Want an equal partnership at home? You’re probably going to have to take the lead.
Equality in the home is not just important for your day-to-day wellbeing – it’s also a women’s equality issue. Whether you are 25 or 45, have a full-time career, stay home with your kids, work part-time, or you’re a mother or childless—you’re likely doing most of the (unpaid) household work in your home.
Why does it matter? It matters because women are only paid on average $.80 on the dollar compared to men. Employers penalize us for having children while men get a “fatherhood bonus.” We are underrepresented in government and the boardroom, and we suffer mental and physical health effects from our “second shift.” A 2016 study found that, globally, women entering the workforce will work an average of four years more than men over their lifetime with paid and unpaid work.
In same-sex couple households, chores are divided more equally until they have children. Then, they tend begin to divide chores depending on work and income. However, even then, couples “interpret their arrangements as pragmatic and chosen.”
The less time you spend doing your partner’s share of the household work, the more time you have to push for that promotion, read to your children, paint, meditate, play a sport, or run for office. The bottom line: fewer hours of unpaid work equals more time for women to do other things we want to do—and more time to do things we need to do to be better represented in business, art, government, academia, etc.
Our husbands and partners are—for the most part—on our side. So I don’t want to talk about the fact that they bought the wrong diapers or didn’t fold the bath towels the right way. But I also don’t want to pat anyone on the head for “being around” or cleaning up the kitchen twice a week (even if that includes the counters and the “soaking” pans). What I would like to talk about is the persistence of gender inequality in the home and what we can do about it on a micro level.
Does your partner know where to find the homework folder and how to put together a healthy school lunch? (Does he know the school is nut-free? And that the kids always buy lunch on Pizza Fridays?)
Do they know how to get your kids physical form from the doctor, where the Tylenol is, and what time you start the baby’s bedtime routine?
Do they have a quick and healthy dinner trick up their sleeve that doesn’t involve asking you?
Women may have the capacity to “do it all,” but that doesn’t mean we have to or want to. We need to keep forcing change for ourselves and also for the next generation. Unfortunately, even now, gender inequality in the home starts early. But when parents model an equitable relationship, it will enforce positive attitudes in our boys and girls.
When dad does the laundry, makes the bed, rocks the baby to sleep, and leaves work early for the soccer carpool, our kids will understand that women and men can be nurturers, take part in home making, and value and prioritize their career. We want our boys to respect women, to be nurturers and team players. And we want our girls to respect themselves and expect equal treatment. We want both boys and girls to seek equality in all of their relationships—work and personal. This is a win for everyone.
Here are eight ways to bring equality to your home:
1. Have a conversation about equality in your home.
These conversations can be uncomfortable, but you need to have them. Once you and your partner are on the same page about the need for equality in the home, you can begin to work towards it together.
2. Agree on general schedules and rules.
That way your partner can take initiative within the agreed upon parameters: bedtimes, meals, screen time, acceptable clothing, etc.
3. Distribute household tasks evenly.
Whether or not you have a cleaner, a nanny, or anyone else who helps with the household tasks, if you’re doing more than your partner, you need to delegate.
4. Take it off your plate.
Yes, you can do this. “I am no longer cleaning toilets.” “I love you, but I am not doing your laundry.” “I’ll take the garbage out if I never have to empty the diaper pail again.”
5. Ask for help and accept help.
Ask them to clean the kitchen. Ask them to change the sheets. If you have taken off work the last three times for the sick child, ask for them to take the next three. If they’re crappy at cleaning the bathroom, make a list. They’ll have to get better. If they’re finding time to exercise and you’re not, find time for yourself by getting help from them.
6. Claim your time.
“You’re doing Saturday morning dance carpool, I’m doing Saturday morning writing. Cool?”
7. Expect equality.
Be grateful for a compassionate and helpful partner, but don’t shower them with praise or thanks for doing the same things you do thanklessly. Show love and kindness towards your partner, but don’t make a habit of inconveniencing yourself to show them that love.
8. Dads: Are you a feminist? Do you want that promotion at home? Let’s see it.
Do all the laundry start to finish on Sunday while we take the kids to the park. Offer to leave work for the early school release pick-ups. Claim baby bath time, baking and food prepping as your own. Nail the inside-out braid.
I know so many wonderful, supportive, feminist husbands—including my own—and all of us need to work together to shake up the status quo. Often we are the ones holding ourselves back: we feel guilty for asking our partners to do something that we can just do easily; we feel bad for taking alone time after working all week; we don’t outsource grocery shopping because we think they’ll buy the wrong milk. And we have been conditioned to just do it all—all 98 hours a week of it.
When we address gender inequality in unpaid work, we place greater value on our time and free ourselves up for the things we want to do, whatever that may be. So while we fight for broader changes and solid policy to dismantle gender inequality on a larger scale, we can start with important, micro changes in our home. No one else is going to do it for us.