Steven Lake examines how we define the sh*t jobs around the house and who does the clean up.
The old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is applicable to the subject at hand. Who does the dirty work at home? But before we get into the dirty work, let’s look at the some dirty statistics.
Working women still get the shaft when it comes to household chores. Multiple studies in different countries consistently show that working women handle between 70-80% of household chores which means they work approximately 30 hours a week for the household while working men do 10-15 hours.
There are some interesting differences in the type of work done as well. Men tend to do intermittent chores (e.g., mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage) while women do daily tasks like cooking, house-cleaning, shopping, and child care. Men’s activities are more outdoors and women’s indoors. When men cook, it is on the BBQ.
These behaviors change dramatically if the man is a stay-at-home Dad looking after young children. Then, there is a massive shift away from the traditional assignment of household duties. I can hear some men remonstrating that, “Hey, I cook at home, I clean the bathroom, I vacuum.” And yes, more men do these chores than ever before. However, the surveys still show that the inequity is large.
What accounts for this? I believe from these results we can infer that changing cultural stereotypes around gender, and tasks associated with gender, is a slow process. My students and I were having this discussion just the other night. It is an all women class of fifteen graduate students aged between 25-35 years old and they (the ones that are in relationships) had the same concerns that I heard thirty years ago. These women, even though working and studying full time, still do most of the housework.
Another argument I hear to explain away this inequity, is in the type of work done. This is a variation on the “dangerous work hypothesis.” Who cleans the gutters, replaces shingles on the steep roof, cuts down a rotting tree? Men do in most cases. Proponents of this argument say that these tasks should carry more weight on the measuring scales. It is not a simple one task for one task equivalency.
This is the context in which I ask the question – who does the icky tasks? I am talking about things like getting the hair out of the bathroom drain, taking the dead mouse out of the trap, fixing and cleaning up the toilet that has overflowed and there is shit everywhere, cleaning the pots and pans, catching or killing flies and wasps.
As I was talking to my wife about this, I realized that we each had preferences and what was one person’s so icky I don’t even want to look at it task, was the other person’s, no problem task. Are these preferences affected by stereotypical gender attribution? Let’s examine my little household.
Our home consists of two people and I don’t for one moment think our reality is generalizable to the population at large. However, you may relate in some way or have your own unique situation, and I would love to hear about it in the comment section. This way we can all learn and grow from each other.
My wife is a Feminist. Has never been married (we are common law), has not taken on my last name, and yet, she is feminine, loves to cook and definitely does almost all of the housework. How can this be? Seems like a paradox. No, she is not a stay-at-home-kept person. She has supported herself her whole adult life. She works for her money. We do however have an exchange around the amount of work she does in the home. I work more hours outside the home, she works more inside.
There is both an understanding and a reality that my outside-the-home work, on an hourly basis is more profitable, and therefore it makes more sense for me to be earning outside the home. We are a team and the inside work is her contribution to the team effort. If the situation were to change, and it may, as the release of her new book is fast approaching, there would need to be a re-assessment of who does what around the house. And I would be OK with that.
But what about those icky tasks I mentioned earlier? Well, some of them seem to have a gender bias. I get all the killing tasks. And I hate killing those poor little guys, whether they be silver fish, hornets or mice. Due to differences in physical strength I get to do things like opening bottles or jars with tight lids. But these hardly fit into the icky category.
Time to get down and dirty. The distasteful tasks for my wife include killing, hairballs in the bathtub drain, and dirty pots and pans. My list includes, cleaning the toilet, dusting (I have the perfect excuse, I’m asthmatic), and self-care (see a previous article).
Fortunately, we do not share similar aversions. What she finds disgusting I have no problem with and vice versa. She will almost get sick to her stomach looking at the hairball that has emerged from the bathtub. I’m grossed out when I find dust balls behind the bedroom door.
As for gender distribution of the ickyness factor, other than killing living things, I don’t see much of one. As a boy, I played at killing other boys in our war games. With other boys we destroyed ant hills, and killed insects, and in biology class I pithed frogs (a very strange experience). As a teenager, I had to kill litters of kittens (very upsetting). I guess all these experiences makes me the obvious choice for taking care of those pesky critters in the house.
I’m sure women on the farm have similar experiences. When I was about three years old, my mother caught me playing with a large rat. She grabbed a rifle and shot it. Probably made an impression on me. Certainly did with the rat.
The upshot of these vignettes is that when it comes to what we find icky, for the most part, depends a lot on personal preference that comes from life experiences. Sure there are cultural influences, but despite the slow changes of work distribution on the home front, the world, or at least the Western world, has undergone changes that support the continual shifting from an old paradigm of inequity to a new world that allows men and women to find their own preferences in how they behave and engage with their environment and the people around them.
So who does the dirty work in your home, and what do you consider to be “icky?”
Photo: Flickr/J.D. Hancock