Fighting with the Sky

Gendered Chores?

Posted on: March 11, 2010

The other day I posted this picture on my tumblr which I found on Post Secret this week with the question: do you think having your husband/partner/significant other(s) take out the garbage is unfeminist?

All of the answers that I got were of the “hell no” variety.

What I found interesting about this “secret” is that the sender felt it necessary to qualify the statement with “I’m definitely a feminist” as if having your husband take out the garbage would make this person not a feminist.

This got me thinking about why having your husband/partner/etc. take out the garbage might possibly be considered unfeminist.  Chores are traditionally, stereotypically thought to be the woman’s territory.  But stereotypically men take out the garbage and mow the lawn.  So this is maybe why this person thought that having her husband take out the garbage was unfeminist…

But I don’t think that it has to be unfeminist, and neither do the people who responded to my question.  I think that the important distinction is that it could be unfeminist if someone assumes that the husband will take out the garbage because he is the man and that the wife will do all the other chores around the house because she is a woman.  I think that it is important to discuss what is expected of each person in the relationship when it comes to household duties and why each person should be doing those duties.  The important thing is the communication about what is expected.

For example, if someone does the cooking, then maybe the other does the dishes.  This doesn’t have to be the case, but discussing what is expected of each partner for the household duties is, I think, an important part of a feminist relationship.  It shouldn’t just be assumed that one partner is going to do certain chores because that is what is expected of women and men.  And it also shouldn’t be expected that one person will do all the chores, household duties should be shared, even if it is on a rotating basis.  Taking care of the space that you live in together as a communicating team, I think, is important to building and maintaining a strong relationship.

*I should note that I have never been in a relationship where we have lived together, these observations are more from looking at my parents’ relationship and the experiences of friends and their families.

7 Responses to "Gendered Chores?"

I think you are spot on, particularly this quote: “Taking care of the space that you live in together as a communicating team, I think, is important to building and maintaining a strong relationship.”

My husband does take out the garbage, but that is because I’m usually the one cleaning the bathroom. He also takes care of the car while I take care of our taxes. While our responsibilities have fallen along gender lines (with the exception of my claiming the title of household CFO) it was a natural division of labor based on what we want to do (I’d rather clean the shower than take out the trash), happen to better than the other (I cook), or what continues to be affected by societal gender norms (we get way less screwed if he takes the car to the shop).

Now, not all of these are perfect, like having to deal with sexism at the mechanic, and I have thought about this breakdown a lot, but it has made for an equitable and most importantly, happy, household.

My thoughts are that as of now, today,in my neighbors, friends,and my life, the roles are still gender based in the old fashioned way.
Albeit slowly, we are seeing some change as in the ocasional husband that will cook a meal or wash dishes. But overall, in my culture here on the island, the woman is traditionally left with the brunt of the household chores except for maybe taking out the trash. The majority of women here feel this is the traditional and correct way and even if they have jobs they will still come home to serve their spouses and children in every way.
A tremendous amount of work which they/we (because I did it too) willigly accept. very unfair but unfortunately I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

My husband has been taking out the garbage lately because I’m pregnant and the smell of the trash right now slays me. (We’ve also been taking it out far more often for this reason.) When I’m not gestating, the trash gets taken out by whoever happens to notice it’s full.

Other chores in the house do fall on “gendered lines” though, but not for gendered reasons. I cook and grocery shop. I like to cook, and he hates it. My allergies are bothered by lawn mowing, so he does that. We both sweep and mop and vacuum, though.

As long as what needs to be accomplished gets accomplished in the house, to me, that’s all that matters. That being said, the only way that things are going to change is if we require boys to wash dishes, do the laundry and set the table, and require girls to take out the garbage, mow the lawn and wash the car. But, not many youth today do much of anything, and therefore, Mom or the housekeeper – usually a female – continues to perform so-called gendered chores.

What matters is that the breakdown of chores is equitable, decided on by mutual agreement, and satisfactory to all parties involved. Given the massive variance in couples and their preferences and their dynamics, some people’s choices will match up with stereotypical gender roles, and that’s fine because the problem with gender roles is the enforcement of them, not because the specific chore breakdown screws over all women. Automatically regarding them as having stereotype cooties and bending over backwards to avoid them does nothing but replace one set of rules with another. The solution, rather, is to choose freely what works for you, keeping in mind the various forces that can affect your decisions.

I personally love anything car-related, so I imagine I’ll be changing the oil and so forth once I have both significant other(s) and vehicle(s)—on the other hand, I’m likely to delegate taking it in to a mechanic to a male sig-o who is less likely to get overcharged or mansplained at, and if my partner happens to also enjoy mechanical stuff, we can do it together.

THAT, incidentally, is something that sometimes gets overlooked in the discussion of how to divide chores. If the job is big enough that you don’t get in each other’s way, or vastly differ on HOW to do it, or have issues getting along in certain situations*, then collecting and taking out the trash together, or cleaning the bathroom together, or what-have-you, not only cuts the job in half, but also gets you company while you work.

*I cannot, for example, work on anything mechanical in conjunction with my brother, unless there is at least one other person to act as a buffer of sorts. He somehow manages to make me feel inept and defensive without even meaning to, and give the impression that he owns the repair and I end up feeling that I would have to be reading his mind to be of any use. But add another person into the mix and we’re fine.

Oh, I wish that gender didn’t play such a huge role in the division of labor in running the household! But, no way is it what *kind* of chore that makes it problematic.

The problem that stands today, and I don’t see how we’ll ever break these patterns, is that women (that I know) take on the role of making sure things get done. Men will do whatever is needed, but aren’t looking around and saying, huh, that bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in six months… I mean, of *all* the women I know who are partnered with men the woman always is the household manager even if both work for money, too. And we’re all a bunch of crunchy granola lefties over here…

It’s awfully complicated. I love that you brought it up, though.

@Heather –

My husband is more organized and has a lower mess threshold than me. So he is the one that looks around and sees chores to be done. We actually had to implement a weekly chore meeting so that he didn’t feel like he was solely responsible for running the household. We have the meeting once a week, and make a list of chores for each day. This gives me a list to look at when I have free time and don’t automatically think of something it would be useful to get done. It also provides a time at which I can tell him that he’s being ridiculous and that X, Y or Z does not really need to get done this weekend and actually we need some down time/fun time as a family more.

Then again, when I was younger I lived with a boyfriend who had a higher mess threshold than me, and I ended up doing more cleaning and organizing. Because he would let it get to a point where I looked around and DID see chores to do. My husband would just never let it get to that point.

I agree that these roles more often fall along gender stereotype lines, but they don’t always. I think a lot of it has to do with what standards kids are held to by their parents for cleaning up and chores. If girls and only girls grow up being expected to help with chores and being held responsible when the house is not clean/running, then they will have those same expectations and skills when they’re adults.

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