Household Labor Inequality Is Domestic Abuse. It’s Time for It to Stop

My husband and I both work full-time. His work as a civil rights attorney is demanding, exhausting and often demoralizing. He sees terrible injustices every day, and usually works nights and weekends. But it hasn’t deterred him from pulling his weight at home. We both cook and clean. He plans birthday parties and writes thank-you notes and buys presents just like I do.

It’s not because he’s special or I’m exceptionally deserving. It’s because we both believe in fairness.

What’s your husband’s excuse?

Spoiler alert: he doesn’t have one.

Men are not innately lazy. Men know that children have to eat to live, that they can’t drive themselves to school, and that someone has to buy the holiday presents. He knows clothes have to be washed, and that someone has to buy and cook the food. They choose not to undertake these basic tasks because they know someone else will.

Similarly, our lady-genes don’t uniquely equip us to understand that leaving newly purchased groceries out is a recipe for food poisoning. Our woman-parts don’t give us superpowers that enable us to smell dirty diapers. Instead, most heterosexual male partners buy their leisure time and their freedom on the backs of the overworked, exhausted women with whom they live. It’s exploitation, plain and simple.

In fact, husbands create seven additional hours of housework for their wives each week. When a woman lives with a man, she spends more time on household management tasks. Even breadwinner moms do more housework—an hour a day compared to 11 minutes for breadwinner dads. Women can’t even get some rest at the end of the day—moms report significant sleep deprivation, yet men sleep the same whether or not there are kids in the house.

The traditional advice for solving men’s laziness is deeply patronizing. Meditate, practice better self-care, manage time better. The “experts” who give those tips don’t acknowledge the cause of the problem: husbands. And the suggestions for better balancing the load are incredibly misogynistic: Ask for help. Tell him what you need. But no matter how hurt you feel, how much you have suffered, or how exhausted you are, don’t make him feel bad. Find a way to get him to do more without making him think his current contributions are insufficient. Celebrate his accomplishments, however small. Thank him profusely. It’s your job to make him feel good. His feelings matter. Yours don’t.

This advice, designed to reduce the load mothers undertake, requires them to take on more work while simultaneously undermining the value of what they already do. They must become the family manager. They must identify everything that needs to be done, and then ensure it gets done. Then they must celebrate the “successes” of a man who’s still not pulling his weight.

The subtext here is clear: Everything he does counts. Nothing women do matters, because parenting, cleaning, managing, planning, relating and so much more are the woman’s job—no matter how many other jobs she has outside the home.

A lot of people tell me I should be grateful for my equity-minded husband. I adore him, and I’m grateful to him for many reasons—but not because he co-parents the child he helped make, and not because he helps cook the food that he eats. That’s like being grateful to him for not beating me or abusing our child.

Why is it that no one tells men to be grateful to their wives for doing the basic tasks of parenting? Why do we only consider it work worthy of gratitude when men do it?

It’s because we still value men’s time and needs more.

We need to stop framing equality as a nice bonus to a happy marriage. It is the bare minimum. Inequality is not inevitable. It’s not just the way men are, or a minor inconvenience. It’s time women listen to their own needs and value their own work. Household chore inequality exacts a real toll on our health and well-being. It is abuse. Like other forms of abuse, it exploits one person for the other’s gain. And like other forms of abuse, there is no excuse.

Studies consistently show that marriage is great for men’s health and happiness. For women, the reverse might be true. Women in bad marriages are more likely to develop markers of heart disease. Women who divorce bad husbands thrive, but the men they leave flounder. Household inequality and unsupportive partners might even play a role in postpartum depression. We shouldn’t need studies to tell us that inadequate support and overwhelming work lead to these outcomes. We need only to acknowledge women as full human beings to understand that every mother has a limit, and every father has a duty to support his partner.

A man who can happily watch his wife work herself into illness and depression does not care about his wife—or his children. Kick his ass to the curb. Every woman deserves better. Every child deserves to grow up in a house that acknowledges the full humanity and needs of both parents. This abuse can stop with our generation of mothers, but only if we demand better.

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