping in equally, so I get to live in a more pleasant environment.  But it helps my partner much more, since she’s not having to take on the vast majority of the work in addition to her full time job.  We both work just as hard to bring home the bacon, so we should both work just as hard cooking the bacon and putting away the bacon pan.  That metaphor fell apart quickly, but you know what I mean.  Do your part, guys.

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