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Domestic Sisterhood

Nov
14
2006

I’ve found a sister with a chip on her shoulder out there.

Katy Read in Brain, Child magazine writes about the domestic role:

Some mothers grab their “Mom’s Organizer” books and efficiently take command. I, on the other hand, resent the role too much to do it well, am constantly disorganized and overwhelmed. Many days I wonder how I wound up devoting so much of my energy and skills to this stuff.

Although Read is referring here to the countless little organizing chores of the supervising parent, while my biggest beef is with the cleaning, hers is an attitude I can empathize with.

That’s one job dilemma of the stay-at-home-parent (I’m betting lots of stay-at-home dads aren’t in love with housekeeping tasks either). If it were just taking care of the kids, it wouldn’t be so bad. The kids are, on occasion, pretty entertaining; and if they’re not, well, that’s what those more- or less-aged mothers’ helpers are out there for.

It’s the house that’s the bigger part of the job than the kids for parents – working or at home. According to these possibly not very meaningful statistics from a recent issue of Time Magazine, married mothers spent an average of 19 hours and 24 minutes on housework per week, versus 12 hours and 54 minutes on childcare. (So what about cooking with your kids? How does that count? And what ages are the kids? And so on. But we won’t get into that.)

It’s wonderful if you enjoy and/or are competent in domestic tasks, and if you’re lucky, at least someone in the household will be like that. But for me it’s like Hercules trying to clean the stables, or what´s-his-name pushing that rock up the hill, again and again and again. And these stories are primal myths, tapping into our deepest sense of what it is to face unending tortures and struggles as humans. Think about it: unless you make everyone in your household stand around nude while you run the washing machine, you will never, ever, reach a point when you’re completely done with the wash.

The horror of housework is nothing new. What is new is that while women do still bear the greater burden, men are increasing their share. But rather than equal torture for both sexes (which would still be an advance, and is a necessary next step), I’m hoping that there’s some alternate possibility someone might figure out one day to save mostly me and, of course, everyone else from some toilet scrubbing. You can buy your way out of the problem, but that’s only a solution for some, and partial for most. So what about technology? Those 20th-century domestic machines did do something. A washer still beats heading to the rocks by the river. (I know, that’s still not universally left behind.) I’m pretty hopeful about Japanese toilets actually. Or some kind of cooperative living? New architecture?

After all if we can put a man on the moon… Not that “we” did. It was rocket scientists, mostly or all men, who did that, and they probably had someone taking care of their domestic concerns. But you know, if everyone has to occasionally think about toilet scrubbing, someone might come up with a better idea.

My sister in resentment was writing about Linda Hirshman and her hot-button idea that educated women who don’t pursue high-powered careers are betraying feminism. Even the woman most confident in the rightness of her “staying home” has moments of doubt, and these moments are often linked to contact with scrub brushes, sponges and whirring domestic appliances. That big sucking sound you hear? It’s not women draining away from careers and feminism. It’s just the vacuum. And it really sucks.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 9:22 AM | Permalink

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