How to balance feminism with pragmatism in household chores

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Both my partner and I consider ourselves progressive, feminist individuals. In most things, we are great about ensuring the we are contributing equally. The problem arises when it comes to the domestic sphere. I come from an exceedingly handy, DIY family — I have been repairing toilets since I was 10. My partner (and his family) can't tell a wrench from a hammer. Same goes for cooking.

As a feminist, this rankles me. I don't want to be responsible for the majority of the domestic chores. At the same time, I don't think it is very feminist to force someone to do something they hate. I can tell it frustrates him, too, because he wants us to be equal.

Is there some way you have found balance in your relationships? Or are there any tips for encouraging yourself or partners to help out around the house (or in the kitchen)? -Liz N

This is a great question, and certainly a lot of do have thoughts on feminism and household chores. So I took this question to the Homies, and here's their well-rounded advice that overwhelmingly broke down into three categories:

1. Balance, encouragement and compromise

My best advice is to help your partner feel competent in all areas of the house. When my partner does something that I don't know how to do, he talks me through it and will encourage me to participate. Sometimes those feelings of hating a chore comes from the fear of not doing it correctly.

Often doing the things you dread end up making you feel the best when they are done. -Meredith

Balance. Have him do certain chores like the floors, vacuuming and laundry. This is how it is in our house. I do all the cooking and meal planning, plus all domestic fixes and anything to do with finances. -Shannon

Use your best qualities. My husband and I seem to take on the "standard" roles, but help each other out… I do the laundry but he puts his own away as I do mine and the kids… He does do some cleaning though, like his one chore is the dishes and handling the trash/recycling sorting. We take what we both like to do and the dislikes we divide up.

Sometimes I get so caught up in me assuming the "typical wifey" cooking and cleaning, but… I just encouraged my husband to give cooking and baking a try, helped him along the way, and now he can make some things better than I can. -Kristin

Balance and comprise… Our skills balance each other out and we teach each other as we go. I've taught him to peel a potato. He's taught me how to use the different heads on a vacuum. Win win. -Jessica

We pick the things we each haaaate and the other partner does those things. Like I would live out of a laundry basket all the time, so hubs folds the clothes. But he would let the shower scum gain sentience, so I clean the bathroom. -Kate

Does he want to help? Then figure out a way to teach him that doesn't make the task daunting and overwhelming… Plus you can always divvy the work up as "I cook, you clean. You want to swap it up, you get to learn how to cook." And if he helps cook, you both clean. -Teresa

2. Invest in the issue

This is what I did with my ex: I resented being the one to do all the domestic work. His mess threshold was far higher than mine. So I paid for a housekeeper. And reaped all the benefits.

Outside help we pay for. With all the available outside options in food delivery, cleaning service, and handyman, it makes it no longer that I am doing it all. And he helps pay for it, so it's still not a burden on me. Thumbtack, Munchery, maid service, etc. -Heather

Take a couple cooking classes together so you can both learn new things and then maybe that will help you and your partner. Make it fun and new for both of you. -Miranda

I hate to be part of the Instant Pot cult, but seriously that one gadget finally got my partner to take an interest in cooking. When he figured out he could just press button and have a meal done in 10 min, it opened doors for him! LOL.

But in all seriousness, I think it just takes the right motivation. Case in point, I taught myself basic car maintenance and repairs because I wanted a pretty European car that is notoriously expensive to have repaired. When I drove a GM, I had no interest in it whatsoever. -Emily

If your partner doesn't like chores, split all chores and household expenses down the middle, and they alone can pay someone to do the stuff they don't want to do. -Cynthia

Re-frame the way you look at it

I've had to somewhat let go of ideas about "women historically have done this, so if I'm the only one doing this it is anti-progressive or anti-feminist" — you have to do what works for you as partners, almost take the gender/roles out of it. I am the better cook and I enjoy it, so I do most of that. He does more of the dishes, and takes care of the kitty litter, and does a fair amount of the shopping.

…But I totally get you, it can rankle at times just because it is a in-your-daily-life reminder of the privilege men have and the way ideas about roles have been shaped by our society, our parents, etc. I think about this a lot when doing stuff I just sort of picked up over time that he has no idea about. Like. "how did you not pick this up?" but then it's like, "well, you weren't in the kitchen with your mom and no one ever bothered to make you learn this and you didn't think it was your job to have to learn it so you didn't ask either."

I was in the kitchen, watching, partly because I understood, even when young, it was part of my role and I would have to know how to do this stuff. But this is all the same reason I wasn't out watching my uncle change a tire. So it's two sides of the same coin and we've all been screwed by it in various ways. I wish I was more DIY/handy/mechanically self sufficient! -Emily

I do my best to see all chores as height and skill issues. Meaning I can't trim the outdoor tree branches or get things off high shelves because at 5' tall — I just don't reach. And he does the cooking because when he cooks the food is actually edible. The truth is that he's a LOT better at *most* of the daily household things than I am, so I'm always running behind in terms of feeling like we're pulling our weight equally. I do my best to even things up by wrapping all holiday presents, making sure he gets places on time and dressed in actual clothes, and dealing with sick cats, but he's the true domestic champion in our house. -Tamra

Yeah, we're kind of the same way. My husband ends up doing most of the domestic chores while I do the technical ones, but we do share. I am fully capable of doing laundry and dishes, and I do those as needed, especially when my husband is stuck working late. I don't feel like any less of a feminist doing those chores. They need to be done, and I'm the one who's available to do them. We both do what needs to be done according to our skills and time demands. It's really only anti-feminist if a woman is forced into domestic chores and banned from the technical ones because she's a woman. You can still be feminist and do all the domestic chores if that's where your abilities happen to be. -Theresa

How do YOU find a balance between feminism and household chores with your partner?

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  1. In our house chores are divided by likes/dislikes. My partner cooks and I handle the laundry and suffer through the dishes. On the weekend when we clean the apartment together: I change the linens, do laundry, wipe over the kitchen and gather up the bins while he does the bathroom, vacuums and takes out the rubbish. One of us mops. It takes about an hour or two but then the apartment is clean as a whistle and I just have to deal with laundry as it finishes.

    My last relationship saw me turn into a nag. My ex would do nothing because he was used to his mum cleaning and washing everything, even when she came over! I much prefer my current arrangement where my partner appreciates my efforts and actively wants a tidy home.

    2 agree
  2. In our house we have it to where I do all the indoor stuff (except mowing, raking leave and helping to shovel snow) and he does all the outside stuff and stuff that needs to be fixed around the house.

    My (female) coworkers give me shit because I mow the lawn (which I see plenty of women in my area mow). Even some of the men I've worked in the past gave me shit about mowing the lawn. While I don't like doing it. It is easier for me to mow then in. So even other women (and men) can't seem to grasp a woman mowing the lawn!! Like its hard to stand behind a mower and push it around (esp. with an easy to start mower).

    I used to work with a lady who did all her car maintenance and I am not just talking oil change. She would do clutches, brakes, belt changes, etc. Her husband was the one who did not have a clue (she was the only girl in her family growing up and she liked to hang around her brothers and dad vs. being in the house with her mom. Hence how she picked up on that kind of stuff).

    2 agree
  3. We are the same way, but my partner is a decent cook. For years he has cooked and washed dishes (with varying success), leaving almost all other chores to me (it felt like). He hated not being able to take on DIY projects and I hated feeling responsible for everything. The past few months, we are trying something different: he is learning how to use tools using my guidance and YouTube. At the moment it's frustrating because these are the tasks I really enjoy doing on my own (vs cleaning), but I do see this effort as having significant long-term benefits. Frankly, he will never actually see the dust or dirt in our house to develop a satisfactory level of competence for my standards, so I'll continue doing a lot of the cleaning. But he is developing skills that he's never had exposure to, which allows us to divy up other tasks.

    2 agree
  4. It always seems to be a tricky balance. My husband grew up in a very staunch traditional household, and we have some trouble with inequality of chores falling onto my plate. Highly frustrating since I work longer days than he does. When we got together, I put my foot down and told him that even if I ended up being a SAHM, I'd NEVER do 100% of housework/grocery shopping/cooking, and if he wanted a spouse that did that, to go find someone else. He tries, but easily falls back into his upbringing of not helping or procrastinating so much that I end up having to do it. Though in the last couple months it's gotten a LOT better, with me having some blue periods while dealing with infertility, and he's had to pick up the slack. Also he's gotten more involved with cooking because I'll happily eat the same thing for a week or two straight, and makes us breakfast every morning! He also deals with all the yard work/car maintenance, and on weeks where those are more time consuming, I happily do more of the cooking and cleaning, since I'd much prefer to cook and do laundry than spend 4 hours mowing the lawn and trimming hedges. The main thing is to not just sigh and give up because they are being a pain, or aren't very good at the task. Communicate! Be kind! Listen! Hold your ground!

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  5. My spouse and I divy up chores by what we hate. I hate dishes: he does dishes. He hates lawnwork: I do the lawn. We both hate vacuuming: it never gets done.

    2 agree
  6. It's fine for someone not to do a chore they hate. Emphasis on A chore–a single chore. It's not fine for someone to hate ALL chores. I mean, let's be honest, very few of us scrub toilets for a good time. We scrub toilets because someone needs to scrub them, and we're adults who take responsibility for the messes we make in life. One of the joys of being in a family is that you can trade chores you hate for the chores your partner hates and everyone has to do less stuff they hate. But you can't hate everything.

    Which is actually another point I want to make: allowing your husband to not do chores because he didn't learn to do chores as a child is infantilizing him. He is a competent adult who is probably capable in many areas of life. He can probably learn how to follow a recipe. Acting as if he cannot learn that is not very feminist either. There's YouTube tutorials these days for just about anything he would like to learn. So… maybe that's the question: not what CAN he do, but what would he like to learn how to do?

    2 agree
  7. Our approach is mostly skill based, but we decided to set our expectations at 80/20, which is to say, I do 80% of "my" stuff, and 20% of "my partner's" stuff. It means that neither of us feel like we're doing a given thing alone, and we're not totally stuck with a thing if there's an issue. In our case, the division is less along traditional gender lines, though. I have a really hard time with day-to-day repetitive stuff, because it feels like a black hole, so my partner's pretty much in charge of cleaning, taking out the trash, gardening, etc. My jobs are the things that are relatively rare but individually time consuming, which my partner finds stressful and overwhelming. So when we needed a new car approximately yesterday, it seems like a new credit card is in order, we get a scary looking letter from a debt collector or it comes time to figure out how much house we can afford, I pretty much handle that stuff. It has the upside of not running as much along gender lines as well.

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