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David Eddie

We’ve been married for years and he still won’t do housework. What do I do? Add to ...

The question

I am 64-year-old female and have been married for 35 years. For the first five years of our marriage I worked full-time outside of the home. After two children, I quit my job and stayed home. We had two more children and life was very busy. We started our own business, my husband doing the physical work and I all the paper work. I was also in charge of the children, their activities, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry. We are now talking about retirement. At dinner the other night he said, “I can hardly wait to retire.” With that I said: “Me too. I am tired of doing all of the house work myself.” He was shocked. Any advice? He told me hiring someone to help clean our house is not an option.

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The answer

Hoo boy is there ever a lot to say on this topic. Division of domestic duties between the sexes, in 2014? I hardly know where to begin.

In a sense, you’ve come a long way, ladies, since Betty Friedan, half a century ago, more or less single-handedly kicked off second-wave feminism (the first was basic stuff like getting the vote and being able to own property) with her book The Feminine Mystique, and pointed out women would never truly be equal to men until there was equal division of housework.

Arlie Hochschild elaborated in The Second Shift that working women were coming home and doing what amounted to a whole “second shift” of housework, and it was totally unfair.

And men have I think by and large been listening, and are starting to step up. But there’s still a lot of retrograde resistance to the notion of equality of domestic drudgery – mostly coming from men, unsurprisingly.

For example, Canadian writer Stephen Marche touched off a firestorm a few months ago with an article called The Case for Filth in The New York Times, in which he attempted to make an eggheaded argument for evasive action of work around the house.

Citing a now-(in)famous 2012 study that claimed men who do more chores actually get less sex (which absolutely no one I know, male or female, believes), he concluded: “The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed … Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.”

I groaned, inwardly, reading this. Classic teenage dodge: “Why should I sweep the floor if I don’t care if it’s dirty?” The article made women writers apoplectic, of course, but I think it might have made me even more nuts. I hate when any male writer claims to speak for all men, as if we’re all the same, but particularly when they then proceed to upend a steaming diaper-load of inflammatory gender-baiting on the table.

Ladies: this Marche fellow does not speak for all of us. Grrr …where was I? Oh, yeah, I should probably get around to tackling the chore of giving you advice.

Basically, I think your husband needs to man up, grab a broom, and join the 21st century. Yes, I said man up.

As I’ve argued before, we need to redefine machismo. The time of the Hollywood image of manhood – a monosyllabic muscleman who doesn’t know how to boil an egg or change a diaper but can pilot a flaming jet to the ground – has come and gone.

Because how often does the flaming-jet thing come up, really?

Since the dawn of humanity, IMHO, the definition of manliness has essentially been: to be competent. Useful. And I would add “of service.” At various points in history, that’s meant going into the woods and returning with a carcass over your shoulder (or at least something furry on a stick), building pyramids, inventing light bulbs, what have you.

Given that women have been in the work force in such force for decades now, at least part of the modern definition of “useful” and “competent” and “of service” has to be “be helpful around the house.”

Convince your husband this applies to him. You may get a big burst of teenage-type squawking and evasion, at first: “But I don’t know how to do that!” Pay no mind. Nothing about housework from dishes to laundry to all the rest of it is rocket science. Anyone can learn how to do any household chore in half an hour.

Unless you’re maybe Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or Beyonce and Jay Z, chores are an inescapable facet of life. People talk about death and taxes, but to me the dishes are even more immortal, eternal, unavoidable and keep coming around like the refrain of some horribly boring song.

The whole notion of marriage, or partnership, is you share life’s burdens. Anyway, what else is there to do once you’ve retired? Explain to him if he thinks you’re going to do the cooking and cleaning while he golfs, he can fuhgedaboudit.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but if he loves you, if he’s worthy of you, he’ll get up on his hind legs and grab a dishtowel.

What am I supposed to do now?

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

 

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