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October 22, 2014 / C H Thompson

Women aren’t ‘better’ at housework

Women aren’t ‘better’ at housework – but men sure are better at avoiding it

If we’re too damn tired from doing so much work at home, how are we supposed to make progress on more urgent issues?

woman housework
The gender gap in housework isn’t about men being dirtier. Stone/Getty Creative Photograph: Stone/Getty Creative

Could it be that talking about who does the chores is, well, a chore?

Housework is boring, so it makes sense that arguing about it – or trying to battle the gender inequality around it – would also be pretty mind-numbing. After spending a day picking up socks, no one really wants to talk about who picked up the socks. And, in a political climate where reproductive rights are under constant attack and rape and domestic violence are still at epidemic levels, it can feel a bit trite to bring up the laundry.

But caring about equality across the board shouldn’t be a zero sum game, and women are not going to be able to make progress on more urgent and public and political issues if we’re too damn tired from doing so much work at home.

So it will not surprise any woman to learn that the latest numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women are still doing a lot more housework than men – over three times as much, in fact. (We do twice as much in the UK, apparently, and a whole lot more than that east of Europe.) If your eyes are already starting to glaze over, you’re not alone: every year, in every country, the same sort of statistics come out, and every year there are a few articles pointing out the disparity and every year, in every country, nothing changes.

And while men are doing some housework – in Germany men spend an average of 90 minutes a day on domestic work, in Turkey just a measely 21 – it’s not just mopping that needs doing. Statistics say that American women are spending about 6 hours a week on housework – but that’s really 8.5 if you count household management. So it’s not just physical labor – like vacuuming or scrubbing toilets – that’s running us down, it’s the day-to-day mental work. We’re not just shopping, we’re making the grocery lists. We’re not just cleaning, we’re figuring out what’s dirty.

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. Women, meanwhile, are trying to figure out if the kids need any more juice boxes that week. (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. Yes, sometimes just washing someone else’s dirty cup feels easier than making a stink about why it’s been sitting on a dresser for two days. But rolling our eyes or quietly seething only ensures another, dirtier cup around the corner.

As boring as housework can be – as a literal chore or as a political issue – we can’t continue to treat it as ancillary to the larger fight for women’s equality. What happens in our homes matters, as does women’s time and how they spend it. It’s core to feminism., Wednesday 22 October 2014 12.30 BST


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