Lisa Belkin just posted a blog entitled: Women Can’t Lean in at Work Until Men Do at Home. This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about, and Belkin’s article gave me the motivation to do so. My post below will make more sense if you read her article first. However, the general concept is implied in her title…men need to do more of the domestics in order for women to get ahead in the workplace.
This concept has always bothered me. I think it would be great for domestic work to be split 50-50, presuming that’s logistically possible for a working couple (i.e., my husband runs his own company and travels 50% of the time, so it’s not possible for us.) However, the idea that men are the saviors of the work-life balance for women is misguided and dangerous because it sets up an unreasonable expectation that only leads to resentment and bitterness. Here’s why:
First, lots of working parents don’t have a spouse/partner in their life to help. Let’s just get that fact out of the way. They’re already left out of this conversation.
Second, if you have 2 working parents, even if they’re sharing the domestics, which is 1 additional fulltime job, you still have 2 people doing 3 jobs. And I suppose it’s better that each person does 1.5 jobs than one spouse/partner doing 1.75 jobs and the other doing 1.25, but you see my point…which is that even couples I know who equally share domestic labor are exhausted, feel like they have no time for friends, etc. Men sharing domestics is still just half-a-solution, and if women think that men’s participation in domestics is what’s holding them back, they will be sorely disappointed to learn that it will only take them so far.
Third, if both parents are participating in the domestics, it’s more likely that they will both have mediocre careers…if they’re both taking time off for doc appts, kids sick, etc., as NEITHER person can really be “leaning in”. It may be better for one spouse/partner to go full tilt with the career for a few years (while the other spouse/partner leans back a bit and takes on a bulk of the domestics) and then switch places at some point in time. Otherwise both people may end up with permanently mediocre careers.
Fourth, what is considered domestic work? In Belkin’s article, a Kentucky professor who did research on this topic said respondents included “hairstyling,” “organizing photos,” and “holiday prep” as “work.” So, nothing in life is fun? No one said you had to take or organize photos if you didn’t want to. Put your hair up in a ponytail and cut out the “hairstyling.” It’s really hard to know what’s going with sharing domestic workloads if every detail is defined as work.
Fifth, There’s also research that men are doing more than they’re getting credit for, for example, this study.
Sixth, slightly off-topic, but the people to me who have the golden situation: those with grandparents (i.e, their own parents) nearby. Grandparents who are nearby, willing, able, healthy and not-otherwise-employed. A single working parent with a grandparent nearby is better off than one with a spouse/partner. True, most of us don’t have the grandparent option. But if you can, live near family. It doesn’t just take a spouse, it takes a village.
Seventh, there is a problem with the tenor of the discussion about men’s contribution to domestic life, which is very accusatory and full of nagging. If women want men to participate more in domestics, rants about how lazy and ignorant they are don’t help. There’s an amount of gentle education that has to happen, as it’s really only in the past generation that so many women have entered the workforce, and you can’t fully change cultural patterns that have existed for millennia overnight. Research shows that we’re moving in the right direction. As well, positive reinforcement and acknowledgement for the domestic (and financial) contributions that already men make will be more effective at changing behavior than nagging. It’s basic psychology…you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Eighth, while I don’t care that Sandberg has a lot of money with regard to most of her points, with this argument, I feel like it’s relevant. Someone who has a “small army” helping her and her husband with domestics shouldn’t be preaching that men helping around the house are women’s saving grace. She doesn’t know.
After all this, ultimately I DO think it’s ideal if domestics can be divided…whether it’s by taking turns (i.e., the Hanna Rosin approach of couples switching off who focuses on domestics) or consistently throughout life, whatever works best for the couple. My problem is with Sandberg (and many others) implying that women could be leaders, could lean in, etc., IF ONLY men would share the housework. There are SO many other things needed, i.e., universal childcare, community support for child/eldercare/domestics, on-site childcare. Women will be sorely disappointed and couples will be resentful of each other when they reach domestic parity and find they’re exhausted and still not fully able to “lean in” to their careers. If we change the tenor of the conversation away from accusing men of shirking their domestic duties, and towards a collaborative discussion of what we all (as individuals and institutions) can do to improve the situation, we will all be more successful at achieving professional and domestic goals.