First Man Standing

What is an equal relationship? Chores

03 February 2017 — — General What is an equal relationship? Chores

Oxford Dictionaries define equality as ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities’. But what does this mean in practice, in real relationships between men and women? In our three part blog series, we take a look at this question in relation to three areas – chores, childcare and career – using some of the examples submitted to the First Man Standing website so far.

Research by the University of Oxford has shown that women, on average, undertake 70% of chores in the home, spending 7 hours more each week on housework than men. Published just last year, this study shows that the traditional gender roles of men as breadwinners and women as homemakers still shape many households. While many women are now earning the money too, the housework they do has not reduced correspondingly: this means that many women are having to balance a full-time job with 14 hours of chores a week.

This adds up to women doing over 700 hours of housework a year. And statistically, women shoulder the more time-intensive and routine tasks such as cooking, laundry and doing the dishes. They’re also more likely to do the least enjoyable tasks like scrubbing the toilets. By contrast, men are more likely to do the episodic chores such as mowing the lawn or changing the light bulbs.

Many men, and indeed women, find this ‘normal’, as this is how it probably was for their parents and grandparents. However, in reality, this distribution of chores creates an imbalance in the relationship and puts the woman under a lot of pressure. This is particularly the case due to the cultural pressure on women to prove they are ‘good’ mothers and wives by keeping their homes neat, clean and tidy: this perceived link between housework and ‘good womanhood’ still lingers on.

Although chores are part of the domestic sphere, housework inequality also has broader consequences. Women consistently spend more time in housework and, as a result, less time in employment. This is one reason why fewer women can be found in high-powered jobs. It also means women have a lower income, leaving them more vulnerable to poverty, especially in the case of divorce.

As one of the stories on our website shows, finding an equal way to split up housework positively impacts the whole of the relationship. The wife writes:

I was fortunate enough to marry a man who happens to like ironing, doing it whilst he watches sport on the telly - and he's much faster (and better) at it than I am. He's also a brilliant cook. We gave up going out for Sunday lunch a long time ago, because I've never come across a restaurant that comes close to cooking a roast as good as his.

He's also good at woodwork. And this has led onto trying out jewellery making, which he's turning out to be pretty good at. He brews beer, makes jam and bakes bread. And he's got a great eye for a good colour scheme when it comes to decorating.

This is not about him making a token gesture and doing what some men might see as 'female roles' to tick a box every now and then. In the decades we've been together, we've simply taken on the work that each of us happens to enjoy and we share the doing of things that neither of us enjoys. I'm as capable as he is of handling a power drill or sawing down a tree, and I tend to manage our finances and any building work we have done.

Does that make me butch and him effeminate?

No, it makes us a good team.

The word ‘team’ is telling: members of a team share the same goal and are equal. By leaving behind gender stereotypes of which chores are ‘manly’ or not, this couple have divided up the tasks based on individual abilities and preferences. Free from gender expectations, they have found a balance which suits them both and which makes their relationship stronger.


Men: as a starting point, think about the language you use to describe housework. Do you use terms like ‘help out’ or ‘pitch in’? If so, does this mean you are assuming that housework is the woman’s responsibility? Even if this isn’t what you think, it is probably hurtful to your partner to hear you describe it in this way. Think about how you talk about chores. Secondly, actually do talk about chores. Sit down with your partner and ask her if she feels like she feels overstretched. Talk about whether you’re both happy with the chores you each do, and what you could change to make your relationship happier and more equal.


Read more examples or tell us about a First Man Standing you know here.

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