“Invisible work” is dragging women down
It’s 2016 (for a few more hours) and while we’ve come a long way when it comes to men and women sharing the load, there’s still more to be done. Namely, someone needs to step in and help shoulder some of the mental load us moms take on — because all those little things only we seem to notice are weighing us down.
Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, writes for Time about the “invisible workload” that drags women down. She opens with a quote from a poem by Ellen Seidman of the blog Love That Max. The mom of three writes out all the things she “notices” that the rest of her family doesn’t. “I am the person who notices we are running out of toilet paper,” she says. And also, coffee pods, toothpaste, everyone’s preferred type of peanut butter, and pretty much everything else that keeps their household humming.
Because she’s the mom. Of course she does.
As Wade notes, Seidman’s poem wasn’t complaining about all the things she does to keep her family afloat and in the interest of fairness, a recent study shows that for the amount of time women cohabiting with men spend doing domestic work, the men spend proportionally more time doing paid work. The hours worked, both paid and unpaid, is relatively equal between genders.
But as Wade points out, that doesn’t take into account all the time women spend simply thinking.
In her essay, Wade cites a research article by sociologist Susan Walzer called Thinking About the Baby. The article is from 1996, but its conclusions still seem to hold true today, with women doing most of the worrying and thinking about kids and the running of the household. Walzer interviewed 23 couples who recently had babies to see what the division of labor was like between moms and dads. And what she found won’t surprise most of us.
She discovered that even in relationships where the men “helped out,” it was still women who did all of that noticing that Seidman lists in her poem. Women are the ones who fret over childhood milestones, selecting a pediatrician, household delegating and organizing. While men might ferry kids from one activity to the next and do everything asked of them to help the family run smoothly, it’s likely their female partner doing all the behind-the-scenes work coordinating the schedule. Which is a whole lot harder than mindlessly playing taxi-cab when you’re told to.
Wade also points out that all that feminized thinking doesn’t end with noting that the family needs more ketchup and toothpaste — it extends to other things like wardrobe choices and staying safe when out in the world. A woman, she says, has to worry about what shade of lipstick or length of hemline or type of shoe to wear on job interviews, to funerals and weddings. Unlike men who have obvious choices for such occasions that likely won’t be met with any scrutiny, there’s so much more for women to consider.
Simply put, being a woman is exhausting. Of course someone has to remember and notice all of those little things, but men are certainly capable too. There’s no reason why our male partners can’t share the load so our minds can be a little lighter.
Probably so we can think of all new things to worry about.