Domesticity - a review
Some feminists say that the final frontier of feminism is domestic labor and finding a way to make housework equitable. Women are out-learning men and are primary or sole breadwinners in 40% of US households and yet we are still burdened with the majority of housework. Honestly, anger is usually the emotion that bubbles up when domesticity is discussed. It’s like I can feel the weight of women’s past on my shoulders and it angers me to think about how domesticity and the societal pressure to be domestic is holding or has held women back. What angers me most is the time and energy (both mental and physical) that women put into domestic chores. It’s time and energy that is possibly diverted from other pursuits. This is not a conundrum many men have thought about or been exposed to. Society pressures them to take risks and pursue dreams. Society pressures us to look good and find someone to make happy.
But what if you enjoy domestic labor? What if your dream is to someday be a stay-at-home mom? Live that truth! I believe in a woman’s right to choose whichever path is best for her without judgement and I think supporting women in their pursuits is one of the most powerfully feminist things one can do. But how do you know if you want the stay-at-home life or something else? I guess it comes down to whether or not you see these domestic chores as a service or a sacrifice. If you see them as a service to yourself, your partner, your roommates etc then you have found a fulfilling pursuit. If it feels like a burden, a stresser, or a sacrifice then you’ve already identified that this isn’t what you’d like to be doing and that’s ok too. Living in a society means that ideally we all take turns being of service to others. The anger part is realizing that women might be doing the the majority of the serving while being underserved ourselves.
So how do we begin to re-calibrate society? How do we start having these conversations with our loved ones in a kind and caring way? Personally I’m a huge fan of saying how I feel in one big word vomit and qualifying as I go along. I’m a perfectionist to a detrimental degree and one way I’ve found to bypass my tendency to overthink is to start out by talking about my feelings. The conversations we should be having on this topic are too important to try and think of the perfect way to say them since the domestic is inescapable. It happens every day.
My husband is my guinea pig. We have had months of conversations (and some heated arguments) about the division of domestic labor in our own household and I’m happy to say that we’ve gotten to a point that feels very equitable. I used to worry that if something would ever happen to me my husband wouldn’t know what to do since I took care of the household and our kitty children, paid the bills, budgeted our money and kept track of social engagements and appointments. These were all things that he only knew about on a superficial level. When we first moved in together it was fun and exciting and my own personal biases kicked in. I fell right into the roll of doting wife; cooking and cleaning and taking care of everything I could think of so he would feel loved. It wasn’t until, months or maybe a year, later that I recognized the resentment I had started carrying around. I desperately wanted to do other things, work with my hands on creative pursuits and make a plan to leave my job, but my mind was bogged down by the untidy work area or the dishes in the sink or the overflowing laundry bin. Why did this mental checklist have to be my responsibility? And I realized I had, along with his mother, shown him he didn’t need to worry about those kinds of things. No wonder he didn’t think about any of it - he’d never had to before. And so began our incremental climb to domestic labor equality.
When you shine a light on someone’s shortcomings - even if they are totally unaware of them before - more often than not they will try to cling to that shortcoming and explain it away. ‘I LIKE chaos, I THRIVE in it!’ he would say. ‘I’d rather let everything get really dirty and THEN clean everything all at once rather than clean as I go.’ I can’t help but laugh now remembering how heated up he would get! He came around and I came around too. I had to loosen my control over the situation. I wanted everything done immediately and I had to learn to step back, take a deep breath, and trust him enough to take the initiative.
For me, the domestic labor frontier is getting more equitable by the day and that quiets some of the anger I feel although I realize it’s an uphill battle to change society. A wise woman once said to me, “When you look at where you are and where you want to be, find a way to feel inspired by that delta rather than daunted.” So here we go. First step: change things at home. Next step: change deeply held societal biases!
For a full recap of December's feminist discussion on domesticity, go here.
Casey is the founder of the ELU and is unapologetically navigating creative entrepreneurship. While she admits she doesn't always know what she's doing, she's fully embraced the 'fake it til you make it/everyone is faking it mentality.' She enjoys naps, whiskey and all things cat-related.