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.