Over at The Atlantic, Alexis Coe takes a look at why high-earning working women don’t get much help with housework, even though they can afford it/should presumably be empowered to ask for it:
People assume that women who earn high wages outsource a good deal of domestic responsibilities, but Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald found this “buying-out hypothesis” to be overblown, particularly when it came to housework.…if they can afford it, why aren’t these women outsourcing housework so that they have an organized, sparkling home that creates more leisure time?
Gender norms and perceived societal expectations of wives and mothers may play a role…Housework has a performative quality to it, and conforming to traditional gender norms may produce social and psychological rewards. This is true for Killewald, who said while she and her husband often cook meals together, when her mother-in-law is expected for dinner, she not only cooks the meal, but urges her husband to make it clear that she was the chef. “That’s important to me because I’m showing [my mother-in-law] that I’m a good wife,” she said. “Those expectations don’t fall on fathers and men.”
The article goes on to add that women are loathe to “delegate” housework to their male partners or children, probably for the same reasons outlined above – housework is seen as nurturing, women are socially programmed to have higher expectations for cleanliness than men (though not always, obv – my husband is much neater than I am), women are suspicious of pre-prepared or packaged food options, etc.
But back to the question of why women who can afford it don’t hire paid household help. We’ve discussed before on this blog the tension around the idea of whether it’s OK to hire a maid in the first place. A lot of people were inherently uncomfortable with the idea of giving other people your “shit work,” while I argued that, as long as someone is being paid a decent wage, housework is no worse than any other kind of job.
This tension does not seem to exist equally in all cultures. I’m in Hong Kong now, where many middle-class people have full-time, live-in hired help. Adults – men and women alike – work extremely long hours, and immigrant “helpers” from Indonesia or the Philippines make domestic help affordable. Perhaps because apartments are so small here, or because cheap restaurants and street food stalls make eating out much more common, people seem to feel less a sense of “house pride” and feel less of a moral obligation to cook from scratch. Having a live-in helper is a status symbol – rather than projecting “I’m a bad mother/housekeeper/woman” (as American women fear it does), it seems to say “I’m wealthy enough to afford help.”
That said, the relationship between Hong Kong women and their helpers is not tension-free, as illustrated by this super-creepy milk ad. Basically, the pretty, pale-skinned Hong Kong woman is jealous of her son’s attachment to his darker skinned nanny, and bribes him with milk to love her better.
How many of you have domestic help? What kind? And how many of you would “outsource” work if they could afford it? What would you outsource?