‘The woman’s to-do list is relentless’: how to achieve an equal split of household chores | Work & careers

WWhen Kate Mangino began studying men she calls “equal partners” — those who do an equal share of household chores — she hoped to unearth some sort of shared truth. She was looking for something that would explain why they were relatively uncommon, maybe even something that would help a future mate spot one in the wild. “It was a disappointment, to be honest,” she says, laughing.

Then she realized it was good news — these were men who didn’t grow up with equal fathers (just two of the 40 men she interviewed). If they’d willingly taken on half the burden of the home without seeing it as normal growing up, then other men could, too. “No matter where you’re from, you can say, ‘I want to make this change,'” says Mangino, a gender expert who wrote a book called Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home. “It might take some work and practice, but it’s not impossible.”

In opposite-sex relationships, women do around 65% of the physical household work. For example, routine jobs like cooking and cleaning are more likely to be done by women, while occasional jobs like finances or mowing the lawn are more likely to be done by men. “That means the unpaid woman’s to-do list is relentless,” writes Mangino. After all, it doesn’t matter if the lawn is not mowed, but try to ignore the washing for a month. Add in the burden of cognitive work — remembering birthdays, organizing playdates — that falls disproportionately to women in heterosexual relationships, and it’s exhausting.

In same-sex relationships, household chores are more equal, “but can still fall back into those roles,” says Mangino (she speaks of male and female roles that emerge from traditional gender divisions, rather than men and women).

Watch Kate Mangino discuss her book with the Los Angeles Public Library and the University of Southern California’s Center for the Changing Family.

For her book, Mangino interviewed 40 equal partners to find out what their home life was like and how they came to be. She says it’s “extremely important to set expectations early in a relationship…it’s a lot easier to establish patterns from the start than it is to change a relationship after 10 or 20 years. I think it’s crucial to really set expectations and hold each other accountable from the start.”

But if you didn’t have those conversations early, your budgetary burden is unbalanced, and you want to change that, what do you do? Mangino says change is possible, but “you need the interest of both partners. It becomes difficult when one partner wants change and the other is satisfied with the status quo – in this situation many people are in the role of women. It’s discouraging and resentment builds.”

She suggests talking broadly about cultural norms and why you’ve fallen into gender patterns, rather than criticizing a partner, which could put them on the defensive. “Talk about it, ‘We both grew up in this gendered culture, and if we’re going to change something, we have to think about why we’re doing things a certain way,'” she says. Another good trigger is to use a change — a new baby or pet, a move, caring for another family member — to reassess roles at home. It can help, Mangino says, to assign roles or domains based on personal preference, but question whether you’re dividing them along traditional gender lines.

It will likely involve realistic expectations and compromises, especially if you have different standards. “One of my husband’s triggers is when the kitchen is a mess, [whereas] I’m very happy to close the door and get on with it tomorrow,” says Mangino, who will endeavor to tidy up the kitchen when she can. “It’s just those little thoughtful acts that say, ‘I know you well and I care enough about you to do this for you.’ I don’t mind the dirty kitchen, but I hate it when my bed is unmade. So we all have our own different standards and I think it’s really important to understand and respect your partner’s standards.”

Of course, the focus is on communication – and it’s an ongoing conversation, especially when life is changing. When a couple has children, this can consolidate household chores for the person – usually the mother – on parental leave. “She gets used to doing everything around the house and everything that has to do with children, then she goes back to work and adds the job.” Equal partnership, says Mangino, does not mean “every day chasing after with a clipboard. They search over the course of months or years. Is it 50/50 on average? Because we all know it’s going to be up and down daily and weekly.”

With men doing more at home today than in previous generations — “We see men carrying the baby carrier and going to the grocery store,” Mangino says — it’s tempting to assume, “to assume, we’ve achieved equality, we’re all done.” I think these are fantastic changes, but we haven’t really gotten into cognitive household chores yet. There is a lot of unseen work done by the female role that the rest of the household enjoys.”

A man is vacuuming while a woman is reclining on the sofa with a laptop
The division of labor will ebb and flow daily – so do an audit. Photo: Heather Binns/Getty Images/Image Source

Mangino recommends an audit: “Just list everything you do or feel responsible for. Have your partner do the same. I also recommend talking about time: Do you both have enough time for your professional activities? If you have children, enough care time with them? Enough free time? When you look at your invisible burden and how much time you spend on each thing, it can become clearer if you have equity or if you need to reacquire some tasks.

The benefits are numerous, she says, especially for the partner, who will end up doing less tedious housework. For that person, usually a woman, a reduced household burden can mean a profit boost, Mangino says, because “extra capacity, energy, interest, throwing your hat in the ring for promotion or taking on an executive role,” says Mangino Rolle . There are also emotional health benefits.” Less resentment, for starters. For those stuck in the masculine role, not being encouraged to care for their spouse or children means “not having an opportunity for those nurturing moments that build really close bonds.”

Mangino asked her 40 equal husbands what they had gained from a just family life. “They would say, ‘I have a wonderful relationship with my spouse; We have a pretty decent sex life. I have a great relationship with my children. I feel like I can be myself at home. I don’t have to portray masculinity — I don’t have to be the strong guy all the time.’”

You’re probably more tired, she says. “If both partners really do half the work at home, especially in households with children, you will both fall into bed at night exhausted, you will both feel like you are doing 55% of the work. I think this is normal. The upside is that while you’re still tired and stressed, you’re not bitter towards your partner. You are a team and you do it together.”

Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home (St Martin’s Press) is off now

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