When it comes to household chores and parenting duties, men and women are judged by entirely different standards. It happens in Hollywood and in happens to everyone else too: nobody bats an eyelid when women manage to get dinner on the table, the washing on the line, the dishes scrubbed and the kids picked up from school.
Men, on the other hand, are often showered with praise when they prove themselves to be enlightened and “hands-on” individuals – with a red carpet and 12-piece band on standby whenever they so much as pick up a dishtowel.
While, obviously, not all relationships are like that, it’s a pervasive idea that’s demeaning to both sexes in this day and age, setting an unfair expectation that women in heterosexual relationships manage home and hearth.
And, more importantly, it’s a toxic belief that can seep into even the healthiest of relationships, through common and everyday turns of phrase.
Nailing the issue perfectly, one woman has taken to Mumsnet to expose the big problem behind the the seemingly harmless phrase her husband uses on a day-to-day basis: “If you want me to do something, just tell me.”
“Why do I always have to be the one that thinks about what needs doing domestically?” she writes. “Like what cleaning needs doing, or that we're about to run out of bread, or that we need to buy a present for a party at the weekend.
“Why can’t he ever work out for himself that if the laundry bin is full that probably means we need to put some laundry on without me having to specifically point it out? Or that it will never occur to him to hoover or clean anything unless I’ve specifically asked him to do it?”
The woman finished her post with this damning statement: “I know I'm lucky that he will do stuff if I ask him to do it which is better than some men, but I just find it so irksome that it's never off his own back. He always has to be asked to do something.”
Yup, she really did feel forced to concede that she was “lucky” to have a male partner who even considered doing chores.
It’s a huge problem: research published in 2013 showed that UK women spend five hours more than men a week on unpaid labour within the home, with 60% of women reporting feeling that they do “more than their fair share” of household chores.
And, with nearly all advertisements for cleaning products featuring women and designed to appeal to women, it’s no wonder that this Mumsnet post had such a huge reaction: many in the online community have come forward to reveal that their partners, too, often deploy the “if you want me to do something, just ask” argument – something that initially appears positive, but still places the onus on women to think about and organise the tasks.
With all these obstacles to gender parity, what’s a working woman to do? Philosophy professor Alexandra Bradner suggests on the Atlantic’s website that couples sit down with a list of questions like, “Do I do half of the laundry and half of the dishes every day?” to figure out where they’re slacking off in comparison to their mate.
This sounds, admittedly, exhausting – but there is something to be said for sitting down, talking over household chore expectations and getting some balance in place if you feel like you unfairly shoulder the lion’s share. After all, if you want him to do something…