Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

A Woman’s Work …


…is frequently done by a man. And vice versa. Around here, anyway.

The other day a friend was complaining that her kids don’t get much for supper on the nights they have an evening activity, because she doesn’t get off work till 6 and there’s hardly any time.  I knew her husband got off in the middle of the afternoon to pick the kids up from school, though, so I kind of said, “Well, can’t he…?” and she sort of chuckled and said, “Well, he’s not much of a cook….”

I didn’t laugh in her face, but I was a little incredulous, because seriously, how much of a cook do you have to be to slap on a couple of burgers so the kids don’t starve? I tried to remind myself that I believe in being respectful of other people’s lifestyle choices, but honestly, it’s always a bit of a shock to me when I discover someone my age who adheres to “traditional” gender roles.

In a lot of ways I grew up in a fairly non-traditional household when it came to gender roles. My dad has always done the vast majority of the cooking in my parents’ house, a situation that, according to them, came about because neither of them really knew much about cooking when they got married, and Dad got hungry first.  This seemed eminently sensible to me.  However, since this was the 70s, my mom (who always worked outside the home throughout my growing-up years) felt a little embarrassed about it: she was happy to have my dad do the cooking but she didn’t always want me to tell people that Dad did the cooking.

These days, Jason and I work out our arrangemennts more or less as we go — deciding who does which task based on who enjoys it, who’s willing, and who’s nearby when it needs to be done.  There are a lot of factors that play into who does what in our house, and for the most part we’re happy with the arrangement — not to say that there’s never any disagreement or renegotiation, because sometimes there is.  But the one thing that has literally never come up in any of these negotiations is any concept of “that’s ‘women’s work'” or “that’s a ‘man’s job’.”  At least, if it’s there, we’ve never verbalized it … it would seem almost primitive, to me, to say that out loud, except maybe as a joke.

As a result, when I think about the who-does-what in our marriage, it’s a strange hodgepodge of areas where Jason and I take on very traditional male/female roles, and areas where we do exactly the opposite of what you might traditionally expect.

So I made up a little quiz. There are a couple of ways to do this: if you know me and my husband and you want to guess who does which job, you can put a “T” or a “J” next to each item and later, when I post the results, you can see if you got them right.  Or, you can quiz yourself on your own relationships — who does which jobs in your house, if you have a partner of any or either gender — and see what patterns emerge.

___Cooking most meals

___Washing most dishes

___Taking out the garbage

___Doing home repairs and renovations

___Cleaning up disgusting bodily messes made by dog, kids, or anyone else

___Neatly and attractively wrapping Christmas presents

___Keeping track of all appointments and social engagements for the entire family

___ Finding any and all lost items

___Making snap decisions about colour and decor (e.g. looking at paint chip for three seconds and saying, “Sure, that’ll do”)

___Mowing the lawn

___Keeping track of finances and paying all bills

___Baking tasty treats

___Making the dog cower and obey

___Making the kids cower and obey

(Yes, that last one is a trick question … nobody can do that!)

I had been thinking of this for awhile as a light-hearted funny post about marriage and the roles we play in our relationships, and finally got around to posting it this morning. As I was writing it, I read a friend’s post on Facebook that reminded me today was the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. It was a sombre reminder that a post headed “A Woman’s Work…” could have taken quite a different direction this morning, and that while I’m lucky and blessed enough to be in a relationship where gender roles are the basis for some light-hearted marital teasing, there are people who take the issue of “What is a woman’s work?” with — literally — deadly seriousness.  Thank God I’ve never had to  face a situation where anyone questioned my right to do whatever work I chose to do, and God bless all women who do have to struggle against restrictive visions of gender roles.

In the meantime, back to our lighter note: Who does what in your household? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you decide?


9 thoughts on “A Woman’s Work …

  1. Wow, 1989 was a lost year to me because I was in Korea and I am still surprised to learn things from that year. This one was not a happy surprise.
    As far as the list goes, I only know you so I can only suggest that Jason does the first six or so and you do the rest. Baking? I can remember (before 1989) you being very, very proud of your blueberry muffins which were the only item in your baking repertoire.

  2. Well, that would give you a score of 6/13 for that relatively random guess, Sharon … but I won’t say which 6 (at least not yet!!)

  3. You should ask about her microwaved veggie chicken!

    I’m not sure how gender roles apply to our relationship. D’Arcy is both a better cook AND a handyman, so I guess he’ll, though I’m guessing I’ll be doing lawn mowing and laundry…I’ll let you know in a few months!

  4. I did wonder, Jamie, how same-sex couples divide up the gender roles. I know the lesbian couple who used to live next door to us seemed (on the surface; we weren’t close enough friends to be in their house but we chatted over the fence a lot) to have a semi-traditional kind of division of duties, with one of them doing the more stereotypically “guy” things — but it would be nice to think we live in an era when couples of all kinds can simply decide to do the things they like and are best at. Although that does leave the problem of who does the jobs that everyone hates!!

  5. I think the answer to the question of who does the jobs everyone hates runs along the same lines as your mother’s answer to why your father did more of the cooking (he got hungry first).

    Whoever can’t stand the job NOT being done the most will be the one who ends up doing it.

  6. Very true, Jamie. I think the jobs nobody likes most often involve cleaning-type things, and in most partnerships there’s usually one person who gets to the point where they can’t stand living in a messy/dirty house. Stereotypically women are bothered by things like that more quickly than men are, but that’s certainly not true in every case!!

  7. I never gave it much thought but for the most part I guess Dwayne and I have a very traditional marriage. I don’t think it’s because it’s what we expect of each other, we just like the jobs that are typically old school in regard to gender. It works for us!

    I hope that my children realize that this is what works for us personally but that roles in relationship can be just as great and effective if things were switched around!

    Interesting blog, Trudy.

  8. Of course, Catherine, you are that rare human being who actually LIKES housework…I hope Dwayne knows how lucky he is!!

  9. i have a marriage where our division of duties is quite traditional. it’s shocking really, if you know me. but it works for us b/c my husband is quite a traditional guy. he encourages me to stay home (where i blissfully write novels) and in return, i take care of the “woman’s work.” i figure it’s a fair trade. i’m not saying there aren’t some rough patches where i get exasperated, but he pitches in with the cleaning from time to time, and i figure i still get more writing time this way than i would working a full time job. practicality wins for me!:)

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