The Gender Inequality of Unpaid Work

07 February 2022

Unpaid work is a reality that often goes undiscussed, but still very much exists up to today. Unfortunately, women suffer from unpaid work the most. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that women in the U.S. dedicate about four hours a day of unpaid work as compared to the daily 2.5 hours logged in by men.

The world has become more progressive in terms of gender equality. Women in society are given more seats today. They can take positions in government, take the helm of big companies, lead advocacies, and in some instances, even assume higher leadership spots than men. At a glance, the world is relatively more egalitarian but the family household still very much runs the same way it did centuries ago. From washing the dishes to doing most of the laundry, cooking meals, and cleaning the rooms, women receive the bulk of household chores responsibilities. When everything is done inside the house, men are simply obliged to do the occasional mechanic work and weekly yard errands.

Doing unpaid household work is considered feminine while good productivity for paid work is a metric for masculinity. Research and studies throughout the years have pointed out that “nurturing” or being overly compulsive when it comes to cleaning is not solely a female trait. Yet even when the science says it’s not, people still include it in daily conversations. We say mindless remarks such as “She’s a woman so she should know how to do it!” or “You can’t expect him to know anything about the household because he’s a man.” And these sexist comments go on and on.

Even though we’ve made significant progress throughout the years that has made the younger generation more feminist, women still bear the brunt of household work or the guilt when they do not do it. Women are considered house bodies, caretakers of the family and this is not to degrade their assumed role in society. After all, caretakers like them arguably shape the foundation of society. But in most cases, when women are left on their own to take care of the whole household without any help, the opportunity cost is their own dreams. This predicament should not be brushed off and must be addressed before it potentially destroys a marriage.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. People were forced to stay more in their homes with only limited movement outside. Women bear the additional responsibility of managing the household. Let’s just say with more people at home, there were more meals to cook, more dishes to wash, and more kids to help with their online schools. The working mother unconsciously stepped in to fulfill these duties even though she also had a 9 to 5 job, the same with her husband. The unfair reality today is that women are perceived as more responsible to take care of everyone while men can play video games in peace and would simply be excused as “it’s a common male activity.”

There is a tendency for women to grow resentful if they feel they are alone and overworked. There is a high tendency that they lose themselves, what their career looks like, their past and dream hobbies, and fantasies about having a life outside of their family. Physical, mental, and emotional might eventually take a toll on their health. When this happens, it does not mean the end for a couple. We are mere products of a broken gender system and we could all help one another to fix it. Here’s how we could fairly distribute household chores.

1. Give equal value to each of your time outside of the family.

According to Fair Play author Eve Rodsky as interviewed in a Time magazine article, “Only when you both believe that your time is equally valuable will the division of labor shift toward parity in your relationship.” Time does not choose a gender. There are 24 hours, 7 days in a week for both males and females. Look at it this way. When you take a minute to do household chores, you take a minute of your time that you could have allotted for a different activity. Both partners should give each other’s time equal value.

2. Communicate with your partner how the current setup makes you feel.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and open the conversation with your partner, no matter how difficult you fear it will be. Don’t blame him solely for the mess in your house and instead focus on what you are currently feeling. Instead of saying, “I blame you for why the kids don’t like to clean their rooms!” say instead, “I felt neglected when the kids don’t follow my rules such as cleaning their rooms.”

3. Based on each other’s personalities, work on a compromise.

There’s no one match that won’t be butting heads. In a relationship, you are two different people with different personalities so it’s bound to happen that you would disagree at some point. For example, you want the household chores to be done at the moment before slacking off and watching a Netflix series. It may clash with someone whose style is to forego household chores and do them at a later time. You have to find out the reason behind each other’s desires so you could work on a compromise. Maybe it will work if you agree on a fixed time to start the cleaning. Or maybe you could look at it differently by focusing on the quality of chores done instead of settling your eyes on the time.

4. Know each other’s work schedules.

Let’s say both of you work from home at the moment. Be up to date with each other’s schedules by putting up a spacious cork board to fill with to-do tasks for the day. Or you could write it on a whiteboard so that you could tick off each task once you’re done.

Tip: If you have a shared workspace at home, take care of your own workstation. Be responsible for decluttering your own standing desk but you may also opt to have shared storage units. Labeling is the key to not get it mixed up with your colleague’s files.

5. Be understanding, flexible, and rational as much as possible.

There are many scenarios that can unfold at any time. There might suddenly be a surprise meeting that your partner has to attend. One of you might call in sick. Be open to changing your schedules every now and then and all the possible roadblocks that you may encounter. You may even lend a helping hand to finish an errand that is impossible for your partner to do. Do it because you love your partner and as long as it’s reasonable.

6. Allow your partner to take charge of the household task.

Avoid micromanaging each other by nagging how to do a certain household chore. Do not observe from a distance or even record what’s going on. Trust and let go.

7. Give each other compliments.

Even males want to be seen and appreciated for their efforts. Most often than not, a husband loses the drive to help in doing household work because he doesn’t feel that he’s being valued. Throw little compliments along his way when he washes the dishes or sweeps the floor. These compliments can motivate him to help more, when his work is appreciated.

8. Allot time for personal hobbies.

Always have time for yourself by deliberately taking some time off from work or managing the household to do personal hobbies. It might lead to burnout if you don’t get to rest or relax because of your commitments in the household. Be honest with your partner and talk it out on how you could arrange your schedules so you would have time for yourselves. Adjust accordingly.

Tip: To have time for personal hobbies, be efficient and productive with your main job. Switch to a standing desk and work while shifting from a sitting to a standing position and vice versa. This will help make your mind alert and awake so you could finish your tasks at an earlier time.

9. Have regular check-ins.

Gender role issues deeply embedded in the household and human society can’t be solved in one sit-down chat. From time to time, you have to check in with your partner about how he or she is doing. Remember that you will constantly learn from each other so if you want a more sound marriage, take this by heart.