My laptop was busted. The IT guy in my office was sitting by my little desk, setting up my replacement computer. It was nearly Thanksgiving, so by the Unwritten Rules of Office Etiquette, he was required to ask me about my plans. To be polite, I asked about his in return.
“The wife does all the cooking, so it’ll be great for me.” He laughed, as if this was the greatest of jokes. I cringed. The wife. Reducing his romantic life-partner to a common noun who cooks robbed her of any semblance of personality or person-hood. The IT guy continued, undeterred: “I’m not allowed to cook anymore.” Not allowed, I thought.
He then told me The Epic of the Green Bean Casserole, which can be boiled down to him putting two cups of salt into, yes, a green bean casserole. He then placed a ban on his own cooking at home, leaving all the food preparation to “the wife.” He never once referred to her by name.
The IT guy utilized a common tactic employed by many cishet men to avoid housework. By being purposefully inept, the woman in his life — a romantic partner in this case — felt forced to swoop in and take over. And for anyone out there who believes this was an honest mistake, I ask you to get out a measuring cup and fill it with salt twice, then imagine someone looking at that amount of salt and thinking, “Sure, seems right.” This isn’t a tiny mistake. This is a colossal fuck-up. Something easily avoidable with any amount of common sense.
For me, this story reads more like an alibi. “I don’t cook because I’m a hopeless wreck, not because I’m sexist in any way. Ask the wife!” And I’m not convinced. I’ve seen this tactic many times, and I know I’m not alone. I can’t count the number of women/femmes who have told me some iteration of, “When he cooks, he makes such a mess and I have to clean it up. It’s easier when he doesn’t cook at all.” This results in a huge work disparity.
Isn’t this socialization?
While it is certainly true that women are still socialized to be the caretakers of the home and often even feel protective of their chores in order to maintain a certain standard, and even draw personal value from completing household tasks, it is not this alone. Wholesale Domestic did a survey of 100 customers who identified as men. 4 out of 10 openly admitted to doing a bad job when asked to perform household chores by their wives/girlfriends so they wouldn’t be asked to do them again. And that was from a single paltry weekend survey. And those were only the men who admitted to it.
But what about housewives? Don’t they affect the results?
A bit, but not as much as you think. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 47% of American workers are women. With the economic recession, the stagnation of our average take-home pay, and rising costs of living, most people have to work to survive, regardless of marital status. Millennials buy group homes and 1 in 3 young adults live with at least 1 non-romantic roommate. The definition of a viable home is changing.
Despite all that, women still tend to do the bulk of housework and child-rearing regardless of whether they’re working or not. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in a 2013 survey that women spend nearly 9 hours a week on chores, while men average around 5. Women spend over 3 times as many hours than men performing housework (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.) specifically.
But men do more housework than they did before.
That’s true, but chances are you’re overestimating the amount of time you actually contribute to chores. According to a report from the Pew Research Center covered in the New York Times, men are more likely to perceive the division of labor as equal while women are more likely to perceive themselves as doing more labor. While both parties tend to overestimate the amount of work they do, data collection shows that women perform more housework than men, especially if they have children.
The “men do slightly more housework than half a century ago” argument is also a dangerous platform to stand on. Men still exist in a privileged position where there is often no expectation of equally sharing chores with wives/girlfriends. When men cook a dinner or wash a dish, that is more performative than helpful. Yet it feels drastically different to them since the alternative is having someone else do it for them. True equality means giving up the unearned privilege of having someone else keep your home for you, not occasionally chipping in.
Men aren’t hopeless at housework; they just don’t have to do it.
We return to our starting point. “I’m just no good at cooking/cleaning/laundry” is a tired excuse. We all know these are basic tasks that don’t require special knowledge to perform. When men trot out these anecdotes as evidence of their total ineptitude, like the IT guy’s casserole, do they actually think that we believe men are incapable of learning to follow a basic recipe or wash the sheets? Especially when you consider that as soon as these chores become a profession, men still dominate those branches of the workforce. Despite the expectation of women doing the bulk of cooking at home, only 7% of US restaurants are led by women. As is often the case, women’s labor is expected to be free.
Housework isn’t “women’s work” that requires some special feminine-braindrive to complete it properly. It’s just work, and men don’t want to do it.
For many women/femmes, it is simply easier to do the work than fight an uphill battle with yet another stubborn man in their lives. And there’s the very real threat of him throwing an elaborate temper tantrum and creating more work in an attempt to avoid chores in the future. For this incredibly sexist dynamic to change, we all have to rethink our roles. Women don’t exist to take care of men, and men aren’t fumbling gorillas when it comes to housework.
And if you do manage to put 2 cups of salt into a casserole? Try again.