It’s been eight and a half months since tying the knot and contrary to what my friends anticipated, living together is not the most challenging part of my new awesome life; that’s the best part. The hardest dimension is something I did anticipate and that is being the woman in the marriage. It’s nearly impossible for me to not think of where I fit into the statistics on working men and women and the sharing of household chores. This aspect of my new life was especially challenging given that my husband, Jon, was three years established in a career whereas I was first moving to be with him after our wedding. Consequently, priority number one was being together and once married, I would search for a job. We didn’t prioritize Jon’s job over mine. It was just that he happened to have one before me, and we acted accordingly.
Naturally then, I was the one to take care of the house. My gender had nothing to do with that part of the decision. It was just who happened to hold a job and who happened to be at home all day. Initially I felt pressured to have a very clean apartment and nice dinner every night because what else was I doing? Not only that but what all was my husband doing at work? I thought we had to share equally. If he was working at work, he shouldn’t have to lift a finger at home. And this is where things become tricky because I can’t separate how much of that is my desire to be fair and split tasks 50/50 versus how much is an innate, insidious mentality about women being in the home.
I have to think back to a class in college when I volunteered to take a Harvard implicit association test for gender bias in the workplace. (You should definitely try it if you haven’t already—it sneakily tests your biases by seeing how quickly –or sluggishly—you associate men’s and women’s names with both household and workplace ideas, in this case.) Well, I was labeled extremely prejudiced against women in the workplace based on my unintentionally delayed response times in linking female names with traditionally male roles. These results are pretty disappointing considering that I went to an all girls’ high school with an obviously strong emphasis on female achievement, not to mention the fact that I consciously and conscientiously believe women are equally as capable and talented as men.
However, I was raised by a stay-at-home mother with a working father and nearly all of my friends’ parents in childhood followed this pattern. My mom did return to work but only once I was in high school; perhaps the traditional set-up I grew up with was ingrained in my thought patterns by that point. I want to make clear though, never once have I thought my mother was any less intelligent than my father. No, the prejudice has always come when thinking about working women. I would be lying to say that my immediate concept of a family, far beyond any conscious contemplation, doesn’t involve stay-at-home mothers, or at a minimum women running the household. For better or for worse, I associate the mother staying at home with young children and more immediately applicable to my situation, myself doing a larger share of chores. Why not if I prefer cooking to fixing things?
Many tasks, like dinner and laundry, I would do regardless of marital status. But is that the point here? There’s now a second person to whom I can pass some of these chores. Repairs take less time and occur far less often than the every day emptying of the dishwasher, prepping meals, and wiping down counters, to name a few chores. I especially feel my “womanness” when I’m in the kitchen cleaning up after cooking and serving a meal and my husband’s lounging on the couch.
Any other females out there struggling with this “instinct” to pick up the slack around the house? I’d like to take this time now to make clear that my husband has far fewer—close to none according to the results of his Harvard implicit association test—preconceived notions about women working than me and is more than happy to do his fair share of housework…if only I make clear my expectations of him in the form of a honey-do list. J Do my ideas then have to do with how I was raised, or do they stem from culturally created gender expectations? I 100% consider myself a feminist. Why are my unconscious thoughts so misaligned with what I say I explicitly believe?
What and where is the happy medium?