There's this new book out called How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, and I'm reading it, obviously. Not because I hate my husband but because, like many working mothers, I often feel as if I'm drowning in the quicksand of domestic life while my partner somehow manages to float above it all, Scotch glass and newspaper in hand – a dapper Cary Grant to my whinging Edith Bunker.
Whether this is strictly and empirically true is a subject of robust debate in my home, as it is in many others. To say most married heterosexual mothers are obsessed with the issue of the chores gap (it's like the pay gap but with laundry) would be an extreme understatement. It's a constant preoccupation. If we are not talking about it, we are probably thinking about it. And if we are not thinking about it, we are probably asleep.
After human reproduction takes place, the minutiae of daily housekeeping suddenly multiply in a way that's both unforeseeable and breathtaking. Women, for reasons of crude biology, are usually the ones at home, physically attached to a baby and experiencing this seismic lifestyle change firsthand. Or as Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, eloquently puts it: "The effort required to keep a tiny new being alive is bizarrely immense – and, at least when it comes to child care and housework, women are bearing the brunt of it. Over a quarter-century ago, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild called this disparity the 'stalled revolution,' and it still holds true: While the lives of women have radically changed, the behaviour of their mates has not changed quite as much."
This issue of women doing more at home, despite the fact we now make up roughly half the work force, has been thoroughly documented, but what's new in Dunn's book is exploration of the corollary effect of this widespread social imbalance: female rage.
Women are doing the bulk of domestic work – and we are not happy about it. We are talking about it. We are reading about it. We are writing books and magazine articles and endless Huffington Post blogs about it.
But for the most part men aren't doing the same. They are not sharing our blogs or reading our magazine articles or books. Even a book such as Stephen Marche's very thoughtful The Unmade Bed – about how men fit into the domestic equation – will be bought and read by mostly female readers.
Men – most men – are just ignoring the conversation. And why wouldn't they? Unless you are in a rage about the issue all the time, it can be pretty dull. Pick up a copy of GQ or Esquire and you'll see pieces on sports and politics and art and fashion and food. You will see interviews with up-and-coming actors and models. What you will not see – I guarantee it – are any articles along the lines of "How to Stop Your Wife Hating You by Being More Helpful Around the House."
This domestic dissonance is the reason why books such as How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, while entertaining and cathartic, are ultimately unlikely to effect a social shift. When all your advice boils down to strategies for getting men to change but men are not actually your readers, this presents a major problem.
Instead, it seems, women are meant to cajole men into doing more. As if we don't already have enough to do! The advice boils down to this: "Sit down with your partner and have an open conversation, map out a schedule and stick to it, make an appointment with a therapist or couples coach etc." Dunn consults with various experts who advise such head-exploding strategies as "present the task in the spirit of negotiation. Say 'Here's a list of five things that need to be done – you can pick three.'"
But here's something I've learned myself from years of therapy and marriage: It's pointless to try to change another person. It doesn't work. The only person you can change is yourself. And even that is mostly pointless.
So what to do if your husband is an otherwise loving, intelligent, supportive, cool, fun guy who's never going to learn to cook or scrub out the lasagna pan or change the kids' bedsheets every two weeks? What should you do then?
I have thought a lot about the issue and have come to the conclusion that the average middle-income working mother in this situation has exactly four choices: 1) get divorced, 2) lower your standards and live in filth, 3) throw money at the problem and make the necessary material sacrifices or 4) do everything and stomp around in a rage all the time (which is really just a circuitous way to end up back at option 1).
My family has chosen option 3, which means that when we do argue it's about money instead of laundry, but it also means I'm a lot less angry and exhausted than the mothers I know who do everything and work full-time. It's an expensive business, not hating your husband. But someone's gotta do it.