I love Joli’s comment to my earlier post that “if behind every great man is a woman, then behind every great woman is not a man who steps up to dust, but a housekeeper.”
“Equality” in housekeeping has been, in my experience, an empty word. Just looking around me, if the woman doesn’t like to iron or dust (or clean out the refrigerator, or throw away the piles of newspapers), then it doesn’t get done at all. The most extreme example of this happened when my married friends Susan and Harold showed up at my house at 11:00 one night. A button had fallen off Harold’s woolen coat, and Susan refused to sew it back on. Harold refused to even try. So would I save their marriage by sewing a button on Harold’s coat? No.
Men in my generation were not raised to be seamsters or housekeepers, and I sincerely appreciate the changes they have gone through to take on their share of this unwelcome work. On the other hand, women of my generation were not raised to be CEO’s, doctors, professors, and lawyers, but those are positions they have yearned to fill. Nobody ever yearned to dust the house or tidy up the living room. These chores are filled by paid housekeepers who do much but not all of the necessary work, or they are not filled at all. In many families of my acquaintance nobody irons or dusts, and fashion and hygiene norms have been adjusted.
My second husband and I came to agreement. He would do the laundry, take out the garbage…. and I would cook, iron, etc. After his chores were done (and he was all puffed up proud that he did them as promised, on time and adequately) he would take off. But the front porch needed to be swept; the refrigerator needed to be cleaned out, the comforter needed to be taken to the cleaner’s for its annual cleaning. “Not my job.” “Whose job is it?” “I don’t know.”
After becoming well educated and credentialed, finding a prestigious job, hanging a few laurels around our necks, the housework remains, the unwieldy and unyielding elephant in the room.