There’s much missing in the framing of these debates—from the expectation of power and privilege to a limited idea of what success is. What’s irked me is the continued assumption that this is a women’s issue. The problem isn’t that women are trying to do too much, it’s that men aren’t doing nearly enough.
A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women—even those with full-time jobs—still do the bulk of housework and childcare. On an average day, 48 percent of women and 19 percent of men did housework. Married women with children who work full time spend 51 minutes a day on housework while married men with children spend just 14 minutes a day.
The breakdown of childcare responsibilities was not much different—55 percent of working men said they cared for their kids on an average day, whereas 72 percent of working women did. Women also reported spending more time during the day caring for their children than men.
This isn’t news to most; statistics (and feminists!) have long showed that women work a second shift at home. But despite the glaring inequality on our doorstep—and in our kitchens—the recent debates do little to address tangible ways men can be held accountable. Sure, they’re mentioned as an aside every once in a while—It’s good to have a supportive partner! When men “help out,” life is easier!—but men’s participation in the domestic sphere is largely discussed as optional, while women’s is assumed to be mandatory.
I’ve seen straight, partnered women explain their decision to stay-at-home by noting that childcare would have taken too much out of their paycheck—as if this cost was just theirs to bear! Or couples who call a woman’s decision to quit her job a “personal” issue, while in the same breath noting that it was because her salary was lower than her husband’s. (The last time I checked, the wage gap was a political issue.)
But even more dangerous than the “I choose my choice” brush-off that tends to surface when someone takes the politics of housewifery to task, is the contention that women want to be doing all this work. That we are naturally inclined towards things domestic—especially caring for our children. Perhaps for some women this is true; but the generalization hurts all of us. After all, how can we effectively fight for workplace policies if the presumption is that when push comes to shove, we don’t really want to be there?