Apparently I’m Stigmatizing Domestic Work by Not Being Ashamed to Do It

If I were a man I bet I’d get a cookie though

I recently wrote an article in The Federalist about the stigmatization of domestic work.

Our culture has two problems: one, it holds up one’s work as a primary means of gaining status, respect, and self-actualization; two, it perpetuates the idea that physical labor (even skilled physical labor, like the trades) is less admirable than non-physical labor.
He who sits behind a desk is greater than she who pushes the janitor’s cart through the hotel corridor. She who codes is greater than he who slings burgers.
The problem is, of course, that in this hierarchy of labor, someone always has to be at the bottom. Domestic work — food preparation, cleaning, and childcare, which require little specialized education to perform — tend to constitute the bottom rung of this ladder. The world turns, and the demographics that fill this bottom rung shift, but the bottom rung itself never disappears. We are forever seeking to liberate one group from it, only to find we have to replace them with another group who, in turn, needs to be liberated.

As I scrolled through the comments, I found one reader who responded that if I, as the woman, was doing the bulk of the domestic work in our family, instead of dividing it 50/50 between myself and my husband, that he and I are “part of the problem”. Her reasoning was that there is nothing intrinsically degrading about domestic work, but it is stigmatized because it has historically been “women’s work” that men turned their noses up at. Hence, me doing all of it and my husband doing little or none of it just propagates the notion that it’s crummy work only fit for silly little women to do.

It’s interesting that the reader would have come to that conclusion considering the fact that my inspiration for the article in question was not patriarchal mutterings from men about the indignity of doing “women’s work”, but from the first chapter of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. And the last time I can recall a man looking down his nose at domestic work, it was in this article by a “feminist father” who was worried that his daughter liked playing with her pink vacuum cleaner too much, and she might grow up with the idea (horrors!) that it’s okay for her, as a woman, to clean the house or something (if she never gets married to a domestically-minded man, I have to wonder what her floors are going to look like . . .).

Frankly, it seems to me that second-wave feminism has done as much, if not more, to stigmatize housework as “the patriarchy” has. If housework is really something that we need not be ashamed of, then why are we so adamantly set on getting women — specifically women — out of it? Would the reader have still thought that we were “part of the problem” if I was the one going to work in the morning and my husband was changing the diapers and doing the dishes?

Since she expected my husband to pitch in his 50% to our household domestic labor, I can only assume that she expected me to pitch in my 50% to the household income. This is the the picture of equitable domestic bliss, the ideal arrangement, of our day:

50% of income contributed by woman/50% of income contributed by man

50% of housework done by woman /50% of housework done by man

While I agree that where both partners work equally time-consuming and demanding jobs, it’s only fair that each should contribute equally to household responsibilities, why is this arrangement considered to be oh-so-much more equitable, so much more superior than that which we are currently living out?

100% of income contributed by husband

100% of housework contributed by me

(Okay, this is slightly off because I do contribute a sporadic pittance through my writing, and my husband does actually do a lot at home in the way of lawn care, car maintenance, handyman projects and pitching in on cleaning if I’m in a bind.)

I realize that for some women it is really important to be able to pursue a career that they feel passionately about. If that is a big priority for you, obviously, our way would not work. But it is simply not that appealing to me to come home from a full-time job, make exactly 50% of dinner, vacuum exactly 50% of the floor, fold 50% of the laundry, clean 50% of the bathroom, change 50% of the baby’s diaper (how would you do that, even?), and finally collapse into bed because a full-time job plus 50% of household and childcare responsibilities is just a lot of work. I spend a comparable amount of hours working at home as a housewife as my husband spends working as an actuary. If I worked full-time plus did 50% of the household work, I would be spending roughly 12 hours, not 8 hours, on the job, leaving little time for anything else. So would my husband. The way I see it, we would both lose. Plus, let’s face it: we’d probably be biting each other’s heads off over what constitutes 50%.

“Okay, so maybe there’s some appeal to having one spouse stay home,” you say, “but why you? Why not your husband? Why can’t he stay home?”

I do have an answer for that, but for today I’d like to answer it with another question: why not me?

Why do I get a side-eye for staying home while my husband would, in all probability, get a cookie?

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