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Changing the gender imbalance in housework may start with how we understand time


When it comes to questions such as who's making dinner tonight or who's taking the kids to school, will it shock you to know that if there is a woman in the house, it's probably her? A 2020 Gallup poll of more than 3,000 heterosexual couples found that women handle the majority of the domestic workload, including doing the laundry, cleaning and cooking. The solution to this imbalance may start with a better understanding of time. Life Kit's Andee Tagle has more.

ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: While research shows men are taking on more child care and housework than ever before, women continue to perform more physical and emotional labor in their families, irrespective of age, income or workloads. Sometimes called the mental load or the second shift, this is a phenomenon Eve Rodsky attributes to a fundamental mishandling of time.

EVE RODSKY: As a society, we've chosen to view and value men's time as if it's diamonds and finite, and we've chosen to value women's time as if it's infinite like sand.

TAGLE: Rodsky is an attorney, activist and author of the bestselling book "Fair Play," which centers around closing the gender gap in domestic labor. She says you have to start with the belief that everyone's time is created equal, whether you bring home the bacon or cook it or both.

RODSKY: Everybody around you just gets 24 hours in a day. And if you love them and you want to build a partnership with them, you have to value their time as equal to your time.

TAGLE: But that can be harder to do than you think. There are a lot of toxic time messages out there, says Rodsky. Consider the phrase time is money. Maybe you're a woman who feels obligated to do more at home because you bring home less pay or your job is more, quote-unquote, "flexible."

RODSKY: We have a pay gap in this society. And what is even more ironic is that when women outearn their partners, they still do more unpaid labor.

TAGLE: Or have you ever had 5,000 items on your to-do list, but instead of asking for help, you say something along the lines of, I'll just do it myself, it's easier that way?

RODSKY: Oh, my God, that's the worst one. By continuing to keep doing it yourself, you will have to do it yourself for the rest of your life.

TAGLE: Trust me, I could keep going here. But what this all comes down to is that far too often, we undervalue the time spent keeping a home afloat. Either we expect someone else to magically find the time for housework, or we fail to budget for or acknowledge the time all this work takes up in our lives at all. When labor is invisible...

RODSKY: It's very hard to value it.

TAGLE: Visibility is value. So instead of just giving your partner an assignment or a grocery list, invite them to take an active role in the conception of the family calendar. Ask for buy-in for the bake sale. Encourage them to take the lead with that extended family group chat. And once you better understand the mental load, voice that value where you see it.

RODSKY: And so this can mean, oh, my God, I had no idea, 'cause I've never picked the kids up from school, that you have to wait in a carpool line for an hour. I recognize that what you're doing is labor, and I want to help share that labor with you.

TAGLE: Another tip to help even out the scales - establish regular check-ins to keep things running smoothly and avoid miscommunication. Find a time and style that works for you. Then be consistent.

RODSKY: That type of high-cognition, low-emotion conversation, whether it's five minutes a day on a daily basis, being able to check in about the next day and communicate, that was the big throughline for success.

TAGLE: When household labor is shared fairly, everyone can free up more time for what Rodsky calls unicorn space.

RODSKY: You are more than just your roles as a parent, partner or professional. Unicorn space is really the space to be consistently interested in your own life, to recognize that you deserve permission to be unavailable from those roles.

TAGLE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Andee Tagle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.