When I first saw this cover and the title for Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s “Chore Wars” in Time magazine, I was intrigued. This debate has been going on for quite some time, with the general consensus being, at least to my understanding, “of course women are doing more work than men.” So I was very surprised when I reviewed the article and found out that, according to the statistics they reviewed, men and women work about the same.
But I was even more surprised that the article seemed to stop where it did. Of course, while all studies have potential flaws, and often seem skewed to support a certain predetermined outcome, I thought this article oversimplified what is actually a very complicated issue, glossing over the fact that equal quantity of work, even if that is taking place, does not take an equal toll on the participating parties. I fear that the article could be misinterpreted to undo good that has been done and, ironically, give men a sense of entitlement to embrace as justified the very attitudes the article claims to debunk.
In the article, the author, a working mother, talked about what has been referred to as the “second shift” – both parents work, but the woman comes home early (while the husband continues working), so that she can make dinner, get the kids ready for bed, do laundry, etc. The women, not surprisingly, feel overwhelmed.
The article cites to research done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics and finds that if you calculate the pure number of hours worked by both men and women, including commercial (i.e. career, professional, outside the home) and domestic (i.e. childcare, household) work hours, counting both the same, men and women, on average, “work” pretty close to the same number of hours.
So why do the women feel like they are so much more overwhelmed than the men? Why does it seem like women do so much more around the house than the men do?
The author presents a couple of theories: (1) women generally take on the kind of managerial role in the family that consumes energy even when they are not actively working, and (2) men are better at relaxing.
Can this be true? It’s true in my house. My wife does the budget, pays the bills, plans meals, does the grocery shopping, picks out clothes for the kids, organizes, and about a billion other things that I never even think about. For me, when I’m around, I help with the kids: dress them, bathe them, feed them, entertain them. But when they go down for the night, for me, that’s it. I don’t think about them again until morning. But my wife is never off duty. She is constantly thinking about the family’s needs and wants, what supplies are running low, what chores need to be done, errands run, what’s for dinner tomorrow night, and the night after that. So it is a full-time job, and it never seems to stop.
Which goes to the next rationale presented by the article: men are better at relaxing. I think this is true too. Very true. When I go to the gym, read a book, watch TV, go for a run, go play basketball, go to a movie, go to the bookstore, go out with my guy friends, or take a trip, I am GONE. I don’t worry about whether my oldest son’s homework is done, whether last year’s winter coats will fit the twins next year, whether we have any spaghetti noodles for dinner next Friday. I am completely able to turn the domestic part of my brain (whatever little part that is) off, and focus on what I am doing.
My wife does not seem to be able to do this at all, and sometimes I find it frustrating. Sometimes I will come home, knowing that she has had a hard day, and say “honey, why don’t you just let me take care of the kids tonight, and you go to the movies/go work out/go out to dinner?” She will never do it. Why? I think part of it is that she knows that even if she goes, she will be so worried about all the things that need to get done that aren’t getting done that she won’t even be able to enjoy her “time off.” And part of it is that she is more money-conscious than I am, and knows that we haven’t budgeted for such “frivolous fun.” And part of it, I flatter myself, is just that she has missed me and doesn’t want to spend time away. And she is probably at least a little bit worried too that I will lose one of the kids or start something on fire. Why can’t she just let go, though? Why can’t women let go of some of their managerial role? Why can’t they just relax?
Part of the answer is, I think, if someone doesn’t step up and actively take charge of the domestic situation, no one will. I have told my wife that if she doesn’t want to do the budget and bills any more, then she should just stop doing it. I told her I would do it. This is never going to happen. Even if I did “take over,” she would be so worried about me messing something up or missing something (a distinct possibility, I will concede), she would be more stressed out than if she just kept doing it herself. And I think the truth in a lot of homes is, if the woman wasn’t constantly on, constantly thinking about the needs of the home and family, the whole thing would fall apart.
So it’s easy to say “just relax.” And easy to think “come on, why don’t you just let some of that stuff go?” But it’s easier said than done.
Why do you think women feel more overwhelmed than men?
A couple other thoughts. Even if the number of hours worked is the same, there is work and then there is work. I have heard men say of their stay-at-home wives “I mean, come on, how much TV do I get to watch at work? How many naps do I get to take? How much free internet searching time do I get?” Any man who thinks staying at home with young children is easy clearly (a) has never done it, and (b) is a complete idiot. Even if there are brief glimpses of would-be downtime, the kids could wake up from their nap, explode their diaper, or freak out for no apparent reason at any given time. Waiting for those time bombs to go off is no kind of relaxing.
And kids are noisy and needy. Constantly. It kind of starts to drive you insane after a little while.
And let’s face it, we have downtime at work too. How do you think I wrote this article? (just kidding) (or am I?)
I think there are exceptions to every rule. I am sure that some men are bums and don’t help out at all, goofing around all day at a joke job, and then coming home and putting their feet up in front of the TV like “where’s my dinner, woman?” And I am sure some women let their kids be raised by Cartoon Network while they sleep in, don’t shower, and watch soap operas until three in the afternoon and then microwave a frozen pizza for dinner. But I think the truth in the vast majority of situations is, men and women are both working hard, both overwhelmed sometimes, and that’s life. To the extent this article means men are stepping it up and making things more equal, I think that’s a good thing. But for any men who are thinking of using this article as a tool for justifying less work around the house, yeah, good luck with that!
(I thought this was another good article on the topic).