In recent years with women in the workplace and the focus on gender equality, there has been much discussion about the need for equality on the home front. This translates as men sharing in the domestic sphere, namely child care, cleaning, cooking among other chores.
At the same time, a familiar complaint is that the bulk of responsibility seems to fall on the woman, not only at home but in the eyes of the world. The school nurse calls the mom if the child is not well, teacher conferences and medical appointments seem to fall on the mother. Even with couples who aspire to a division of labor, women seem to end up with most of the work while men take out the garbage.
Years ago, someone gave me a book called “What Dr. Spock Never Told Us.” One entry was called “Traitor’s Throat,” the definition of which was, “When a baby cries loud enough to wake the father but not the mother.” The current complaint is the opposite.
I was once invited to sit in on a women’s group discussing this issue. Interesting was hearing them regaling their complaints about male incompetence at domestic chores. Typical was, “He said he would wash the bathroom floor – you can imagine what it looked like – had to do it over anyway.”
Having worked with many couples, I have also heard the criticisms leveled at fathers about the nature of their child care. Fathers themselves have told me about their attempts at handling children the way their wives do, the criticism they have received and the feeling of failure this inspires. Easier to just stay out of the way.
Is it possible that women are invested in their superior abilities caring for children and running the household? Having been relegated to that role for so many years and made to feel inadequate at “men’s work,” it would not be surprising if there was an ongoing feeling of pride and an investment in those areas of achievement.
On the other hand, some interesting observations have emerged from studies of same-sex couples solutions to parenting and domestic chores. Older research had concluded that same-sex couples divide up chores more equally, unlike the more familiar division by gender. However, more recent studies have found that when same-sex couples have children they often begin to divide things as heterosexual couples do.
Though the couples are still more equitable, one partner often has higher earnings and one a greater share of household chores and child care. This seems to suggest that this role division is not just about gender. Apparently, work and much of society are still organized for single-earner families. Especially once there are children, the pressure exists for this kind of division of labor.
The circumstances of life that couples face include employers who expect total availability, the absence of paid parental leave and the lack of good, affordable child care. Pressure also comes from the expectations of pediatricians and school personnel that a parent – usually the mother – will be available when called upon.
The point is that society at large has not caught up with the changes in family life brought about by women’s changed role. In part that is due to the nature of the resistance to that changed role. The work place has only gradually added benefits such as paid leave and on-site child care. A segment of the population still believes that a woman’s place is in the home and fights against the social supports needed for a different role.
As the struggle continues for those needed supports, hopefully men will become more competent at “woman’s work.”