By: Shannon Ralph
I recently came across a quote that made me chuckle.
“Not completely unsurprisingly, 56% of fathers say they share household chores and responsibilities equally with their partners, while only 46% of mothers agree.”
For years, I’ve heard friends and relatives lament the lack of help their husbands provide when it comes to household duties. Occasionally, it is the husband complaining, but nine times out of 10, it seems to be the wife. This appears to be an ongoing struggle in many marriages—and probably has been since the dawn of time. Not having a husband myself, I’ve never given it a second thought. However, as of the ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, many gay and lesbian people are finding themselves settling into legally-sanctioned domestic bliss.
But is it blissful?
Do gay and lesbian households fall into the same rut as straight households? Does one person perform an unevenly distributed and painfully unequitable portion of the household chores?
In a gay or lesbian household, unlike many straight households (even those of my left-leaning, culturally aware, “evolved” friends), there is no stereotypical “woman’s work” or “man’s work.” There is simply work that must be done. People will absurdly ask “who is the man?” and “who is the woman?” in our relationships. Such a ridiculous question. If I mow the lawn, am I the man? If I bake a cake, am I the woman? If I hang shelves, am I the man? If I vacuum the rugs, am I the woman? I am pretty certain that it would take a little more than a short haircut and prowess with a wrench to make a man out of me. But people feel the need to morph gay and lesbian households into something that fits a mold they can understand. While this may be a natural human reaction, it doesn’t always hold true for the families we are creating.
Around my house, there are many jobs I do that may have been historically regulated to men. But I also do quite a bit of work that has been considered “women’s work” for centuries. Having read the quote above, I was marveling just today at the patterns and rhythms my wife and I have developed after 17 years of living together. Not having traditional gender roles to guide us, we had to figure out the delegation of chores on our own terms. It’s been frustrating at times, but ultimately freeing. There are no questions anymore. We each have the jobs we are responsible for completing, and we know implicitly what those jobs are.
In most instances, we chose the jobs based on four criteria: What do you like to do? What do you hate to do? What are you naturally good at? What are you a complete and total embarrassing failure at? Other times, the jobs chose us. And every once in a while, a job was thrust upon one of us against our will, kicking and screaming the entire way. But we’ve managed to muddle through, and everything seems to get done.
I drive everywhere we go, in part due to my unrelenting control-freak nature. She is the ever-present, ever-vocal, ever-critical backseat driver.
She kills all bugs. I handle the disposal of any and all furry animals. Winged creatures are determined by a sober game of Rock, Paper, Scissors (which I manage to always lose).
I pay the bills. She prefers to be obliviously ignorant.
She washes all the laundry. I fold it and put it away (after it spends a good deal of time sitting in a basket developing deep and enduring wrinkles).
I am responsible for anything that requires assembly. She, wisely, leaves the room and stays out of my way, lest she be bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
She takes care of all repairs and maintenance on our cars. I turn up the radio when I hear an ominous sound.
I handle anything and everything even remotely electronic. She asks our nine-year-old son how to send an email on her iPhone.
She plays soccer with our daughter. I play video games with our sons. She tends to encourage physical activity. I stare mindlessly at beeping dots on a screen with our boys as drool forms at the corners of our collective mouths.
I schedule all doctor appointment, dentist appointments, haircuts, eye exams, vet checks, and playdates, for every member of our family (if it has to be scheduled, I’m your woman). She shows up…sometimes.
She cleans the gutters. I have an unnatural and deep-seated fear of ladders. And steps. And step-ladders. And elevators, now that I mention it. Generally, I prefer to stay level with the Earth.
I do homework with all three children. She somehow gets to avoid that hell on Earth. (This may be a chore delegation discussion we revisit in the very near future).
She cleans the toilets. And washes the windows. And empties the dishwasher. And dusts. And vacuums. Apparently, I really suck in the area of domesticity. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Or so I hear.
I do any and all painting in or on our house. She is not allowed to go near a paintbrush upon threat of divorce.
She makes the beds. I firmly believe that there is no point since we are just going to climb back in them in a few short hours. Ironically, I do love climbing into a freshly made bed. The struggle is real, people.
I do all our shopping. She stays home with the kids so I can sip my latte and peruse the pretty things at Target in peace.
She knows where every single thing in our house is located and has it back in its proper place before I am even finished using it. I will be living in a cardboard box with no possessions to my name if anything ever happens to her because I know where nothing is located.
I bake cakes and cookies and pies and the occasional tart. She eats cakes and cookies and pies and the occasional tart.
I plan all social events and force them upon her. She begrudgingly complies. Sometimes. When she’s in the mood.
She mows the lawn. I plant the garden.
I open her beer bottles. She opens my jelly jars.
She makes the eggs. I make the toast.
These are the rhythms of our household. These are the ways in which we get it all done. The ways in which we accomplish the ebb and flow of being a couple. Of being a family. Raising our children. Creating a household together. Neither of us in the man, but our lawn gets mowed, our cars get serviced, and our beer bottles get opened. Perhaps this is the way it should be. The way it was meant to be. Each individual contributing their talents (and withholding their shameful deficiencies) for the good of the household. It sounds pretty egalitarian. And it is. Most of the time.
But don’t even get me started on the ice cube trays…