Division of Labor

I really hate to say this. It truly pains me to say this. But the truth is I think women have lost some ground. Here me out: Once upon a time many women (not all, but many if not most) stayed at home and had the responsibility of caring for their home and their kids. Men knew what their primary jobs were: Earn a living, handle outdoor maintenance and fix stuff. But then, more and more women started working outside of the home. In a big way this was progress. If a woman wanted a career outside the home, she could have it. Her future was no longer pre-determined by some long-held gender norms. And now we live in a time when women can be business owners, lawyers, engineers and, yes, maybe even president.

So why doesn’t it always feel like a victory?

Maybe that’s because women still feel the brunt of responsibilities at home. While there has been progress in championing women’s right to have career aspirations (a great thing indeed!), there hasn’t been much traction in lessening their responsibilities at home with cooking, cleaning and child rearing.

In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics started doing its Time Use Survey, which is pretty much what it sounds like – a survey of how people use their time. In its inaugural study, 63 percent of men and 84 percent of women reported doing some housework. Eleven years later, the numbers were barely changed: 65 percent for men and 83 percent for women. And study after study shows the same. Men may think they’re doing a lot more in the home, but it’s not that much more.

And so that brings me back to how women have lost ground. Because now many women (especially single moms) have to fulfill responsibilities at home and hold down jobs and careers. No wonder so many of the women I know are chronically tired and overwhelmed!

So what’s going to change this? So far, based on the myriad statistics and surveys, nothing really has in a profound way. But this month’s cover story posits an answer. Perhaps we have to go back to the beginning – when boys and girls are growing up – and make sure that we raise them both to have way different expectations. We need to raise boys who realize that everyone should help with housework – equally. And those classic boy chores? The landscaping and snow shoveling? It’s just a fraction of what needs to be done every day. So add some dusting, vacuuming, toilet cleaning and other inside chores to their duties. Our girls need to be raised early on that doing 90 percent or even 70 percent of household chores isn’t fair to them, and it’s unacceptable. And kids need to see examples. Otherwise, we’ll just continue on this path – one in which most women not only have to have a role in bringing home the bacon, but also fry it, clean the pan and put it in its proper place in the cupboard.


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