Men and housework: top tips from an expert on sharing the load

Jenna Price
As men transition to equality, they will need considerable assistance from their allies in this struggle.

That, women, means you.

Yes, you will need to stand shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, with our brothers and our fathers and our sons as they change their lives, against considerable odds and discernible oppression. You will have to help them overcome internalised hatred and impostor syndrome.

It’s not the gender pay gap, although that’s a burden. We already know that when men are paid more, they decide they need to work longer and longer hours.

Instead, it’s the unpaid labour gap which needs to be ironed out, literally.

Yes, for men to come to terms with equality, that means they need to come to terms with unpaid labour, also known as the care of children, house and home. And ironing. They will need to overcome centuries of stereotypes which say they aren’t any good at this work. That domestic men can’t cook (although professionals can). And that children need their bottoms to be wiped by people with vaginas.

I mean, how many times have you heard a man who looks perfectly competent say something like: “You’re much better at this than I am,” as if it’s a compliment to wield a toilet brush well. There can only be one reason for this quaint modesty and humility. When I say internalised hatred and impostor syndrome, this is the best example.

So, to assist, let me bring to you Leah Ruppanner, sociologist from the University of Melbourne. Housework is her life’s work. To be more precise, the study of housework is her life’s work. Like most of us, she’s not a fan of domestic duties herself.

But her groundbreaking research on the relationship between housework and divorce published in January this year from Swedish data (but she thinks generalisable across countries) should be the first billet-doux you ever give to a bloke.  Yes, her work says that when men don’t do an equal share of housework, those men end up divorced, particularly if they don’t acknowledge the incredible contribution made by their beloved. It’s called discrediting. And that sneaky practice means they will have to do the whole house by themselves. Lose lose. 

Dr Ruppanner’s top tips for your eternal pleasure (and some leisure):

If you meet a man and you think there is the slightest possibility that it will be more than a one-night stand, make a stand.

  1. Don’t play house.

Remember Sarah in Love Actually, the one who rushed upstairs to pick up crap from the floor before she brought Karl into her bedroom?

“A woman’s identity is tied more specifically to housework,” says Ruppanner.

Don’t do that. Don’t make every thing nice, don’t rush to wash the dishes. Don’t always be offering to cook or to wash. Be your own grubby normal self and find someone who loves and values that. He can only love and value that if he knows that’s who you are.

  1. The pattern of housework is set early on.

Whatever you do in those early days is how it will be for the life of the relationship, says Ruppanner, unless you have kids, when it will get worse. (So right now, think to yourself: how much can I do when I am breastfeeding, sleepless and slightly deranged? So start from there only. No more).

Make a point of saying: we are going to do this together. You do the shower stall while he does the toilet, that kind of thing.

Remember this is good for men. You are helping build confidence and skills they can use all their lives.

  1. Language! Never use the H word.

Men are not helping with housework, they are sharing responsibilities. That’s another excellent way of diminishing that paralysing self-hatred which has stopped men from pitching in. Sharing is caring, the earlier the better.

  1. Gatekeeping.

Not sure what that means? If you have high housework standards, stop that right now. That will end sadly. Instead, men love approval. No matter how poorly they’ve wielded the toilet brush, praise them.

No matter how floury the pasta or how tough the vegan lasagne, congratulate them on the tastiness of the food.

The great thing here is that if they hate their own cooking, they will learn to improve, unless you leap in all Kylie Kwong on them. Speaking of which, her recipes are reasonably straightforward and will bolster the confidence of any young cook.

Ruppanner says: “Accept their cooking standards, even if they are terrible.”

  1. Don’t be the good woman who comes to the rescue.

Housework is not difficult, it’s just boring and anyone can be good at it. Even men.

Yes, it’s true that this approach encourages women to do the required emotional labour to set the ground rules – but it beats cleaning the whole house yourself. But as Ruppanner says, women must start early.

She is not the first researcher to show that fights around housework lead to relationship unhappiness, but hers is pretty explicit.

“Housework inequality is associated with relationship unhappiness,” she says. “Only the women are likely to consider breaking up over this.”

Only the women married to men.

The good news for lesbians is that they don’t have to put up with this insanity, which destroys relationship and erodes happiness.

From Melanie Brewster’s research published in September last year: “Results indicate that lesbian couples engage in a more equal distribution of household labor than heterosexual couples, and that lesbian women often opt to eschew traditional gendered divisions of chores in favour of other factors such as quality of task or ability.”

Another thing men could learn from lesbians.

 

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