We recently published an article here at Scary Mommy about a woman who works as a teacher at the same school where her husband also works as a teacher. She explained that even though she and her husband have the exact same job, she still does the bulk of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare, not to mention carries the mental load.
“ADVOCATE for yourself!!”
“Ladies, speak up for yourself.”
“Might wanna communicate with your husband about needing some help.”
Sometimes the advice was given in a condescending, it’s-not-that-hard tone, insisting that if only the wife would put in the work to “train” her husband, everything would be fine.
“I don’t care if people call it nagging some men need to be told what to do.”
“Men have to be trained.”
“Many men will honestly say they have no idea their wives felt overwhelmed or frustrated by the imbalance because she didn’t tell them… if it’s all getting done why would they ask?”
A few implied that men are incompetent dummies, incapable of looking at a room and seeing what needs to be done.
“Communication is key. You need to explicitly tell him, in no uncertain terms, what your expectations are.”
“My husband flat told me, if you need help, then tell me. So I started telling him. I can’t get mad at my husband if I’m not communicating with him.”
First of all, can we stop with the trope that men are too stupid to be able to figure out how to participate in household chores? I mean, honestly, if they’re that fucking dumb, why do women bother with them anyway?
The notion that “men just don’t see messes!” needs to go in the garbage and have a stick of lit dynamite thrown on top of it. Men see messes. Sure, some are messier than others, just as women have varying degrees of tolerance for mess and clutter, but the same men who “can’t see messes” at home often have immaculate cars and keep their offices tidy at work. Men overachieve in places where they’re being compared to other males or earn an income for their efforts, but at home they suddenly become stupid and helpless.
And before you @ me in the comments, I realize this dynamic is sometimes reversed and it’s the wife not doing her share, and that gay couples also sometimes experience an imbalance of household labor. But, statistically, in heterosexual marriages it’s the women who do the majority of housework and childcare even when both spouses work, and queer couples generally have a more equitable division of labor.
So, yeah, I’m generalizing here, but the shoe fucking fits, and we all know it. My bigger point, though, is that women need to quit getting all self-righteous and advising other women to “just ask for help,” as if men are circus animals who only do tricks when their masters command them to. It feels like victim blaming, as in, “The reason he doesn’t do his share is because you are lacking as a wife.” Yuck.
You know what I think is happening with partners who don’t help out? I think, the majority of the time, they know exactly what they’re doing. They see the mess but they’re used to being taken care of and will take what they can get. They’re comfortable, they like things the way they are, and they’re able to push aside any objections of conscience because that would mean a disruption to their comfort. They know their wife can’t stand the idea of the family home turning into a shit hole, and they gamble that if they overlook chores that obviously need doing, their wife will take care of it. (And then they are utterly flummoxed as to why their wife has no interest in sex. So weird!)
Last week on Twitter I saw a tweet from a usually very funny humor account on Twitter. It read, “I opened the dishwasher and it’s full of clean dishes and I’m scared my wife is going to know that I know.”
I know, I know, it’s just a joke! I need to learn to relax and not take everything so seriously. Except, for too many women, this isn’t a joke—it’s a daily reality. One commenter on the essay mentioned above said her husband told her, “I was going to do dishes, but the dishwasher was full.” Seriously, dude?
A French comic that went viral in 2017 brilliantly illustrated the problem with “just tell him what you need” advice. The comic shows a wife running herself ragged as her husband casually helps himself to a beer. When she finally explodes at him that she’s tired of doing everything, he acts very confused and hurt. “You should’ve asked,” he says. The comic points out that the husband’s response to his wife being overworked and overwhelmed is to assign her the role of manager. He removes all responsibility from himself and gives his wife an additional job she didn’t ask for.
The comic doesn’t even go into the fact that when it comes to “just ask for help” advice, most of the time, wives have already asked for help, many times. And though wives may often get the help they ask for in the moment they ask for it, husbands do not take it upon themselves to note that there is a pattern and consistency to household chores that they must regularly participate in. They never seem to catch on. They never seem to stop needing to be “just asked.”
But if a husband isn’t helping and isn’t seeing the pattern of daily chores that need doing, and women aren’t supposed to ask for help, what exactly are they supposed to do? What other solution is there for getting what you want besides simply asking? And what’s wrong with women advising other women to “just ask”?
A few commenters did actually have a solution for this. Don’t ask for help. Sit down and have a “come to Jesus” meeting. Write up a list of all the household chores and split them equitably together. No more “just ask.” Each partner has specific chores that are their responsibility.
And once that conversation has taken place, Mr. Pretends-Not-To-See-The-Clean-Dishwasher needs to get his shit together, stop playing stupid, stop taking advantage of his wife, and be a decent fucking human being and do his share. That’s the advice women should be giving each other. And if that doesn’t work, the follow-up advice needs to be to throw the whole husband out.