Girl Talk: Domestic blitz

This morning Husband and I had the sort of heated argument that could power up a MasterChef kitchen. And gosh it felt good. We fought good and hard and loud, and afterward I felt amazing. I'd had my say, and, surprisingly, graciously admitted defeat... or, at least, a truce.

This whopper was about housework or, rather, the (un)fair and equitable division of it. Apparently, Aussie blokes are the worst in the world when it comes to helping out about the home, so I'm clearly not alone in my frustration with Husband's inability to perform menial tasks, such as the washing up or a load of laundry or cooking dinner. Dirty dishes, piles of unwashed clothes, bags of garbage, crumbs and the like are simply invisible to him – not on his radar. In his eyes, inside the home is my domain; outside is his. Heaven forbid should we have children – his idea of cleaning them will be taking them outside for a hosing down (hello, DOCS calling).

To be fair, we live on a 10-acre farm property owned by his parents, which requires him to mow a lot, attend to general maintenance and pick and pack avodacos for sale three months each year (which "we" do to pay the rent). Also, being borderline OCD, I'm not averse to cleaning and tidying and keeping things in order. The amount of time I invest in performing such tasks is really my choice – and I choose not to live in a pig-sty.

The argument, which took place in the kitchen – the hub of domestic life – started with a pile of laundry, built over a bit of bed-making and climaxed with the cleaning of a pile of dirty dishes. Worn down by the daily grind, I let loose with a rant about how unfair it was that I spent a good part of my day attending to such things, when I had far better things to do with my time – like blogging! I tallied up the hours for him: an hour in the kitchen each day cooking and cleaning up, four hours a week of washing, three hours of cleaning every Saturday morning = 12 hours of domestic duties each week, and then some. He retaliated with his list of outside duties and the avos. He had me at the avos.

Without wanting to come across all anti-feminist, I think I've been somewhat conditioned by society, television producers and the media to believe that housework is evil, unfair and beneath me as a professional, educated working woman. I'm not supposed to enjoy it or get some sort of warped satisfaction from performing it – I'm to loathe it, and begrudge my husband for trapping me into a lifetime of domestic subservience. Housework sucks, right? In Desperate Housewives, for example, the mere idea of domestic duty is associated with boredom, suicide and murder!

Additionally, there's the superficial "Martha Stewart complex" pressure of having your house look like something from the pages of a glossy interiors magazine or Spray-n-Wipe commercial. We can choose to buy into that, too. Who's setting the standards, anyway?

I think it's grossly unfair that women who live in apartments or homes requiring little outdoor maintenance should get lumbered with all the required household work – more particularly, those with children to rear (which, I imagine, adds to the "inside" duties a thousand fold).

But I'm slowly beginning to accept my lot and find joy in the domesticity rather than fight, tirelessly and fruitlessly, against it. My mother worked full-time, reared two girls (no mean feat!) and kept our house spotless – and I don't ever remember her complaining about it. In fact, the first time I think I heard a woman whinge about domestic duty was Peggy on Married... With Children, followed by Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond (who I still think is awesome).

Is this, therefore, a GenX/Y thing? Have we become a bit soft around the edges? Afraid of putting in the hard yards on the homefront for fear of betraying our feminist forebears or getting our designer dresses dirty? Are we getting our knickers in a knot for no good reason? Or are we really hard done by?

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Lauren said...

I'd rather I do it and have it done properly. I also am borderline OCD about tidiness and I feel uncomfortable unless I've cleaned. I love doing housework and one of the things that annoys me most about being on crutches at the moment is that I can't vacuum or do my washing (because I can't hang it out). I think we're trained to whinge about being hard done by, and I think that we choose to tidy and like things done just so. If we let the men clean, we would never be happy, because it wouldn't be done 'just right'.

Kitty said...

Great post, Erica. Mr Kitty and I have similar arguments! One disadvantage I feel I have - not only with him but with almost everyone I speak to about it - is that I work from home, ergo I should have plenty of time in my day to do the cleaning, cooking, dog-walking etc. Because most people seem to think that working from home doesn't involve any actual WORK at all, and that I spent my days arranging flowers and riding ponies or something.

We moved into our new house a month ago. I told Mr K I would happily do the lion's share of domestic tasks - hoovering, washing, dusting, cooking, loading and unloading the dishwasher etc - as long as he did, without fail every weekend, the one job I absolutely abhor: cleaning the bathroom. He said he would. Guess how many times the bathroom has been cleaned since we moved in? Once. By me.

Le sigh.

Rochelle said...

Oh gosh, this rings a bell. BF and I had a similar argument a few months ago that culminated in me totally losing my shit and THROWING A BASKET OF WASHING AT HIM. Not my finest hour.

We're not quite in the same situation as you Erica - we live in a townhouse with about 3 square feet of backyard so there is avocado-related excuse! :-)

I think it's easy for us girls to tell ourselves that it's not the boy's responsibility to help maintain the house to our so-called OCD standards (as I had been doing) but the reality is, it's not fair for them to say 'mess doesn't bother me' and therefore make no contribution. The word is compromise! Living in a house that meets basic hygiene standards is very important to me, but that doesn't mean I enjoy vacuuming or scrubbing toilets (I don't).

We try to meet in the middle now. He makes much more of an effort to help out with chores (without even being asked - that makes me feel very lucky) and I do my best to relax my standards and not get the dust-buster out as soon as he finishes vacuuming (shameful, I know).

The kitchen is still my domain but that suits us. Cooking is a big chore for him whereas food is my absolute passion. Win/win.

We're a much happier household now.

Will said...

Umm, this might sound irrelevant and superficial ... but who was Maggie on Married with Children? Perhaps you meant Peggy; or maybe I've had a memory lapse?

katiecrackernuts said...

Tell hubby to suck it up. Preferably with a vacuum.
No, seriously. The arguments in our house are with the dependent adults and cleaning up after them. At 20, I reckon you should be able to wash up and put away your own lunch dishes (and close the cupboards, and do your washing -and bring it in and put it away. I could go on.)

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Of course it was Peggy - my bad! Thanks, Will. Lauren, it's a shame - but true - that if you want something done right, you might just have to do it yourself. Kitty, hilarious! I sympathise with your work-from-home conundrum - I'm at pains to remind everyone who drops by that I have, um, actual work to do! And Rochelle, I'm glad to hear you've found your happy domestic medium... no injuries!

Sarah Ayoub said...

Oh what a fantastic post! Although I have to say that it sounds like you guys have a little bit easier than you think, even though this opinion is not going to make for the most popular comment here.
You see, I was raised in a traditional Lebanese Christian household. My mum's domain was the housework and the kitchen, the children's education, and all matters of a spiritual nature. My father was the breadwinner who mowed the lawn and came home each day expecting to find some warm cooking on the stove. When he sat down to his meal - he really sat down. That means that if he needed salt or a napkin or a knife, it fell to one of the females to get it for him. Considering my semi-feminist attitudes, I vowed that for me, things would be the same. I promptly took up with an Anglo-Australian boy who was not raised in the same manner, so I figured that when I got married, things would be kinda equal, or at least 70/30 (I was not going to be too radical).Unfortunately, my parents have gotten boyfriend used to our way of life - when he's over at dinner, my dad finds it odd if he gets up off the table to get his own things. At first, he maintained that he didnt want me leaving my meal to bustle about him, but soon enough, I found he started getting used to it. So you see, I am faced with a constant battle to keep reminding him that things will be different when we are married, while respecting the boundaries in my parents' house. Then again, I think my problem is more with my rents as opposed to my man, because now that I am closer to marriage, mother is destermined to make a 50's housewife out of me. I work from home, and I literally do sit at my desk from 9-6, with only a break for meals or checking the mailbox. But just like in Kitty's situation, I'm expected to have time for the housework just cos I am home. What I am trying to say is that we're always going to have these housework issues. What can we do? We're just cleaner beings and its just in our innate nature to be the way that we are about housework. I guess all we can do is drum some more house-friendly training into our men and hope for the best. I'm sure by now you see that it could be a hell of a lot worse :)

jess said...

I still live at home, but being the eldest of four kids means our house is anything but neat. Instead of having to share the load with a partner, I have to share it with siblings - and my mum points out that I shouldn't be expecting my 11-year-old sisters to be doing chores that I didn't do at that age. She has also tried to make a roster, but it's failed numerous times. When she bugs me to do something (like wash the dishes), it turns me off doing them.

Though the one thing that does my mum's head in is my room. She can't understand why, despite my perfectionist tendencies, it remains to look like a car crash site (it's really only piles of magazines and clothes, but I guess my mum doesn't see it like that).

Francesca said...

It's great to decide you enjoy housework and are happy to shoulder the burden. The real problems can lurk further down the track. If you decide to have a family together, and if you've already established a set-up where he does the outside and you do the inside, you might find that his workload remains the same while your workload expands exponentially. Renegotiating a fairer split after many years of doing it one way can be tough.
Enjoy it while you do, but if you do start to resent it, or feel it's not fair, then feel free to ask him to step up. Every person in a household needs to pull their weight if harmony is to reign.

dominie said...

When my bf and i moved in together, we decided that he was the cook and i was the cleaner. i hate cooking and thought i would compromise (and get a good deal) by cleaning and that includes everything - all dishes, laundry, vacuuming, bathroom, everything!. Little did i know just how messy he actually was. He isn't a clean cook either. He has the profound ability to use every saucepan, plate, wooden spoon he can, and we don't have a dishwasher. Cleaning and picking up after him is a full time job.

I just don't understand how boys can be so oblivious to mess.
Seriously, when the bin is full, EMPTY IT! But no, he will keep piling things on there till it overflows, then squashing it down again, but never thinking to empty it. How this doesn't compute is beyond me. It isn't beyond his capabilities. That is my biggest pet peeve. Please, just empty the stupid bin once in a while!

Mum used to complain about this topic all the time, so i don't think things have really changed.

Bonnie- amour amour said...

I can so relate to this! We always come to an agreement... eventually. The problem is the inherent belief that the other person does less and that you do more- at least at my house!

sparsely kate said...

Hmmmm. Very good post, Erica!

I remember that when I first moved in with my boyfriend, 13 years ago (we're not together anymore!) that I immediately took up the laundry and the washing up and the vacuuming part of living together. I prepared most of the meals.
It took a few more years later and a couple of kids for me to really resent this - like the novelty wore off about playing 'the little woman at home' and I was actually bitter, resentful and bored.

I don't know what the right answers are but I do know that the male/female lines are blurred like never before and it is not only us girls that are confused!

Anonymous said...

Erica, I don't think feminism wheedled it's way into our brains chipping away at our undying love for housework to brainwash us into developing a hate for it. It's not a chicken or egg scenario, the hate came first then women started to question what was expected of them. You're not coming across terribly anti-feminist but you do sound like a cop-out.

The media aren't trying to trick you into anything, in fact turn on any television and there's always a woman advertising some sort of cleaning product. The media or perhaps advertising, if anything, reinforces the traditional gender roles and isn't out to challenge the status quo at all.

I don't mean to ruffle your feathers but it's incredibly grating when women blame feminism for apparently making them feel a certain way when in fact, if you hate or like house cleaning then be brave enough to stand by your conviction just don't insinuate that a movement of women have made you feel a certain way.


SheilaK said...

This women-are-naturally-tidier business bothers me. It's not true! Some PEOPLE are naturally tidier than others in all facets of life, while some feel more pressured to be so, particularly around the house, and their may be a gender split here. If you work in an office, check the desks of the men and women you work with – is one sex always tidier than the other? Not in my experience. Same with cars and houses. Every couple needs to work out their own fair distribution of chores based on individual circumstances, not traditional gender roles. Working from home, actual housework and working outside the home can all be sources of great satisfaction and real pains in the bum. Both partners need to be reminded of that, wherever their main duties fall.

Kate said...

Couldn't agree more with Sheila K and Hannah. Comments like Sarah's that women are just 'cleaner beings' and 'it's in our innate nature' to be that way drive me batty. There is absolutely no scientific evidence for this reductionist claim. You wouldn't accept the 'it's just in their nature' excuse for a lot of other things - racism, sexism, etc. Society expects women to do more = women do more.

Kate said...

PS - that's not intended as an attack on anyone, just a response!

Julia said...

This was a brilliant post, Erica! Had a good giggle while reading it (not that your situation was funny... but just laughing at how men can be) and the many smart comments as well! I totally relate to Jess - Mum has tried a million times with a roaster when I was a kid, but somehow it was never obeyed. And the more she nags, the more I don't want to do it! Anyway, because the Boyfriend is studying Culinary Arts, he cooks for the both of us quite a lot. And whenever he does, it's my duty to wash up. Give and take (though sometimes I manage weasel my way out of it! HAHA) But I believe we'll have serious issues when we get married because he's not exactly the most tidy guy in the world and I'm definitely just like you: borderline OCD. Sigh. Such is life. xx

Jena said...

I grew up in a very non-traditional household. My mother worked 60+ hour weeks while my dad stayed at home. He was a barber and that allowed him to work from home and take care of my brother and me. He did the cooking, the cleaning, and even helping with my Girl Scout troop. I think being raised this way has ruined me when it comes to my relationships, though. I hold my boyfriends to a higher standard, thinking "my dad did laundry, why can’t you?"

Alana said...

This post really hit home with me. Lately I've been very frustrated with my boyfriend. He says that he contributed to the cleaning last week - he did the dishes twice, that was it. Also, we've been living together for a year, and he hasn't cleaned the bathroom one single time. And we live in a small apartment, so it's not like there's outside duties... But maybe I just need to clean and stop complaining about it.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Alana, perhaps I should elaborate a little for you.

My circumstances are very particular at the moment - there's simply much work to be done outside the home, which makes our sharing of duties pretty fair and equitable and my incessant whingeing about 'doing everything' understandably annoying.

HOWEVER, if Husband and I were living in a shared apartment or on a smaller property, I would absolutely expect that he do his fair share of "inside duties". And he's said he would do as much - particularly when we have children. Yet to get that in writing.

The thing that gets me most about the whole domestic conundrum is the expectation that a woman should cook/clean, etc. In the 50s, before we became active members of the public sphere and educated working women in our own right, this expectation may have seemed fair. Now? Not so much. Some women are earning more and working harder than their partners. Feminism has determined that we should get equal pay for equal work - by the same token, the same fairness principle should be applied to the home.

What irks most women, I think, is doing the work as a matter of duty but being taken for granted. We appreciate gestures that alleviate our load and a thank-you. Some days, that's enough to get me through the washing up.

A loving couple should be doing kind things for each other - heck, I like making my husband's lunch on occasion and serving him a nice dinner, because I love him and it's a way for me to demonstrate my affection. But there's a difference between showing love and soul-sucking servitude.

Ideally, there should be some sort of agreement or understanding particular to a couple's living circumstances that determines the fair and equitable division of household labour, lest resentments should one day simmer to the surface resulting in the chopping off of certain appendages.

Anonymous said...

As a mum of two kids, I can tell you that the 'suck it up and enjoy it' theory of housekeeping is long gone - you can triple your allotted 'house work' hours, Erica! What I tend to find is that hubby does the things he wants to do around the house - generally outdoor stuff - while I become The Person In Charge of Everything Else. I don't think it's got to do with Feminism or Anti-Feminism or anything else- resentment grows when you feel like you're doing a whole lot of chores that someone else simply feels are not their problem. The difference between our day and grandma's day? Gran didn't have to go to work to support a mortgage. I'd probably take a lot more pride in my 'house work' if I wasn't also contributing half the household income. But you know what? It also gives me a lot more leg to stand on when I'm at the 'throwing the washing basket at him' stage. God forbid that he ever has the 'avo' argument to throw back at me!

Anonymous said...

Your husband sounds like a real jerk! Does he not realize you are doing your best? The simple fact that he even thought it fair to argue back after your initial rant makes me furious! He sounds like a true misogynist!