The Household Chores Debate: Don’t Keep Score

Having kids will automatically lower your cleanliness standards.

Having kids will automatically lower your cleanliness standards.

In his op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Case for Filth, Stephen Marche suggests the solution to the division of household chores is to simply do less and be happier.  Jessica Grose responded with the argument that men shouldn’t get to “punk out” when it comes to housework.

Oh, the housework debate.  For me, this is filed alongside the breastfeeding debate in the “Who Gives a Shit?” folder.

What do I mean by that?  It’s simple.  Whenever these studies come out about what our neighbours are doing, whether it’s how much sex they are having or how the chores are divided, we start to question our normal.  Is it normal that I do the majority of the day-to-day housekeeping and my husband does more of the “labor” jobs around the house?  Does that make me: subservient, a fool or a doormat? Is he boorish, a stereotype or a misogynist?

Questioning what’s normal is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s often the impetus for change – and in this case Grose wants us to challenge what’s normal and put a broom in the hands of more men – but a quick informal survey of my friends reveals that “normal” varies from household to household.  Anything goes from dads doing laundry to moms cleaning out the eaves troughs.  Even the idea of cleanliness differs from household to household and so long as everyone’s on board, who cares what other people think?

Marches writes about the intimate drudgery that is housekeeping and marriage.  So true.  On my worst days, I will always make the bed.  Everything is right with the world when I can pull back the covers and get inside.  My husband has made the bed about the same number of times he has ironed a shirt – less than 10.  But don’t ask me to change the furnace filter.

Marche recalls that steamy scene in Mad Men when Meghan and Don pull off to the side of the road to have sex after leaving a dinner party gone awry where Don stripped off his shirt to fix a leaky sink.

I am reminded of the time we visited friends at their rental cottage.  While toasting another picture-perfect summer evening and waiting for dinner to be served, it was discovered that there was no longer running water indoors.  A small group of us stood around puzzled, not sure how to solve this problem, but my husband disappeared only to return wearing his bathing suit and with some tools he’d rummaged up.  Within minutes he was submerged in the lake affixing some thing-a-ma-jiggy pipe to some sort of doohickey.

While there was no Meghan Draper moment on the way home, I admit to feeling turned on and not because it was all macho-like, “Me man.  Me fix water pipe.  You woman.  You do the dishes.”

It was more a feeling of gratitude, or phew! someone on my team can fix water pipes!

The same way that I hope he feels about being married to someone who gets her thrills from organizing the mudroom.

Housekeeping can be a metaphor for marriage.  It’s messy, hard work, and everyone has their own way of doing it.

I beg to differ with both Marche and Grose.  It’s not about doing less or doing more, it’s about not keeping score.

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You could WIN!

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.  Leave a comment on one or more posts this week and you could WIN a home detox kit from Seventh Generation valued at $50!  (Canadian residents only)

At Issue: Housework

clothes-line-615962_640A while back, Stephen Marche wrote an op-ed piece about housework for the New York Times.  He notes that while men have picked up a larger share of childcare (cool dads!) and of cooking (manly, manly bbq!), they still are not pulling their weight with housework.

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it. …  The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.

Lower the standards, he says, and the problem can go away.  Marche  is at work on a book about the end of the gender wars, and this, we are given to understand, constitutes part of that body of work.  It’s a great read, but so is the angry response from Jessica Gross.

She is quick to point out that lowering standards to let slacker men off the hook is no solution at all:

once you have kids, you can’t let them live in filth. Toddlers will eat dust bunnies, and parents will trip on the miles of plastic crap lying around. We’re not talking Martha Stewart perfection; we’re talking a baseline of cleanliness.

What’s more, she says, she has written a lot about the debate with which he engages, and he fails to credit her ideas:

In a way, this is just a classic example of chauvinism: belittling and ignoring female contributions, whether they are intellectual or domestic.

Will this quarrel over housework ever go away?

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.

Our guest this week will be Kelly Quinn, who has written for us before, and whose idea this was in the first place.  Thanks, Kelly!