On Housework

Working in the fields comes naturally to man, and, however excessive it is, there is nothing to equal it. Although it can exhaust the body, it does not create any unhealthy feeling. Domestic work is natural to man, and it produces nothing but happiness and joy.

– from a contemporary critique of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

the man who didn't wash his dishes


Here’s a great article from a guy who is now a ‘stay-at-home-dude’, brought to you by Slate.

I bet there a number of career women out there who would LOVE a house-husband, if only there were enough to go round. See: Who Wants A Housewife? from Undecided Blog.

I can well imagine the conversation-stoppers this guy faces when he tells people he moved interstate due to his wife’s job and is now a full-time home duties guy, and no, they don’t have any kids. I feel enough pressure myself, with questions and raised eyebrows about what I do all day, even though we do have a kid, and I do do illustration from home (which is fun, sure, but definitely feeling like work.)

Everybody’s housework, carried out mainly by women over the past few centuries, has become all but invisible over the past fifty years or so, since of course nobody notices when something is clean and tidy — only the opposite. (I know this because I have done my share of paid cleaning.) The most surefire way of getting house duties to rise in cultural value is by inviting large numbers of men enter the profession — kind of like the opposite of what happens when large numbers of women enter a profession.

I wonder what barriers this stay-at-home-dude would face though, if he ever decided to go back to work. Does he plan to work for himself, perhaps? Because I’m sure there would be a lot of employers who don’t consider ‘stay-at-home-dude’ a legitimate gap to have on a CV. It’s hard enough getting back into the workforce after an extended period of stay-at-home-mothering.


If you’re like me and need to somehow gamify your housework, because let’s face it, HOUSEWORK IS BORING, you might have heard of Fly Lady, who has set up a business around sending out emails and daily housework challenges, selling merchandise like timers. You set your timer, do your daily task,  and after you’re done you can sit down and have a cup of tea. I actually tried this a few years ago and for a couple of months we had a tidy house. But I didn’t get ANOTHER SINGLE THING DONE. Ideally, housework should happen almost unconsciously, around all the other important things I had to do, like you know, reading books. I’m pretty sure you NEVER get the stage where your house is 15 minutes away from visitor ready… not with a kid or two, and an inside dog, and an ageing house, and a big yard, and a flock of free-range chickens crapping on the porch. *chews straw*

If you need to kick your house into shape, however, and Fly Lady is a bit mid-western-Christian-scrap-booky for you, you might try the Unfuck Your Habitat App, available on the iTunes app store under ‘Unfilth Your Habitat’, since Apple doesn’t even like the word ‘vagina‘ let alone ‘fuck’. (Apple do however allow ‘pancreas’ in the app store, so you can all breathe a sigh of relief.) Apparently this app will be available on Android soonish.

In case you’re wondering what this app is all about, here’s Unfuck Your Habitat Top Tens from Persephone Magazine.

Also: Why “Company Ready” Is Just The Beginning, from Unfuck Your Habitat, because everyone deserves to live in a pleasant environment… not just your judgey visitors!


Women spend less than half as much time cleaning as they did 50 years ago, from Jezebel.

I suspect it’s been replaced by self-maintenance in an increasingly image-obsessed world. People sure aren’t any less busy. It also struck me the other day, as I looked at the living room full of plastic toys, that kids two generations ago didn’t have a proliferation of personal possessions of their own to leave all over the show, so the 19th century housewife wouldn’t have had that to deal with.


Disgusted People Spot Dirt More Easily from BPS Research Digest. So don’t invite disgusted people over to your filthy sty of a house.


Referencing housewives as a negative model of femininity is extremely offensive to me, from Holly Curtis at The Peach. Yet the wonderfully ironic Jezebel continues to do just that, unintentionally I’m sure.


Or clean everything with vinegar and baking soda. I haven’t had much luck with this, but I need to read up on Natural Cleaning Tips From Babble or Natural Cleaning With Things You Already Have At Home from Everyday Paleo or Baking Soda Cleaning Tips from Glamamom. Throwing baking soda around like wedding confetti and standing in the middle of a room squirting white vinegar at random intervals doesn’t do the job.


Strategies Men Use To Avoid Housework, taking a scene from The Office as an example. (I’d say those same strategies are used by teenagers, and anyone else who actively avoids doing their share.)

Women Are Earning More And Doing More Housework, Too, from The Globe and Mail

A Really Easy Answer To The Feminist Housework Problem, by a person called Jonathan. (Doesn’t work, since women are judged according to the cleanliness of their houses.)

Halfway To Admitting Why Women Do More Housework And Child Care Than Men from The Raw Story

Women Are Often Remarkably Reluctant to Ask for Help Around the House from The Atlantic

Over at Wired, “Nobel Laureate and Berkeley economist George Akerlof writes that in married couples, “When men do all the outside work, they contribute on average about 10 percent of housework. But as their share of outside work falls, their share of housework rises to no more than 37 percent.” In other words, even when the wife is the primary breadwinner, she’s likely to also do more of the housework.” Well, that’s depressing.

Even more depressing: The impact of having children on how housework is shared from Blue Milk.

Yet the folk at The Good Men Project say that men’s housework isn’t counted in the regularly-quoted housework tallies. That said, I’ve seen studies which count ‘commuting’ into weekly-work tallies. I’m not sure if commuting is always counted as ‘work‘, even if it is often included as compensable work time. In this small part of the world, the daily commute can be one of your most relaxing times of the day, in which you sing along to your favourite tunes without interruption, gliding along the highway enjoying the country view, yet in other parts of the world, your commute will be among the most stressful hours of the entire day. It’s an interesting point though, that figures on ‘working’ and ‘leisure time’ vary so considerably in their focus, and this applies to the gender divide too.

I’ll read this one day: Surprising Ways To Use Baking Soda.

Can Housework Make You Live Longer? (I think someone worked out the longevity sex differential.)

Are you oblivious to clutter?

Molly Schoemann asks: “Why is it that in television commercials for cleaning products, women are still doing all the work? We’re still the only ones trailing our fingers ruefully over dusty tabletops, fretting over grass stains on soccer uniforms, and grimacing through smudged windows.” at Feministe.

Little surprise here: women expected to do more at home – and at work from The Guardian

housekeeping for two

2 thoughts on “On Housework

  1. Hi- I really enjoyed your article. I wrote the Good Men Article piece you reference. It is true that the two most cited studies about time use- The Americans Time Use Study and the PSID, by their own definitions of housework, exclude home repair/mainenance, lawnwork, and other “traditionally done by the guy” tasks, claiming that they are “enjoyable”. Clearly, by and large, women do more than men, even in dual-earner households. But the bad data exaggerates the differences.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      It just strikes me now that the female analog to “traditionally done by the guy” tasks is shopping. Women are often told how much we love to shop, when in fact many women don’t like shopping at all. The weekly task of grocery shopping, food planning and lugging of bags, trolley battles and queuing definitely feels like work.

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