Much has been made about the fact that married women do more housework and childcare than their husbands, even when they work outside the home. The most recent stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that on an average day 82 percent of women spent time on housework, compared with just 65 percent of men — and women spend longer per day doing these chores. And then there is this Stanford study that found partnered female scientists did 54 percent of household chores in their home while their male counterparts did just 28 percent.
The party line feminist response to these oft-cited statistics is always the same: Men need to step it up at home so we can close the pay gap and free women to be true equal partners in all spheres.
Or, maybe the problem isn’t that men are lazy or chauvinistic. Maybe women need to rethink how much time we devote to housework and abolish the working-mom guilt that drives us to Swiffer our floors every evening.
The fact is, we still accept — often subconsciously — that good wives and women take good care of their homes, whether they work or not. I suspect that huge numbers of professional mothers develop Swiffer elbow because they unconsciously worry that if their kitchen floor is gross their kids (or neighbors) will think they’re a crap mom and that they, in turn, will feel like a crap mom. In other words: They Swiffer because they feel guilty for being professionally successful and cannot reconcile that with the fact that they must be successful at home, too.
However, something else is at play as we sort out the finer points of closing the pay gap at work and the work gap at home. Women, historically, were granted scant opportunity to relax. Women’s work has traditionally been a breakless endeavor, as anyone with a newborn can tell you. Cooking and cleaning, historically, did not pause when the sun set, as men’s work of farming and business-running typically did.
Today, this plays out in the office: A recent survey by Captivate Network found that at work men are 25 percent more likely to take breaks throughout the workday for personal activities, 7 percent more likely go for a walk, 5 percent more likely to leave the office for lunch and a whopping 35 percent more likely to take breaks “just to relax.” Maybe these young women are subject to sexism which dictates they work harder than their male colleagues in order to get ahead. But maybe they also have few models for how to balance their own well-being with productivity.
This non-stop work standard then plays out at home, as all the studies about unequal time spent on housework and parenting illustrate. But as we abolish the distinction between gender-specific tasks in all spheres, women need new attitudes about what their work day can look like — both in the office and at home.
This is where outsourcing household tasks becomes a critical force in gender equality. Think about it: You are a professional woman building a career or business so you can maximize your God-given skills (plus a few more you learned along the way). We are on this trail-blazing path so you and I can do better than our foremothers who were resigned to back-breaking, mind-numbing housework because they had no other options.
So, hire a housekeeper and be at peace with it. Pick up take-out sometimes, and pay someone else to do your laundry. Or relax your cleanliness standards. You will not be reported to your local Department of Child Protective Services if you restrict the Swiffering to once weekly.
Most importantly, let go of the part of your identity that equates the orderliness of your home with your self-worth. Because now we have a glorious plethora of other ways to express our identities in career, creativity and community activities that were once only men’s territory. Embrace all the readily-available measures that now allow us to cut the chore shackles from our ankles and chill the eff out. Take a break. Stop expecting so much of yourself at home and stop quarreling with your husband to do the same. And relish in this moment in history when you have the option to be so much more than your hardwood floors.
Emma Johnson is a personal finance journalist, blogger at WealthySingleMommy.com, and host of The Emma Johnson Show, syndicated nationwide on AM radio. She lives in New York City with her children, Helena, 6 and Lucas, 4.