Not to sound flippant, but this is why I got divorced and have stayed divorced. I don't particularly care what the root of an individual straight, cis man's inability to notice or do equal amounts of labor are (societal conditioning, weaponized incompetence, whatever), but I have long passed my ability to tolerate it in my space. I have a lovely partner who will never, ever live in my house; things are done to my standards and on my schedule, and I am privileged enough to outsource the rest. The real challenge now is single parenting: I have two sons and am raising them to be noticers to save the sanity of whoever their partners end up being!

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How great would it be if this particular comment section were full of men talking to each other instead of like all women

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I have So Many Thoughts, and for background, in a past life I taught sociology of the family. My thoughts about this are already structured around an academic literature on the subject. But it's also personal, because this is something I struggle with a lot, as the product of a very equal partnership who finds myself, to my real shame, in a pretty unequal one. Or is it? It's complicated!

My husband works a lot more paid hours than I do. Like 10-15 more per week, often more. As a result, we don't have the leisure gap that a lot of the literature on household division of labor talks about. I work out five times a week; he works out once. Our time for reading/watching/playing is probably pretty similar. So how do I weigh the time I spend on household labor that he doesn't spend against the fact that he really is working more paid hours? (Not because I have scaled back -- I work 40+, but he's a biglaw lawyer.)

Childcare is where my husband is closest to equal -- because he prioritizes that and understands it very clearly as his responsibility (and pleasure) to be an active parent. He did very close to half the diapers when that was relevant, he does all the baths, he has a specific chunk of the morning getting-ready-for-school routine that he supervises and keeps on track. Today he will take our kid to the eye doctor after having 10 days ago taken him to another medical appointment. Etc.

But to the mental labor/noticer point, I am the one who made those appointments. I am the one who notices that the kid has outgrown some clothes and orders new ones (and if I don't also put the outgrown ones in the donation bag in a timely way, my husband will give them to the kid to wear and not notice that they are too small). I plan almost all of the meals. It goes on. And as this piece makes clear, that is grinding, exhausting work that is invisible to the person who's not doing it. My husband has read enough pieces about gendered division of labor to understand in principle that I am doing this invisible work, but that doesn't translate to a real gut-level understanding of what it means. And so I am so, so tired, and he does not understand how deep that is.

On the surface, if you add up our paid hours and the amount of time we put in on concrete tasks, we are probably equal. It's just that my mind is never, ever at rest because there is always something I feel like I should already have done, or something that needs Noticing. (And trust, I am not even at 60% on things like family photos or holiday decorations. We're talking about medical appointments and haircuts and having clothes that fit.)

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Another idea I wish got a lot more airtime… boys and men need to be proactively socialized to be more… social. If boys and men were explicitly taught the value of friendship, the tools for establishing and nurturing peer relationships, I think it would help advance gender equality in a more sticky way:

1) Ideas and norms of parity in household labor might spread more easily if there were male-dominant peer channels for them to disseminate; and

2) Socializing and all the important and meaningful stuff of building a life together takes work, and more men would be taking on this work and getting something valuable out of it!

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I'm a SAHP and I find that these division of labour conversations leave me with a pool of anger deep in the pit of my stomach, but also I don't know how the lack of paid outside the home employment fits into them. I have some thoughts about all of this as it relates to unpaid labour, but they don't really connect so hopefully it's okay to lay them out piecemeal.

1) As a self-identified feminist and atheist, I've found that the most support for the work I put in day to day comes from Christians who have traditional views about gender norms. This is confusing!

2) My husband works a lot. He's self-employed, building his business, all these things. And I'm supporting that. He's able to work a lot because I do all the indoor tasks. This is frustrating, because it's his business, not mine, but he would not be able to do this without me.

3) When I was working, I did all the same housework I do now, but without kids added into the mix. I was happy to stop working. I don't want to go back to paid work. My life is lovely, and also I KNOW that if I chose to/needed to work again we would fall into the same trap, and it would be my responsibility to fix it. So do I need to figure out that imbalance now, while I'm not doing paid work and have no desire to?

I'm curious to check out this book!

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Today is my 9th wedding anniversary, and to be honest I feel really sad. The division of labor between us is so lopsided and I feel so much resentment towards my husband over it. I can't determine if on his end it's weaponized incompetence, depression, or brain damage. He claims that it isn't depression and that his brain post-stroke is fine, so that leaves weaponized incompetence. However, that doesn't make sense to me, either, because he never notices things even when they're incredibly obvious.

When I say incredibly obvious, I mean that an entire week's worth of dishes have covered all of our counter space and have ants on them, the trash cans are all overflowing, and the cat is urinating outside of the litter box because it's full of shit. So when people say to just do less, I laugh because they are saying to go ahead and let my husband do nothing. He doesn't even wake up on his own - he sets 5 alarms yet I have to practically drag him out of bed every morning.

The worst part is that I can't get him to watch our 3 year old daughter so that I can do the chores. He will literally watch her for 10 seconds and then pull out his phone and completely ignore her. He'll put on TV episodes or a movie for her and then still ignore her. So she cries for me and then he's all like "see she wants Mommy" and I say back "that's because you won't play with her." She's now finally at the age where she can help me, so finally I'm getting more done.

I went away on a trip with my choir for 4 days and he changed her clothes exactly once in that time frame and didn't comb her hair (I know this because of social media pictures). He himself will wear the same (very obviously dirty and stained) clothing over and over and be shocked when I tell him to change his clothing and not understand that I don't want to be physical or sexual with someone who can't even take care of basic hygiene.

A lot of my family and friends truly believe it's brain damage from having a stroke, but it's hard to ignore the coincidence that this all got worse after having a child.

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I appreciate the term "noticer" because I have used that word to describe myself with my partner. I have explained to him that I "see all the things". It does not feel like a choice to notice the surfaces in the house filling up with stuff, the floors accumulating dust and pet hair, the cobwebs in the corners, I just see it (notice it) and it feels automatic that it is one more thing to add to the mental to-do list. My partner has said he just doesn't "see" the mess. He grew up in a traditional home that was actually quite tidy in the shared spaces, and his mom, who worked full time also was the noticer and did much of the female-role work. I grew up in a single parent home, raised by my father. I was the oldest of three daughter so I took on the role of care-taker and I think this contributed to my hyper-vigilance of noticing because dad was an authoritarian with a temper and things had to be "nice". I think my drive to tidy and keep things in their place stems from those experiences where it was a tactic to keep myself safe. I can recall other childhood experiences where I felt I upset an adult in my life, and to make up for it I would start cleaning as a self-imposed penance. So in edition to taking on the typical gendered roles, I do this labor as a way to ensure my safety and self-worth. I am working on breaking this down, and I agree with Mangino that part of the solution is to just stop doing so much, and maybe instead do something else that brings personal joy and value.

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My third comment here because this is a bread and butter topic for me. ***Shout out to the womxn out there who are bipoc and/or raising mixed families where caregiving and cooking are not chores to be delegated or shared as part of a gender equality exercise, but rather, are defiant acts of protecting and nurturing our identity and soul.

I am Korean raising 4 young kids with a white American partner in a community where we don’t have Korean friends or family. And for me, even the most mundane aspects of domestic life are key ingredients of making our family Korean -- for building that foundation in our kids’ identity that will help them embrace who they are now and in the future. Making Korean food for our family meals is work but not something I’d ever give up in the name of parity in household work.

Same thing for planning for and celebrating Korean holidays. Yes it’s work, but the kind of work that is life- and identity-affirming. And not one that can be delegated.

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I loved this convo and will definitely be checking out the book. One place where I’ve struggled in my relationship is that I’m 100% the noticer and get-shit-done organizer in the relationship. My partner helps (a lot!) but I’ve expressed that this cognitive load feels tiring. In response, he says that while he’s happy to help me, he doesn’t notice these things because he’s simply okay with living in a house that’s kind of a mess. He grew up in a messy house and I grew up in a very clean house, and now I think we’re struggling to meet in the middle. He likes having a cleaner house but it seems like he just feels like he wouldn’t be as bothered as I am (and therefore I notice first). We’ve been a bit stuck here, and I wonder if there even is a solution.

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This is a bit niche/unique situation: it took a long time to get our household even up to the 65/35, I think because my spouse grew up in a much more traditional household than I did (he’s an only child raised by lovely, very old-fashioned working class British parents, whereas I’m one of 3 daughters whose father did a lot of the cooking and cleaning). It’s neverending “noticing” labor even to teach “noticing,” both to my spouse and kids, but at least they all see the value. Anyway, the niche balancer for us is that I’m the one who does the hunting. I’m the one who puts on the camo gear and goes out during the season, and when our kids see me out in the cold with a couple friends doing some processing, I think (hope) it does a lot to balance out the cooking/cleaning/laundry/homework/appointment making and taking to part of our lives.

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As a feminist with a feminist partner, and having spent the last 9 years adding 4 young kiddos to the mix, parity in household labor is *very* top of mind.

I struggle with the concept of PARITY in household labor because while it is easier to imagine how we reach parity (50/50) at a macro level across society, we are in control of only ONE household — the micro level. And inside a single household with two unique individuals, even in a gender-equal utopia, each individual has unique tendencies and natural talents (that are, admittedly, heavily influenced by the gender roles in the homes we grew up in, as well as socialized norms).

So presumably, even if/when we reach parity at a macro level, there will remain individual households where a woman takes on more of the female-coded tasks and men take on more of the male-coded tasks. And I think that’s important to keep in mind.

Personally, I grew up in an immigrant household with very traditional gender roles, and I am naturally drawn to female-coded tasks and projects like caring for the kids, cooking for the family, planning all the things, making sure the kids have clothes for school, making the home feel homey, etc. To *not* care about these things would be the equivalent of denying who I am. But it’s taken me many years to overcome feminist guilt. Can I really be a feminist if I’m at home raising 4 kids?

Despite my ability to earn equal if not higher income than my partner, I decided to leave the traditional “work force” to grow our family because it was meaningful to me. I wanted it. Even though I have willingly and enthusiastically taken on most of the daytime caregiving, I have consciously made a decision to “care less” about the things that don’t mean as much to me. Breakfast, laundry, Easter, and general level of cleanliness inside the home, to name a few.

I really appreciate the author’s point that the ultimate feminist thing to do is what we want. And I wonder if we are “stuck” at 65/35 because so much of the remaining inequality is the socialized interests that take a really long time to balance out — many generations.

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This is so great. Thank you! Too many thoughts to write them all. As a sociologist who studies gender and culture, two things: First I've often thought about the practical aspects of change but not seen good studies or solutions - this work is tremendous. Second, I am in EP, and often wondered how I saw through all the social constructions of gender when I came from what seemed like a very "traditional" family, with Mom and Dad playing those roles. Looking back, I realized that even though they, themselves, inhabited the traditional gender roles, they structured household chores for my brother and I in non-traditional ways - and they made us do chores, always! We both did indoor tasks (I dusted, my brother vacuumed) and outdoor tasks (I swept and hosed down patio and walkways, my brother clipped yard and hedges). My brother went on to be equal partner in domestic work in his marriage, although more traditional roles with parenting because of his wife's desire to stay home while kids young. My sister-in-law recognized the unusual division of household labor, though, and thanked my mother many times for "training" my brother to do the "female" tasks.

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Maybe this is in the book, but I need a script for discussing that things are unequal. How do you frame this when your partner thinks he is doing 50% and doesn’t see all of your literally invisible labor, and then gets defensive?

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Aug 17, 2022·edited Aug 17, 2022

This was fascinating, thank you for this interview! I'm going to see if I can get the book from my library. In all honesty, this is something I really struggle with – like so many people my generation (I'm 32), I saw my mom be The Boss at home, taking on more responsibility and labour than my dad, and being overwhelmed, stressed out, and exhausted by it. She told me if there's anything she regrets in her marriage, it's not clearly articulating her needs to my dad when my sister and I were young and she was especially overworked. I don't want to follow in her particular footsteps, and so it makes me really afraid to have kids (a thing I'm super aware I'm running out of time to decide if I want to do). My dad has improved and my parents are still happy together, but I know this was a pain point for them.

Currently I do about 65-80% of the housework in my house, mostly cooking, dishes, and laundry. I am not great at the cleaning, and I don't try to become better at it. I let the house be messier than I'd like because I don't want to do more than I already do. My (male) partner works about 40-50 hours a week doing the afternoon and part of the night shift. Meanwhile, I have two part-time jobs and only work about 30 hours a week, half of them from home. (The reasons for my work situation are beyond the scope here.) So because I work less and am home far more, I feel our arrangement is equitable, even if it's not equal. I tend to be good at the stuff that's traditionally coded female and bad at the male coded stuff; my partner is the inverse.

I'm ok with things as they are now. But I am always afraid of some slippery slope, especially if we ever have kids – a thing I'm increasingly ambivalent about.

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This is was incredibly helpful to read, learn from, and apply to my own life (straight dude, who is married). The noticer concept is so insightful and I'll be sharing with other male friends in heterosexual relationships.

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My values are such that I have been raised to feel a lot of personal shame if I am perceived in any way as slacking/loafing or not pulling my load, and I feel like this informs my whole approach to sharing workloads. This means that I can often be the person who is just like, "I've got this" and I feel a lot of gratification in getting things done.

I actually feel this most strongly in work/study environments, where I've had to become more cognizant of being taken advantage of, e.g., getting delegated projects that no one else wants to touch, or realising people are not following through on their part of the tasks/projects. I saw this when I was in a university programme for a traditionally feminised profession. Lecturers were flat-out totally reinforcing gender roles and setting up a cohort of highly motivated (primarily women) classmates to take on gruntwork tasks without complaint to prove that we were detail-oriented and capable. Like, even in this year 2022, the lessons were basically "this is the way it is, ladies, get used to it."

All of which is to say that this exploration of similar dynamics in partnerships/home is just as fascinating!

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