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In two-income households, domestic chores are an ongoing source of marital stress. (Ryan McVay/Getty Images)
In two-income households, domestic chores are an ongoing source of marital stress. (Ryan McVay/Getty Images)

Dirty work: What women think about the division of labour Add to ...

In this series, The Globe and Mail takes a look into bathrooms, kitchens, basements and legislatures to see how families and nations tackle the chore challenge.

To get an honest take about how they manage domestic chores, reporter Zosia Bielski sat down with five women:

Rebecca, 34, works 40 hours a week. “My husband and I are both kind of lazy so it evens out. I’m comfortable with the mess.”

DIRTY WORK: A SIX-PART SERIES

Melanie, 39, is married, with a four-year-old son and two cats. She works 35 hours a week and is responsible for “the lion’s share” at home.

Farida, 37, is married and stays at home with her three-year-old son, who has autism: “It all changed once we had a child

Tracy, 41, is married and works 40 to 60 hours a week, and also volunteers five hours weekly. “I know the guy I have: He’s the guy who would never do any work, ever, and I’m the person who could not stand to be in a messy place. He meets me in the middle.”

Monica, 32, has been living with her boyfriend for a year. She works 43 hours a week. “I just don’t care, really, although I’ve gotten more fastidious.”

Why are chores such a sticking point?

Tracy: I feel that it’s a pride thing. I still grade myself on how well I perform, and I consider the way the house looks when people come over.

Monica: A woman’s home is her pride, more than her hair.

How is the work divided in your house?

Rebecca: My husband doesn’t nag me but he’s more concerned about housework. That said, the only time I really clean is when I have people or my Italian family coming over. I start looking at the house from an outsider’s perspective and realize, ‘Oh my god, I still have Christmas cards up.’

Farida: I’m doing the tidying, dusting, vacuuming and all the planning. My husband can’t even book his own haircut – I do it for him. The manager of the house – that’s my job.

Melanie: This is how we have a hand in infantilizing them. I do that too.

Farida: I do get resentful. I’ve had mothers say, ‘That’s so great, you get to stay home.’ I don’t get a break.

What do you fight about?

Melanie: What sets me off, the trigger to my temper, are the balls of socks on the floor. Why are they there? There’s a hamper. I also wash those damn socks and dry them and fold them. He says he doesn’t see them.

Monica: Shove them them into his pillowcase. Let them slowly amass.

Farida: I usually try to give a deadline: ‘Can you please try to do it by this time?’

Monica: You know what I resent? Having to do that. Having to go to a therapist for them to tell you how to mask and bathe language so it can be accessible, so he can be an active facilitator in the house.

Melanie: I think there’s great collusion among men who say they don’t see the mess. And yet, if they’re ever in a position to defend porn watching they say, ‘we’re visual creatures.’ So you’re a visual creature but you don’t see the mess?

Farida: My husband says he does more than most dads. I’m yearning to say, ‘Maybe more dads should do more.’

Monica: Other residual problems can work themselves out through chores. I’ll be pissed about something else that he did or said and I will push it down and then funnel it into this passive-aggressive chore frame.

Melanie: Chores become a weapon.

Farida: When my husband and I are really mad at each other, we will each clean the stovetop separately – whoever is super mad. It’s a running joke now: The stove is shiny.

What was it like growing up?

Rebecca: My mom was really controlling when I was a kid, she always kept a really clean house. I rebelled when I moved out.

Tracy: I used to feel very guilty about housework: You don’t leave a mess behind you and you make the bed when you leave. The consequences from my family for not doing it used to be wrath.

What’s your strategy?

Tracy: We’ve worked it out so that I actually get to boss him around. We have established a way of working: I cook, he does the dishes. We each do our own laundry.

Farida: You have to learn to give up some things. If he doesn’t put the utensils in the right area, then I’ll just move them. At least he tried to put them away.

Melanie: Ladies, if you tell them they are incapable of doing these simple domestic chores, you’re giving every man an out.

Do you think it’ll be different for your kids?

Melanie: I have been so unsuccessful in achieving balance on my own domestic chores front that I feel like a lost cause. I thought the hope lies in the next generation, but then my son is seeing his father with the screwdriver and me with the dishrag. It’s the same thing I grew up with.

Farida: My son is obsessed with the laundry machine. I will have him trained in a year to do laundry by himself. He begs for it, he cries for it and he’ll help me. He’ll take out the lint and put it in the garbage and ask me, ‘normal’ or ‘colour?’

Melanie: It’s a public service. You’re creating a better man. We’ve got to train our sons, make sure our sons are bearing witness to some kind of equity on the homefront, but also our daughters. Is it not also part of the solution in the future to be teaching our daughters how to repair a screen or fix a hole in the drywall?

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