Chances are, if you are like most people in the world, you live in a family where chores are done along gender lines and women and girls are spending an average of two hours more on chores per week. Many boys and men feel strongly, anecdotally, that this can’t be right. However, while men are doing more house and care work than prior generations, studies show that they reliably overestimate their domestic contributions, or undermine their ability to do them in a sustained way. On any given day, almost half of all women do some form of housework, compared to only one-fifth of men. If they are mothers, they spend nearly twice as long as fathers doing unpaid domestic work each week.
Have you ever talked about what goes on in your own family? Who cooks? Who takes out the trash? What chores boys and girls do? Is it a sore point?
We’d like to start a global conversation about why this is important. Today, together with Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, we are launching a global #ChoreChallenge:
- Keep a two-week log of activities and chores, including kids, in your family. Put everything on it and make sure to add activities that aren’t usually thought of as chores. For example, buying gifts, managing social calendars, doing taxes, making doctor appointments, school activities, car maintenance, or financial budgeting and planning.
- Analyze the list to see who does the bulk of what work.
- Gender-swap household responsibilities, all or just some, for as long as you can.
- If you have children, talk to them about work and stereotypes, gender roles and expectations.
- If you reach a milestone, or a hitch, or encounter some interesting differences, send your story or upload a photo to Breakthrough’s THE G WORD , using the #ChoreChallenge hashtag.
- Join the #ChoreChallenge tweetchat on Tuesday, January 12 at 9 a.m. EST/2 p.m. GMT/7:30 p.m. UTC
This is important and a tangible difference everyone can make. Family inequality is a driver of broader inequality that, in addition to being tied to larger economic imbalances, is a source of stress for families.
To truly understand the impact the chore gender gap can have, consider these entries to the Everyday Sexism Project from people around the world:
My boyfriend does not appreciate the everyday chores I do i.e. cleaning, cooking, caring for his well-being. He sees it as something that I, as a female, should already be doing.
I’m a 19 years old college student living in a country where gender roles are heavily ingrained. Ever since I was young, I was constantly told that I should know how to do households chores because “What would your future husband say? You’re a woman. You should know these.”
My parents both work, but Mum does the lion’s share of the housework, even over the last few days when she’s been off sick. Dad refers to my brother and I doing housework as “helping Mum out” like it’s automatically her job to begin with.
Always getting asked to do the chores when both me and my brother are studying, as if my studying is not as important… it makes me so angry!
Of course, in many families men do help, or do their fair share of the chores — in fact some even experience teasing and homophobic slurs from others for doing so. But a fair division of labor isn’t always easily won:
I always thought household chores in my relationship were fairly balanced: both my husband and I cook, clean, etc. And we both work full-time in jobs that pay the same. But recently my husband has come out saying that I should be more grateful when he does these things, because he’s making my life easier. Funny that I don’t get the same thanks from him — when I do it it goes unnoticed.
In some homes kids doing chores is optional; in others, it’s absolutely necessary. In either case, they are a significant way that we are socializing children to understand gender as the basis not only for certain types of work, both physical and emotional, but also as the basis for valuing that work. Care and domestic labor is gendered in most families, including LGTBQ families who, less subject to gender role demands, tend to share more equally. So, for example, one person in a couple will take on typically “women’s” or “mother’s work” — changing babies, doing laundry, fetching water, arranging medical care and social schedules, while the other will take on “men’s,” outdoor work, car maintenance, painting or plumbing. In general, the only households in which the gender divide isn’t consequential are single-mother homes. There are also, in the United States, racial differences. While a gender gap exists, black men do more care and domestic work than others and, historically, for many black women taking care of their own families was a form of resistance to racial oppression.
Globally, the extra two hours of work girls do frees up time for boys to play, do sports or complete homework. Studies also show a gender gap in pocket money and allowance. Where children get chore-related allowances, boys are more likely to be paid and, when families have both boys and girls, to be paid more. In addition, the jobs that we learn girls and women are “naturally better” at, rarely a matter of discretion, are less visible and thought of as worth less. Boys easily learn through chores that they’re expected, as men, to always be strong, know how to fix things and perform, for financial gain, like workhorses, to the exclusion of nurturing their families or making important and healthy social connections.
What’s happening in homes is a microcosm of what happens in the economy. For adults doing “women’s work,” the added hours mean more worry, less leisure and less sleep. They also mean a degraded ability to earn an income and build long-term financial stability. Comparable pay for comparable work remains elusive in the wider economy. When men go into a field salaries go up, but when women do they go down.
Both women and men want more balance and workplace policies that reflect their needs, and families are suffering because women heads of household can’t earn enough, but we continue to grow boys who become men who, fundamentally, believe that their work will be prioritized and that they will have spouses who will do the bulk of home and family care. Even in households where fathers engage in cross-gender work, one of the greatest predictors of girls’ later life higher ambition, they are represented as “helping out,” echoing a media trope that frequently shows men as too stupid or clumsy to do chores and women as experts at them, and not much else.
Women, on the other hand, believe that their careers are as important and consistently express the need and desire to work outside of their homes with parity, for money. But, they are still expected to shoulder the burden of care and interrupt their careers. Even when they do work outside of the home, they’re expected to take on, for example, “office housework.” The top jobs for women in the U.S. are still those in which they support other people, usually men in higher status jobs: administrative support, nursing and teaching. Additionally, two-thirds of low-wage work, mainly in service fields requiring considerable emotional labor, is done by women. Half of these workers, in the U.S., are women of color.
The critical transition, one that hinders even the most egalitarian and progressive people, is the one to parenting, when gender gaps in expectation and time surface significantly. That gap is reproduced in the way we continue to teach children about work at home.
While chores and care may seem like individual and private choices, these are social and economic issues. The #ChoreChallenge is a way to make everyone think about them with more clarity, honesty and empathy. Swapping responsibilities won’t magically solve stalled gender inequality or eliminate complex issues around gender roles, but it can start important conversations. Transforming entrenched gender stereotypes is hard to do, so, for more fun, encourage your friends and family to join and don’t forget to share your story using the hashtag.