The empty Coke Zero can had sat on the sideboard for about three weeks, gradually attracting a fine layer of dust. To me it filled a small fraction of my peripheral vision while I watched TV, but to my wife it was clear evidence of my selfishness, lack of respect and general laziness.
As I was prepared to let this one item fester so blatantly for so long, it followed, she remonstrated, that I didn’t care about how anything in the house looked. That’s why my side of the bedroom was so messy, why it was never me who changed the sheets, or noticed the grime building up on the wooden floor.
All of which was true. But did that make me the slouch? Or my wife too obsessive?
It’s a question that has been asked since the first female Neanderthal decided that her cave would look nicer with a few plumped up rocks and a sabre-toothed tiger skin draped over the seating area while castigating her partner for sharpening his spear all over the kitchen.
Why don’t men care?
The truth is we’re not lazy, we just have different priorities. And by ‘different’ I of course mean ‘more sensible’. To us, what something does is important, but to women, it’s all about what it looks like. If I have a few mates round for a beer, I know they won’t be raising their eyebrows behind my back at the crumbs on the kitchen counter, or a smudge on the curtains. They wouldn’t care. But, when my wife has anyone over, she is obsessed with how everything looks so will spend hours doing jobs that are simply unnecessary.
So it’s not fair to accuse men of slacking. All we’re doing is saying that life’s too short to be so shallow about appearances.
For me, the word ‘dust’ should always be a noun, never a verb. In fact surely it provides a convenient, protective coat for furniture? And no man is likely to show a spontaneous interest in carpet cleanliness until someone invents a ride-on Hoover. As it stands, our idea of helping out is raising our legs so our wives can vacuum underneath.
Hence why I could coexist happily with the can, while, for my wife, it was the only thing she saw, and loomed there mocking her, challenging her with its malevolent smugness.
Which to me gets to the very heart of the battle lines drawn up in most households around the issue of appropriate demarcation of household duties.
Or, put another way, it’s why men don’t understand the need to clean out a cupboard more than once in any given geological period.
What the statistics say
The 2013 New Zealand Census showed that 1.4 million women had spent time in the past 4 weeks doing household work, cooking, repairs or gardening. This was closely followed by just under 1.2 million men, though it doesn’t drill down to how much time they each spent on the chores.
The 2011 Australian census stated that men, on average, spend half as much time a day (57 minutes) as women doing household chores. The result is the same from teenagers all the way up to the over 60s. But does that mean women do twice as much, or men are twice as efficient at it? The latter probably isn’t worth suggesting when your wife has just washed and folded three machine loads.
Curiously, the statistics change for the over 85’s where men actually do more around the house than women, worn down by half a century of nagging. Or does this prove that it takes decades to train a human male to make the bed with hospital corners? Perhaps that’s why men die earlier, unable to contemplate another pile of dishes.
Have things changed?
There may be some good news, though. According to social analyst Mark McCrindle the disparity between the sexes is lessening, but not necessarily for the right reason.
“Perceptions around housework have changed, and men are more aware that it must be shared equally. So even if they’re not doing their share yet, at least they’re feeling guilty about this, which is progress of a kind!”
McCrindle says studies have shown that there are three questions to consider when trying to work out why women do the lion’s (or lioness’s) share of domestic chores:
- Who is available to do it – men claim they are too busy with their paid work.
- Who is skilled at it – ineptitude with an iron is often invoked as an excuse.
- Who should do it – most blokes didn’t have a bathroom scrubbing dad as a role model so cling to traditional stereotypes.
So it’s a bloke’s parents’ fault, and his lack of on-the-job training. But is there an argument that it’s actually in a man’s interests to chip in a bit more?
Swedish researchers found last year that men who don’t share the load risk psychological distress, and tend to suffer anxiety.
But a recent study in Norway suggests couples who do divide up the housework more equally are more likely to get divorced.
So a man reluctant to dust the collection of porcelain pigs is merely showing his love for his partner. After all, he wouldn’t want to start offering to mop the floors every week and risk his kids being traumatised by divorce.
It’s confusing. Well, in reality it’s not that confusing but there are at least a few decent excuses we can cling to, starting with the fact that half the housework is patently a waste of time. Why, for example, make the bed every morning if it’s just a doona? It makes no sense.
Social commentator and author Clive Hamilton reckons: “In the 1960s you would never see a tattooed bloke in Stubbies pushing a pram. The power balance in the home is now much more even. What matters is that both parties feel that the allocation is reasonable.”
Tips for getting men to do more
Perhaps in another million years, we’ll evolve even further and learn to operate a front loader and notice stray drinking vessels baiting our wives from the sideboard. In the meantime, try these tips for getting your man to do more around the house:
- Make the TV remote magically disappear every Saturday and only reappear when the groceries are bought and the floors washed
- Look as objectively as possible at your standards. Are there some areas where you could cope with lowering your expectations?
- Use positive stroking – like when you train a dog, use praise and incentives, rather than punishments.
- Buy him an apron that says “Real men wash dishes”
- Flatter his ego by saying that you need his organisational and time management skills to get stuff done.
- Assign him ‘man chores’ to do. Anything that involves standing on a ladder or wielding a power tool will be instantly attractive.
- Physically show him what you’ve achieved and the difference it makes. Because if you don’t he will never notice. Also mention how long it took.
- Go on strike. This is a bit extreme, but if he suddenly runs out of undies, you’ll at least have his attention.
- Don’t accept the old “well, I work full-time, so I’m excused from any additional work.” Tell him, not only must he bring home the bacon, he must grill it, scrub the pan afterwards and put it back in the cupboard.
- If you ever catch him spontaneously doing housework, jump his bones. He’ll soon associate cleaning a toilet with you lavishing him with hugs, kisses, and maybe more. Hopefully the association won’t work in the other direction.
This article was written by Paul Merrill