Housework has been constantly on my mind lately. Not my own dull, endless list of chores. I hate that with a passion and am described by my husband as “an angry cleaner.”
As you will have heard achingly often, Australian women do nearly double the amount of housework blokes do. According to UN Women’s Progress report, we’re talking 36 hours a week (women) compared to 20 hours a week (men).
This can’t be explained by who is doing more paid work. Even if a woman is the main breadwinner, she still does more housework.
No matter which way you look at it, the domestic burden on women is unfair. But to me, this isn’t just about feeling pissed off or resentful at home and not wanting to shag your husband because he’s lazy.
This is about time. Or more precisely, US journalist Brigid Schulte’s idea that: “Time is a feminist issue.”
From this notion sprouts an unshakable question: What does it cost women when the domestic work isn’t shared equally?
Watch: Melinda Gates talk about time poverty. Post continues after video.
Just imagine a woman who is attempting to do a fulltime job. She’s working 36 hours at home and 37 hours at work each week. That’s a total of 73 hours. She’s bone tired.
What does it cost in her mental and physical health? Her relationships with her children, partner, family and friends? And what about her overall happiness?
And then there’s the economic hit.
Quite a few mothers have said to me: “Oh I couldn’t take on a promotion (or extra days at work) because I couldn’t cope at home.”
If this is the case – and a woman needs to work part-time – what does it cost her long-term career progression, economic stability and superannuation savings?
(There’s no judgment about choosing to work part-time – I’ve done this myself. I’m simply making a point about how an unequal domestic burden has a domino effect on every part of a woman’s life.)
Recently, I was speaking and facilitating a panel at the YWCA’s "She Leads” conference about equality and the transformation of work. I brought up the issue of housework and who does it.
For a split second the accomplished and talented women on the panel with me were taken aback. Fair enough. Domestics are usually left right out of public discussions about equality in the workplace.
Women believe – and with good reason – that conversing about their childcare duties or domestic burden in the workplace is akin to shooting themselves in the foot. As mothers, we’re already discriminated against at work as it is.
Discussing it at home isn’t always that easy either.
As one friend said to me: “I either do the majority of domestic work myself or nag my husband to do his share and then fight with him about it. They are both shitty ‘choices’.”
A few years back, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg dished out this advice to ambitious women: “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”
Of course if you are already married or partnered up, it’s not that helpful. Nor is it that helpful if you’re a single mum or outside the paradigm of being white and heterosexual.
(To be fair, since Sandberg’s husband tragically died last year she’s openly admitted how hard it is to be a single parent.)
Sandberg’s comment about choosing a mate was an interesting enough insight and led me to read her famed book, Lean In. This was not a revelation of any kind and essentially amounted to a mantra along the lines of: Act like a man at work except perhaps try and make it home for dinner.
Remember the 73-hour working week – which is actually a conservative estimate? Well, “Leaning in” at our day jobs might just mean we fall over instead.
Annabel Crabb’s solution is not to clean up. I love Annabel’s work, wit and retro style. However this suggestion strikes me as madness. This is not a sly criticism about another woman’s hygiene standards. I couldn’t care less if a person wants to live in a pigsty. Personally, a filthy house ratchets up stress levels and impedes my ability to get things done. I don’t want to send my kid to school in unwashed clothes, spend half an hour looking for a library bag under piles of other crap, cry because I can’t find my car keys or have to fish a filthy cup out of a pile of dirty dishes only to wash and dry it by hand before having a cup of coffee.
I disagree that the “sensible and progressive attitude” is apathy – especially if it makes life harder.
So, here’s a few ideas to kick start the discussion about the elephant in the room:
1. Choose the right partner
This was Sheryl Sandberg’s tip, not mine. But if you’re up to this life stage, keep it in mind.
2. Or stay single
Whether your single by design or circumstance, uncoupled men and women appear to do less housework.
3. Have the discussion
As part of the Women in Media mentoring program, I have a mentee. At our last meeting she mentioned that she’d like to have children one day but was worried about the impact on her career. “You should be,” I replied, “there are 40 plus hours a week of domestic work associated with having kids.” My suggestion was that she sit down with her partner and ask the question: If we have kids, who is going to do this work?
4. Divvy up the tasks
Not so long ago, my husband and I decided to divvy up every single daily chore and put one of our names next to it on a schedule. The spread of domestic work now feels fairer because it’s there in black and white. Nowadays we rarely argue over domestics.
5. Think about buying back or swapping some time
If you can afford it, start thinking about what you can outsource or even swap. Can you pay someone to garden, clean or do online shopping? Can you give a trusted neighbour home grown veggies for some babysitting? A tight community network can certainly help with the juggling act.
Tell me, what are your solutions for lessening the domestic burden on women?