Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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Should the person who earns less do more housework?

via Apartment Therapy

Via Apartment Therapy (why no, I was not reading about DIY kitchen makeovers while I’m supposed to be working!) comes another post about the monetary value of housework. Like me, the author is a freelance writer married (well, about to be married, in her case) to a professor. She makes less money than he does – about 1/3rd – and seems to feel that this means she should do more of the domestic work. “[I]nstead of paying exactly half the mortgage and bills, I do nearly all of the housework,” she writes.

On the one hand, this attitude jibes with today’s trend of assigning monetary value to non-paid domestic work in the name of equality and respecting homemaking as a valued vocation. If we’re going to give cash value to unpaid work (“my home-grown vegetables are worth $5,000,” “my childcare is worth $30,000 a year”), then it’s understandable how some couples might see it as more egalitarian to say “you make $20,000 a year and I make $60,000. Therefore, you should ‘pull your weight’ by doing $40,000 worth of housework.”

But on the other hand, that seems awfully unfair and (more to the point) not what partnership is really about. Plus, since in this society, women still tend to make less money than men and their careers are generally perceived to be the flexible one in the partnership (a fascinating study showed that, in heterosexual partnerships between a male doctor and a female lawyer, the lawyer’s career was generally viewed as “flexible,” while in the reverse scenario – female doctor and male lawyer – the doctor’s career was seen as the flexible one). So if we assign more housework to the lower-earning, more “flexible” partner in the name of fairness and equality, are we actually just reinforcing the role of “women as homemaker”?

Several of the Apartment Therapy commenters point out some of the flaws in the “earn less, do more housework” model. As one writes:

I once bought the idea that if earns more, and I do more housework, that’s a fair arrangement. But he gets paid in actual MONEY, while I get paid in “oh this is tasty, honey” and “why isn’t there any toothpaste?” Money is real; compliments (and complaints) are air.

Also, it’s striking to note how many of the female commenters remark, unhappily, about doing much more housework than their male partners – regardless of careers and earnings.

Anyway, what do you think? Should the person who earns less do more housework? Or how do you think housework duties should be divided?


9 comments to Should the person who earns less do more housework?

  • Well, the obvious answer is that any given household should work out amongst themselves who does what kind of labor. But that said, I do feel a little squeamish about “whoever earns less at work does more at home” as a general rule. I’ve only ever held low-paying jobs in fields that take up an incredible amount of outside work: teacher. grad student. museum studies. publishing. Basically, if you work in arts and letters at all, you can expect a low salary and a high level of labor-of-love (the papers to grade, the grant writing, all the stuff that goes on outside of work hours). I live alone and so am responsible for all of my own mess, but if I chose to cohabitate with a higher-earning partner, I’d be pretty infuriated if he expected me to take up a heavier share of household work just because my professional work is already undervalued.

  • Whitney

    Well, that’s one way to take the thrill out of marrying rich

  • I agree with Sara – I wouldn’t expect my partner to pick up, say, a second job if his full-time job happened to pay less than mine.

    I would split the housework not based on who earns what – and that would tend to disproportionately affect women, since we still earn less on average than men for the same work – but based on who has the time, the energy, and the inclination.

    At present, my husband is a homemaker, and I work full-time. But when he goes back to work full-time, even if he is earning less money than I do, I expect to pick up half of the housework again.

  • Emily

    In our house (and obviously, Sara’s right that every house should work it out for themselves!) it’s a time issue. I earn significantly less than my husband, but I also work fewer hours than he does, and his salary is part of the reason I was able to take a job that I love that’s only part-time for now. In return, I use my “extra” hours to take care of a lot of the around-the-house stuff so that we can share our off together hours doing fun things.

    He also does my least favorite chore – the dishes – every day, so I really can’t complain if I get stuck with a little more laundry/tidying, etc.

    I worry about the “inclination” approach because I think women are trained/socialized to be sensitive to the appearance of a home in ways that men less often are. It seems like another, more subtle way of shifting the burden of housekeeping to the woman in a heterosexual partnership.

  • Daisy

    I agree with Sara; each household needs to work out their own plan. Discussions about housework and how it should be split and what is the most ‘feminist’ choice always leave me feeling a bit alienated. I am married to a man in the active duty military and as a result have long periods in my life during which I do all of the housework, parenting, DIY home repairs, and oil changes and other car maintenance. Rather than feel resentful or used, I’ve actually come to feel quite skilled and empowered by this necessity as there have been numerous skills I’ve had to master that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise and I love the feeling of self-reliance of being able to change my own tires, fix my own blown fuses, and solve minor plumbing crises.

    When he’s home, my husband is extremely active in parenting and we as an entire family tend to split work, if not equally, than in a fashion that everything is done so that we can enjoy a true weekend together as a family. We have a household rule that everybody is supposed to clean up their own “make work*” which aids greatly in the amount of housework that must be tended to as well as an evening routine to “recover” the house and prepare for the next day in which everybody participates in.

    *make work would be putting your own clothes in the hamper, putting your own freshly laundered clothing in your room, shoes on the shoe rack, cleaning up toys/spills/messes/whatever as you make them, that sort of thing

  • I agree with the comment above. I would suggest that often (not always), the lower earner works less hours in a less stressful job. I would also suggest that often (not always) that perso has specifically chosen a less well paying mommy track job, especially when there are children involved. Neither of these choices are wrong, we all choose differently. In my case evenw hen I was working, my husband’s job was high stress and required him to be at work from dawn to dusck. I did all the day to day cleaning and home tasks. when he was home he spent time with the kids. On the weekends he did heavy chores and home tasks. Traditional, but it worked for us and no one felt used or abused.

  • tenya

    I’m torn, because I’ve been the higher earner and also have more obligations (full time school on top of the full time job) more than once. No children. My fiance works part-time with no other large obligations (no aging parents or school or house repairs or anything). When he moved in he approached me with “look, I can’t pay anywhere near half of the rent/utilities here, I’ll do the cleaning instead.” Sounded like a deal to me. I still have residual issues with it, though – I was always taught “if something is dirty, you clean it, you don’t try to get someone else to do it.” This makes it hard to ask. He isn’t a clean person by nature, so it there is a lot of needing to ask. And it is still a struggle, because we work opposite schedule so sometimes “just ask me to do it” ends up being “just ask me, and maybe 12 hours later it might be done, but I might forget.”
    I remember in my last relationship a brief period when I didn’t have a job and he did, and I was so frustrated with feeling like I had to do all the cleaning because I didn’t work. But then I got a job, and still did all the housework, because of various “well I just don’t mind the mess, you do, so you can clean” responses.

  • I currently earn more than my husband, but I would never expect him to do more housework! We pretty much split it evenly, although we have defined (jokingly) certain things that are “mens work” and “womens work”, with me being naturally neater and him being physically stronger and mechanically-minded, I don’t mind doing the ironing if he’ll look after our supply of firewood and service our cars. If we are both busy with work, we just do what we can get done, for us its about who has TIME to do the work, not who is earning more. If he was working part-time, I would probably expect him to do more, only because he had the time, not to make up for lack of earnings. Actually if he stays home and I go to work some days he has the attitude that I didn’t do as much as he did for the household because he’s been out building/fixing something and I “just” went to work for the day!