Several people on my FB feed have posted this comic over the last week or two and it’s been fascinating — and a little depressing — to see some of the responses. The comic follows a couple wherein the female/wife is balancing a bunch of domestic stuff while the male/husband sits by, chilling out. When chaos ensues, and it becomes apparent to the husband that his wife has too much on her plate, he says: “Well, you should have asked for help!” Then an argument is made, by the comic, that it shouldn’t be a woman’s job to figure out what needs to be done and ask for help; men and women should equally be taking on the mental work of figuring out what needs to be done (or, one person can manage and delegate, while the other does the labor, or a mix of both).
Predictably, 99.9% of the women who commented on the FB threads I saw on this issue said something along the lines of, “Yes, yes, this is so true,” and “I related to this so much.” And, disappointingly, though maybe as predictably, almost 100% of the men who have commented, have said things like, “This is so sexist!!”, “#notallmen,” “I totally help with household chores!,” and my favorite: “If any woman is in a domestic partnership she feels is unequal, it’s her own fault!”
Of course, we women know that isn’t fucking true (systemic sexism and dogmatic patriarchy has a little something to do with it…), and we also know that the mental load we carry in domestic partnerships (especially ones that include children) is not about the household chores (at least, not that much). When I think about the mental load I carry as a wife and mother, I’m thinking about the organizing and packing for family trips, the organizing of the kids’ wardrobes every season and getting rid of stuff they’ve outgrown, buying gifts for kids’ birthday parties, maintaining the social calendar (knowing where we’re supposed to be and when, as well as planning activities), researching and signing up for summer camps and after-school activities, reading all the correspondences from school and maintaining the school-related calendar (including all the damn end-of-the-year activities), hiring the babysitters, making doctor appointments, planning meals, researching family vacations, etc., etc., fucking ETCETERA. Seriously, the list is endless and it doesn’t even include household chores, which I agree: modern men are definitely stepping up and contributing to (if not at 50%, then pretty damn close). But the mental load? The planning and organizing and remembering and thinking of all the details involved in running a household? Women’s work. Or, at least, that’s what it would seem if the reality is any indication.
So, what’s the answer to this? If men are crying that it’s sexist that we even point out this gross imbalance, what do we do? Keep pointing it out, I say! Talk to our partners about it, point out when the workload is imbalanced. For example, this is a conversation Drew and I have a lot, in a variety of ways. I most definitely carry more of the mental load, but because Drew is our primary breadwinner and works many more non-domestic hours than I do, I don’t consider the workload imbalanced. Going forward though, I’d like to contribute more financially and a little less on the domestic workload front and vice versa for him. I think Drew would like that, too, and we are always talking about how and when we can make that happen.
Do you have these conversations with your partners? What kind of responses do you get? If you’re in a gay relationship, do you still notice an imbalance in mental workload? I’m so curious if and how such a thing might exist in non-heteronormative domestic relationships.