On the division of labour

Earlier this evening, I watched Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk on why we have too few women leaders in all walks of life and what we need to do to combat this. It’s a great talk, and there are some very pertinent points made about the specific set of obstacles that we as women face – or create for ourselves – in rising to the top of whatever we choose to do.

But the sentence that remains turning itself around and around in my mind a couple of hours later is not to do with the workplace at all. It’s this one: ‘I’ve become convinced that we’ve made more progress in the workforce than we have in the home.’  This was followed up with the fact that studies show that where a couple have a child and also both have jobs, the woman does twice the housework and three times the childcare. BIG DEAL I thought – we all know this already, it’s just the way the mop flops if you have the misfortune to to be born a female.

HANG ON A MINUTE. Did you hear that? That was me just ACCEPTING a problem and NOT TRYING TO CHANGE IT. That does NOT happen in any other area of my life. I am usually totally incapable of letting something lie if I think it’s wrong. I totally delight in thinking up solutions to all sorts of problems – sometimes I find myself with such an awesome solution that I am gutted there is not a problem to match it. Seriously.

But it’s not just me who seems to be in acceptance mode about this, is it? It’s all of us. We all collude to preserve the status quo. Whilst the slightest whiff of inequality of any kind would not be tolerated in my workplace, that same workplace is populated with women who, like me, accept that though they may work the same or longer hours as their partners, it is, and it will always be, them who do the majority of the caring, shopping, cooking, cleaning and organising. And more than any other thing,  it’s the women that do thinking. By that, I mean the non-stop mental processing of the tickertape of mundane yet critical information that keeps most families functioning. (If you just read that sentence and don’t have a fecking clue what I’m on about, it’s because you’re a MAN).

I – and I suspect women in general – need to take some responsibility for creating this situation. I know that I am forever doing something because it is quicker to do it myself, or because that way it gets done how I like it, or very often because I want to avoid being a nag. And the flip side of that coin is probably that the Husband thinks that it’s not worth him interfering and he’s better off leaving well alone, and who can blame him – if I lived with a neurotic control freak like me I’d probably aim for the quiet life too.

But now, now that I am trying to re-enter into an an admittedly as-yet-undefined career, and also to grow into myself a bit as a person, I think this needs to change. I can’t apply myself properly to finding my feet again out there, unless I let go of some of the stuff indoors. I’m not sure how I am going to go about it, and even as I am writing this there is a little voice in my ear telling me to let sleeping dogs lie. After all, who needs ANOTHER argument discussion about housework? But then there’s another voice, and I think it’s a bit louder at the moment, telling me that I do need to try and address this, and probably sooner rather than later – after all, our kids are young, and we have another 25 years of working life ahead of us before we can retire and make our kids wait on us hand and foot.

So how to go about it? The project manager in me is saying to start with an audit – of everything that needs to be done and who does it, and then take things from there. But this feels very, I don’t know, clinical. Or maybe I should go for positive reinforcement – lots of praise for jobs well done. Which seems patronising in the extreme (and he’ll only think I’m after something if I start being too nice.) Or I suppose I could take a tip from the three year old and just throw a massive wall shaking tantrum. No? Well in that case I’m all out of ideas…

Has anyone tackled this successfully – and reached a lasting solution?




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8 thoughts on “On the division of labour

  1. I’ve succeeded big time on this one….. We both work full time, but my hubby pretty much does all the cooking and housework. My strategy was simple: I got pregnant. And whilst pregnant, I declared myself incapable of doing anything in the house….. 4 years later…. He’s still doing it all.

    So your solution is simple… Get knocked up. Although perhaps not that appealing to you.

  2. I’m lucky. Philip works shifts and is a bit of a cleaning diva so he mainly does all of that while the children are at school and I’m at work. He also orders the shopping. (generally not enough for a week of food but we do always get custard tarts!) I still do most of the childcare and cooking but it feels a bit more even than it could have been! However we still argue/discuss who does more than the other and how unfair it is!!

  3. I recently had a it of an epiphany on this one. I realised I was doing everything and getting annoyed about it but carrying on doing everything like a bit of a martyr ! I realised the my other half wasn’t going to fight me for the chores so I decided that he has to eat and I would just not cook dinner and see what happened and low and he behold he made dinner. Now I don’t stress about cooking dinner along with everything else and he quite often does it. I also realised that things I think need doing he doesn’t always agree so I can’t expect him to do things to my standards or just because I think they should be done. Compromise is the key I think.

  4. I like this comment above: “I also realised that things I think need doing he doesn’t always agree so I can’t expect him to do things to my standards or just because I think they should be done.”

    This topic has been popping up repeatedly for me over the past few weeks (I wonder why now? what’s the universe/my subconscious trying to tell me?) Anna Coote who’s head of social policy at nef (new economics foundation) spoke at a conference I was at a couple of weeks ago, and said that basically because women have taken on {work} + {caring/home} there is little time left for them to get involved with civic and political change, among other things. She said “Women’s discretionary time [i.e. time that’s your own] is an important measure of substantive freedom… and enables involvement in the public and political life of the nation.”

    She also made the point that the current social norms and structures foster that inequality in the home, and don’t exactly encourage men to take on an equal share of caring/home responsibilities. (But like you said… so, what are we gonna do about it?! Hehehe)

    Your writing made a “ping” lightbulb moment happen in my head. I’ve always thought that we’re pretty lucky in the West to have equal opportunities in work (however one might argue about pay, discrimination etc), and I’ve not been a staunch activist for women’s rights (not here in the UK anyway) because we’ve got it pretty good compared to other parts of the world. But again, that’s considering mainly work… ’I’ve become convinced that we’ve made more progress in the workforce than we have in the home.’ made me go all: 0_0

    So what to do? Well. I’d be starting with a bunch of “whys”. Why is the home / care / etc important to me. (Tidy space = space to think. But also I do his laundry as a gift because I love him.) Why is it *all* important :-p (-> which bits could I let go of?!) (I stopped ironing years ago. Life’s too short.) Conversations need to happen – what is important to him and why? How does it impact his life? How can he contribute to house and home by playing to his strengths> How can we both end up doing the stuff we like most? An audit, yes, but an emotional one, not just a tick-box one. Just a thought…

    Good luck – looking forward to hearing how it goes. Love xx

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful words! I will indeed let you now how I get on. For the moment I am trying to separate out what I think is important, to what really and truly IS important. It’s quite revealing about how anal I am!!

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