It’s a narrative that resonates with women across generations—in heterosexual relationships, women typically share a large portion of the household work. Taking care of a home takes teamwork and communication, especially when both people have full-time jobs. So, why is it still so unbalanced?
A French woman named Emma recently turned this complex and common issue into a comic titled Where Does It Go, and it hit on a number of issues in male/female relationship dynamics at home and represented them in an interesting way.
She starts by demonstrating that women are often painted by their partners (and culture) as doing too much and having too high of standards. For example, that laundry can wait until tomorrow, or organizing that closet isn’t really needed.
Yet Emma explains that women tend to be more proactive with household duties and take care of things before a problem arises. On the flip side, men are typically more reactive and take care of things when there is a problem at hand.
These proactive tendencies in women might be due to the fact that they’re the ones who typically have to deal with the consequences. What’s more, taking care of things before the situation gets out of hand means that things tend to run smoothly—and men often don’t notice or appreciate this. What a conundrum!
In one of the panels, Emma highlighted American researcher and writer Francine Deutsch who says that men often feel entitled to their wives’ domestic services. When women are taking on the majority of the housework, men do not fight to take on an equal share.
The numbers show that in some instances, Deutsch is definitely on to something with her research. According to the French Institute of Statistics, in 2010 women spent 1.26 hours more than men on domestic chores per day.
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But given we’re a long way from the 1950s, it’s no longer acceptable for men to be direct about women handling household duties. So, they find indirect ways to resist domestic chores. Emma illustrated this in her comic with some relatable situations.
1. Passive Resistance
On Monday, the man will agree to do the laundry. But by Friday, the clothes are still dirty and no one has any clean socks left. So, the woman ends up doing the laundry herself.
“Oh, you didn’t have to do it! I was just about to!” the man tells the woman.
2. Bad Mood
Another indirect strategy is to be in a bad mood. If the guy grumbles enough while vacuuming and accidentally “hits” the couch too many times, maybe the woman will help him out and let him off the hook.
3. Overdoing It
Another indirect strategy is to overdo it when performing a task, and Emma’s example was about helping in the kitchen.
“You haven’t sliced the onion yet??” the woman asks. “The pan is hot and I’ve chopped up the rest of the ingredients.” In response, the man says, “No, I watched a video online where they say the slices should be 5 mm thick,” as he very carefully and methodically slices the vegetable.
If your male partner shows you that he doesn’t know how to properly fold the laundry, you’ll just do it yourself to ensure it’s done right. Right?
5. The Zero Independence Approach
Instead of overdoing it or acting like he’s incapable of doing the task at all, another strategy to avoid household chores is the zero independence approach.
This can manifest in different ways, such as asking you to help him with a simple chore (“it’s easier to make the bed with you”), not understanding how the house is organized (like constantly asking where things go), or asking you to check his work (“is this pasta al dente?”).
What’s To Be Done?
Why are some men so allergic to domestic tasks? As the comic points out, these strategies aren’t always carried out consciously.
Oftentimes, this is the result of upbringing and experience—how their parents were, how they were raised, and things getting done without them having to do it. Because of this, some men need to be trained on how to do their fair share at home.
However, this does take time to learn and there can be obstacles. The most obvious is that this type of training from women can be seen as nagging. There is no magical solution, but Emma offers possible paths to explore.
If He Says He’s Willing To Help
- Start by making a list of all the household duties. Include more than just things that need to be cleaned, but any other household duties such as paying bills, scheduling your child’s doctor appointment, or picking up your dog’s prescription food.
- Divide the tasks, keeping in mind both the physical and mental load each duty requires, and according to personal preferences as much as possible.
- Commit to doing your tasks, properly, and in a reasonable timeframe.
- Don’t fill in when he forgets or deflects, this will only reinforce his behavior.
- Give it time. Like any habit, owning and mastering tasks take time.
If He ‘Doesn’t See The Problem’
Emma makes a few suggestions for those who don’t seem to mind living in filth, those who take their partner’s work for granted, or those who only help out when asked. Some potential solutions she suggests, such as paying yourself for your work or kicking him out, seem like drastic moves for more serious situations.
As she said, there is no magical solution, but the first step should be a conversation. And likely, multiple conversations on the matter. Don’t wait until you’re already overworked and flustered, as he is likely to go on the defense. Instead, write out your thoughts and plan a time when you’re both relaxed to discuss. Try showing him Emma’s cartoon, or look into couples counseling. Breaking years of ingrained behavior takes time and hard work.
Ultimately, Emma realizes these suggestions won’t fix what is a universal problem across the globe. And while individual on many levels, societal and cultural norms are largely at play and hopefully can be changed with future generations.
If you enjoyed Emma’s comic, then be sure to check out her book The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic, in which she brilliantly illustrates this issue in depth.