I saw a tweet recently that said, “He understands feminist theory, but he doesn’t do the dishes.”
I think that it is a fair critique of male feminism. I want to look into the theory surrounding division of household and emotional labor since that is something men can understand, and hopefully this time, it will motivate us to be more involved.
For the majority of heterosexual couples who live together, most of housework and emotional labor is still being done by the woman. One study in 2009 by Professor Joni Hersch of Vanderbilt used data from the American Time Use Survey and found that married women completed 97 minutes of housework on average per day. Unmarried women performed an average of 67 minutes per day, and men, regardless of their marital status, averaged around 29 minutes a day. This stays true even when both partners work full time outside of the home. Arlie Russell Hochschild and Anne Machung call the phenomenon of working women coming home from work and still being responsible for the upkeep of the house and family, “The Second Shift”.
Emotional labor was also coined by Arlie Russell Hochschild to mean the emotional regulation that is required of working professionals. For example, someone in customer service is required to regulate their emotions, smile, and act politely even when a customer is yelling at them. The term has been co-opted by others to reflect the deeper emotional demands of maintaining a family and household. This includes keeping cool even when there has been no appreciation or help offered from a spouse. It includes exerting the energy to keep track of when birthdays are coming up for family members even if they are part of their partner’s family. Housework is just plain labor and shouldn’t be confused with emotional labor under the broader definition, but the two often work in concert to drain women to the point of emotional exhaustion. Neither is compensated by anyone even though households, and entire societies would cease to function without them.
This reality says something about progressive men. If most men were asked today if they believe that men and women should have the same opportunities, my guess is that they would all respond affirmatively. I am less convinced that these same men would change the way they live their lives to reflect that belief. I know this because even though I have learned a lot about feminist theory, I am aware that at times I am completely oblivious to whether or not there are dishes that need to be done in the sink, or I don’t notice the buildup of dust on the shelves. Why do well-educated, observant men, not notice these simple things? We were simply not raised to.
One study found that on average daughters in a home do nearly twice the amount of housework as their brothers of similar ages, and it is clear that this is due to the way boys and girls are raised with different expectations. I don’t cite gender socialization as a way of absolving myself and other men of responsibility for our inaction, but it is important to understand the systems behind the issue.
What exactly is the issue? Some people might say, “Why does it matter who does more of the housework?” One answer is that it is clearly just unfair, but a more nuanced answer is that the amount and type of housework affects women’s ability to earn in the work place more than men. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that heterosexual, married women perform one and a half times the amount of housework as their husbands on average when measured in hours just like Professor Joni Hersch. This disparity affects the number of hours that women can reasonably work. The study was able to show that for women an increase of one hour of housework led to a .5% decrease in hourly wage.
Independent researchers who studied millions of data points from Uber discovered that female drivers earned approximately 7% less than male drivers. This finding was important because Uber’s algorithm paid drivers in a way that was “gender blind”, so any form of discrimination could be ruled out. They isolated three factors that contributed to the disparity, and all three directly reflect gender socialization of men and women. One of the most important of these was that women spent less time driving than did their male counterparts. If women are expected to do the lion’s share of household work and caregiving, they are naturally going to have less time for work outside the home and their wages will reflect that. Another factor they isolated was a higher turnover rate for women on the app that led to a general lack of experience by the majority of female drivers. When probed about the reason for termination, many women reported that they needed more time for children and family. The third reason was that women were on average driving slower than the men on the app. That also has to do with gender socialization, but it has little to do with household and emotional labor.
Division of household labor doesn’t just affect a woman’s ability to earn in the economy. It also affects overall relationship satisfaction. Another study published in the Journal of Family Issues found that women had the highest overall satisfaction when their partner participated equally in household duties, and the same study also found that men’s satisfaction did not change between doing little to no household duties and sharing household duties equally. At this point there are probably a few women reading this who have done at least one eyeroll as I cite these statistics, or maybe even let out a “Duh!” or two. Stick with me here.
Society has become comfortable with the idea of the lazy or emotionally absent father. He is played out in tv shows and movies, and he is comfortably talked about. Twitter recently had a hay-day over a woman sharing that she was grateful that her husband was willing to “babysit” the kids while she went on vacation with some friends. People were outraged that fathers caring for their own children was akin to having a stranger or friend babysit the kids. It says a lot about what is expected of men that this common phrase persists in this context. Another example comes in the way we commonly use the words “mother” and “father” as verbs. When someone says that someone “mothered” a child, they mean that they cared for or nurtured that child. When we say someone “fathered” a child we most likely mean that they introduced their sperm to fertilize an egg.
Feminist masculinity encourages men to take on not only simple household duties, but also a more emotionally present role in the home. Men should take the time, as most mothers do, to consider the emotional needs of others and put those needs ahead of their own from time to time. Some argue that men who are the sole bread winners already do this by working so hard at their job, but an Australian study found that even “women who contributed 70 percent or more of the weekly family income started doing more housework rather than less, putting in more time cleaning and cooking than women who contributed half of family finances.” Clearly it is possible to be the main provider and still contribute to the family in other ways.
It is time for men to step up and take their place in the home. This means brothers and sons taking on a more equal part of household responsibilities from sisters or moms. It means allowing men to be stay-at-home dads if they wish. It means men in heterosexual relationships proactively looking for ways to involve themselves in the care and maintenance of their home. It means doing the dishes.
Referenced works: (In no particular order or format)
Professor Joni Hersch as found in “Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions” Classic and Contemporary Readings 5thedition by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. Page 393
Australian study quote as found in “Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions” Classic and Contemporary Readings 5thedition by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. Page 393–394
Sisters work more than brothers found in “Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions” Classic and Contemporary Readings 5thedition by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. Page 394
Barstad, A. (2014). Equality is bliss? Relationship quality and the gender division of household labor. Journal of Family Issues, 35(7), 972–992. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1177/0192513X14522246
Noonan, M. C. (2001). The impact of domestic work on men’s and women’s wages. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(4), 1134–1145. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.01134.x
Originally published at feministmasculinity.com.