Marrived mothers who earn more than their husbands take on an even greater share of the housework, a study from the University of Bath in the UK has found – the more they earned over their partner, the more housework they did.
What flattens about the statistics released last week is how unshocking they are.
It’s unshocking because for all the feminist T-shirt sales, the #MeToo hashtags, the kickass feminist Star Trek captains and the marches for justice, we all know – we all do – that straight domestic relationships are where the deeply ingrained gender stereotypes go, like vampires, to feed on women’s blood and maintain “eternal” life.
We know this because data shows same-sex relationships distribute household labor more equally. We also know this because ongoing studies show that when it comes to household labor and unpaid care responsibilities, women consistently do more hours.
And we know this because we have all heard a woman say “It’s just easier if I do it” when confronted by a male partner’s performance of learned domestic helplessness.
There are two myths societies tell themselves to pretend they are fairer than they are.
The first is that a gender pay gap only exists because women leave the workforce to have kids, which is untrue because it kicks in as soon as working life beginswhen they are childless.
The second is that women do more hours in the home because men earn more and, gosh, earning more money is so tiring and time consuming. Just ask a relentlessly pooped bazillionaire like Jeff Bezos, compared with literally any girl who’s just worked a 12-hour shift for minimum wage in a bar on a Friday night – she’s a fountain of limitless energy.
This myth, the Bath study neatly explodes.
Women who earn more than men do more household labour, it concludes, because the situation implies a gender norm variation for which women feel obliged to compensate.
Why obliged? The study says conceptions of masculinity are near inextricable from the ancient “male breadwinner” role.
And I’ll say what the study can’t; women learn, as girls, there is no greater danger than a man who perceives his masculinity is threatened by them.
The Bath research has appeared at an interesting time.
A mutant alliance of conservative radicals and biologically-determinist feminist separatists are out to insist that the greatest threat to women is not the intimate partner violence of factbut the swim-champ trans women of fiction.
At the recent Newcastle Writers festival, Australian trans writer Yves Rees quoted a colleague’s observation: “if the gender binary were in any way natural, there would not be such a desperate fury to police it”.
Yet self-appointed police there are.
An avalanche of actively anti-trans legislation in the United States is not an “over there” problem when its scare-campaign talking points – always directed at women – are echoed both by Australia’s conservative MPs and the ambitious boys of its Liberal Greens.
Dare I suggest that the aggressive scapegoating of transgender women by an invested, patriarchal hierarchy is a cunning misdirection, given more money and more power for the lucky few is still not enough to provide women with gender equality in the home?
“Woman” is a problematic term not because of any transgender activism. It’s because the modern expectations of what it means to be a “woman” are so demanding, contradictory and structurally unsatisfying, they are impossible for everyone.
The western woman’s living generation is sandwiched between the hangover of traditional gender attitudes and the expectations of a culturally mainstreamed, “go girl” liberal feminism that has massaged “girls can do anything” to mean “girls should do everything, all the time”. No human being without superpowers can straddle it.
Like attempting anything energetic with a hangover, it is doomed, doomed, doomed to fail!
Today’s “woman” is supposed to people-please, yet also be an empowered #girlboss. You must meet increasingly accurate beauty criteria and yet practice radical self-care. The same publications exhorting you to diet and exercise constantly “for your health” will readily condemn you as fatphobic.
You must have #nolimits – especially when it comes to sexual experimentation – and yet confidently enforce boundaries, “dump the motherfucker already” but have #couplegoals!
The most important job in the world is still being a mother, so be an active parent, but not a helicopter parent. You should pursue your own dreams, but think outside the box, achieve a work-life balance but also lean in, ask for that raise, #BelieveAchieve and smash the glass ceiling. With your perfect face.
It’s the old paradox that insists the apex of womanhood is to be simultaneously virgin, mother and whore – except also now do this backwards in heels, making six figures on a keto diet at yoga while vacuuming and everything’s live on Instagram.
Culture is not encouraging this because it “reflects” any aspiration of the modern woman to be exhausted, strung out and burdened by feelings of performance failure. It’s because the patriarchy has realized liberal feminism’s Trojan horse potential to leave women so individually overburdened, stressed and anxious they don’t revolt against the vampiric masculinities in their lives.
Because what are men doing at home while women do both more work and more housework? Data says: they enjoy a bit of gardening.
Nice work, they say, if you can get it … and as the division and distraction of women continues, be confident they certainly will.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism