When I was around 12 or 13 years old, my parents, sister and I would all sit down together and watch an episode of the famous 90s sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond” every Friday night. While I found the show extremely amusing and hilarious, there was just one thing that infuriated me. A recurring fight, and recurring theme of the show, was between the two main characters, Raymond (a successful sports writer) and Debra (his non-working wife) caused by Debra’s feelings of exhaustion and frustration that the entirety of housework and majority of the child-caring fell on her. This was almost always portrayed in a humorous sense, with Raymond continuously refusing to aid Debra around the house. I didn’t find this funny at all. While as a preteen I was still unaware of the feminist movement, I felt enormously with Debra and hated Raymond for thinking that his full-time job exempted him from taking care of his own home and children. While Raymond finished his workday at around 5 or 7 PM, Debra continued working around the house way after the children were bathed and put to sleep.
Fortunately, the family dynamic that the show propagated did not influence my family. We don’t have a housekeeper in our home, so a lot of the housework falls upon my sister, my parents and I. While we pay a cleaning lady to do the general cleaning of the house twice a week, the issue of cooking, washing the dishes, hanging and collecting washed clothes, tidying up and doing beds remains in our hands. With both my mother and father working full-time jobs, these tasks are distributed almost equally amongst the four of us. For example, to avoid confusion, we use a schedule to determine who loads and unloads the dishwasher each day, and my father is included. When my friends come over and see the schedule posted on our refrigerator, most of them exclaim in shock at the fact that my Dad partakes in household chores. I never realized how weird it was, compared to the norm that occurs in most households in this country, that my Dad exhibits such blatant feminism by refusing to allow my mother to do all the work around the house. When my Dad returns tired from work, my Mom picks up the slack around the house, and when my Mom has a particularly long and hard day, my Dad does the same. I am not saying this to brag that my family is more equal than anyone else’s.
Because the truth is, we’re not. While I am glad that my intimate family has grasped how un-logical it is for all of the housework to fall on the woman simply because she is a woman, there is still some advancement to be made. When we are at family gatherings and everyone finishes eating, for example, it is the women who get up and clear the table, and then bring out desert. It is the women who are franticly cooking in the kitchen to prepare the food while the men lay back and have a beer on the balcony. It is always the girls who are asked to bring out the coffee or go around serving trays of appetizers to the guests. Never have I witnessed any one of my male cousins be asked to serve coffee or food.
A lot of people reading this will probably be rolling their eyes at this point, scoffing at their computer screens and wondering how a self-proclaimed feminist, like myself, could spend time complaining about the simple problem of who serves the food or washes the dishes when there are millions of women who suffer greatly because of far more intense and serious sexism. But just because I’m talking about a certain branch of sexism doesn’t mean I’m ignoring the multitudes of women who I know are dealing with worse. I still think this is worth discussing, even if it might not be the worst thing that’s happening. Any kind of inequality should be talked about and overcome.
Because I hate housework. I hate being asked to set the table or clear the table or to put leftovers into Tupperwares. Most of all, I hate that if I remain seated after a meal, I am the only one who gets scolded although all my male relatives did not move a muscle. They can remain seated after a big meal while all the women hurry to do a job that would only be finished sooner if everyone helped out. How is this fair?
I still do the chores. I do them not because I like it or because I’m a girl, but because I know from my own private experience at home that it is important to help out and because while housework is not particularly enjoyable, it is still necessary. I do it because it’s the right thing to do, although I admit I spend a lot of time complaining about it. The thing that I do not understand is that if I hate it just as much as my male counterparts and elders, why can’t they get themselves to help out a bit as well? Is it because it is unmanly to wash a dish, to help out? Does their existence as a male exempt them from doing these tasks? No one EVER says a word. I have never said anything myself. But after reading “Lean In”, by Sheryl Sandberg, where she proclaims: “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half of our institutions and men ran half of our homes”, I realize how important it is that I do say something. Because although my own household is unaffected by gender stereotyped tasks, I know that the homes of many people I know are drastically affected by these stereotypes. And this is wrong.
Reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg this past week has really led me to think a lot about the dynamics of families that I know. Although I am lucky enough to be part of a relative equal household, I know so many of my friends and family members who have fathers and brothers who think housework is beneath them; a woman’s job. There are few things that disgust and repulse me as much as this kind of behavior, especially if the mother works in addition to doing most if not all of the housework. I never found the “Go back to the kitchen” joke funny, because for many, this is not a joke – it is their actual way of life.
I think it takes solving each and every problem to truly eradicate sexism from our world. Even if the problem is as ridiculous as who does the dishes, it’s still important to raise awareness and discuss how important it is for there to be equality in the household, because life at home is a large part of the many things that influence children at a young age. There should be more importance stressed on the sharing of housework because there are many women that truly suffer as a consequence. Marriage should be an equal partnership, and for it to be an equal partnership, there should be an equal sharing of duties and responsibilities.
A lot of people say, when I ask them a question related to this topic, that the wife and the husband both have their own roles; different duties, when it comes to child-care and family life. The man is the provider, and provides his family by working full-time and making money, whereas the woman cares for her family by doing the housework and most of the intimate child-care. This is dangerous and oppressive thinking towards both men and women, and this is one of the reasons why I am writing this article. This is the kind of thinking that I believe could stem from something that you would think is completely mediocre and unimportant – like who washes the dishes.
Feminism works against this kind of thinking. Feminism gives men the choice to either have a full time career or a part time career or to be house-husbands, and gives women the same choice. Feminism is not trying to get rid of most of the men in the workforce, or trying to discourage women from being housewives.
It should be completely logical that in order to equalize the world, we must first equalize our homes. If not even the simple tasks under housework can be equally distributed between men and women, and not gendered, then how can we even try to believe that women will be able to break the glass ceiling in the different corners of the earth, or that we can put a stop to the inequality that reaps rape and physical assault against women? To fix the big issues, we first need to fix the small ones. And most importantly, we need to ensure that the next generation of children and the generation after that are less and less affected by gender roles and stereotypes, because these are the things that limit us and set boundaries for both men and women that lead to more intensified gender issues in the future. Homes should be equalized. Housework should be shared.