Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Welcome to the Chore Wars

The Mommy Wars are so passe. This week, we're talking chores -- who does the housework in your household?

I hate to vacuum. I checked with my mom on this one, and, apparently, I’ve hated vacuuming since well before I could walk. Alas, some of the people who live in my home routinely put bits of whatever they find on the floors into their little mouths, so vacuuming is a necessary evil. I still try to avoid it as much as possible. Unfortunately, so does everyone else in my household, so it usually falls to me anyway.

Women may be shattering glass ceilings at work and in politics, but it seems like we’re pretty much where we’ve always been at home. A 2007 study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University and George Mason University found that, after marriage, women take on a larger proportion of household chores than their spouses do. In fact, overall, men averaged 9.41 hours’ housework per week to 21.13 hours of housework by women, and the higher the marriage rate in the 28 countries studied, the higher the proportion of housework carried out by women.

This, in spite of the fact that a 2007 Pew Research Center study on marriage and parenting found that “chore-sharing” was cited by 62 percent of respondents to be the biggest key to having a good marriage (up from 47 percent in 1990).

Part of the problem may have to do with the way we’re wired. Men see (or don’t see) dirt differently than women do, some people insist. So, while the mom is furious because the family room carpet is crunchy with crumbs, the dad just notes that he can technically still see the floor, and goes about his business as usual.

A bigger issue may be that, no matter how egalitarian our society is, it’s still assumed, by both men and women, that housework is women’s work. Go to a toy store and check out the toy vacuums and other cleaning paraphernalia stocked under “pretend play” — nary a boy will you find. For the most part, even if both parents are working full-time outside the home, a man doing housework is seen as “helping” his wife. (Hence the house cleaning guide for men, which assumes that guys don’t know their Ajax from their elbow grease.)

Also, guys don’t necessarily notice that they’re not doing their fair share — and women aren’t telling them. According to The Factbook by Po Bronson, American wives do 70 to 80 percent of the housekeeping, regardless of their work status, but 40.4 percent of US husbands say they think they do as much around the house as their wives. 

The idea of the men commandeering the cleaning supplies is such a tantalizing one that there are actual books promoting it as fantasy, like Porn for Women, a nudity-free offering by the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Collective featuring shots of hot hunks tidying up while saying things like “I love a clean house.” (They offer a calendar and postcards, too. Awesome.)

To be fair, I have to admit that I have never mowed our lawn in the nine years my husband and I have been together and, when I do yardwork, it’s definitely a case of me “helping” him. (Those quotes are there for a reason; I have had to be reminded that, when planting tulip bulbs, the pointy end goes up –  that’s how bad I am at gardening.)

So, who keeps your house clean while you’re working? You? Your spouse? The cleaning lady? All of the above?

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