Housework has a gender problem - we can all change that

While we’re all at home, it’s a great time to ditch old gender stereotypes.

This year, the pandemic has changed the lives of Victorians in many ways. But, there's one thing that hasn't shifted - housework. It's there no matter how many people are in your household, it often increases if you have kids, and working from home can make it far more difficult to ignore the dishes piling up in the sink. 

We know that during the pandemic as more families are at home together full time, women are still taking on the majority of housework in households with heterosexual couples. The Australian Institute of Family Studies undertook a report 'Life during COVID-19' revealing women take on the majority of household chores in 43% of heterosexual couples. Of those surveyed, only 9% of men were taking on the majority of housework. 

The pandemic has highlighted that for many families and couples, gender inequality is an issue that still needs to be tackled. 

We recently spoke to three dads, Bwe, Andrew and Jason, who shared what the COVID-19 restrictions have meant for their families, and how they’ve been sharing the load of housework and childcare. 

“Despite the long hours I have to work, I try to find a balance between time with the kids, housework and meetings. Nothing is perfect, but we make it work,” says Bwe. 

Here’s some tips to help you take the next steps to creating balance in your home and relationships. 

1. Sit down and talk it out 

While it might seem hard or awkward at first, now is the perfect time to take a step back and look at how housework is being divided. It’s also a great time to have that tricky conversation and find a balance that works for you.

Whether you're approaching the conversation as the person who does the majority of the housework, or as the partner who has realised they aren't quite doing enough, map out your thoughts in advance. Really think about what’s going on, and what you’d like to see change. Be honest about what is and isn't working, and what you see as the barriers. Try not to approach the conversation using blame or defensiveness. 

When it’s time to talk, be open and honest. Who’s been doing what? Who’s good at what? Think about what your households were like when you were growing up, and who did what at home. What worked about that? What was unfair? Then, decide what will work best for both of you or the whole family. 

2. Make a clear plan 

Once you’ve had the chat and everything’s on the table, it’s time to make a plan. Whether it’s a simple to-do list, a detailed spreadsheet, whether you plug all the chores into an app, or whether you write it on a whiteboard - pick what works for you and stick with it. Allow it to be flexible when needed but use it as a strong set of guidelines. 

To start dividing the jobs, your first step might be to write down everything you can think of that needs doing. Make it as positive an experience as you can and try to volunteer for jobs you are good at or don’t mind doing, rather than assigning chores arbitrarily. And remember, if someone isn’t good at something, they might just need more practice.

Then, get to it! Follow your system – whatever it looks like - and keep chatting about how you’re going. Did someone run out of time to finish something? Did you end up needing two people for a job? That’s okay – being flexible and knowing how people’s available time is changing is an important part of creating a fair household dynamic. Particularly now during COVID-19 as the amount of time spent as home is changing, it’s a key opportunity to reflect on what we actually have the time to pick up and creating new habits. 

For Andrew, working from home meant he had more time to be part of his kids' lives.

“I felt sorry that [before lockdown] I was away for a lot of the day and couldn’t help as much. So during the lockdown I have been able to help out a bit more, getting up in the morning and preparing breakfast, taking a break and doing lunch. Those things that I wasn’t a part of that now I am a part of,” he says.

3. Get the kids involved

If you have kids or there are kids in your household, you have a group of helpers who are ready to go. Including them in the chore-roster is a great way to balance the load, while supporting them to understand what equality can look like at home. 

For Jason, cooking and housework was always something that he and his wife shared. But with their daughter home from school, she’s been able to get more involved too. “We have a good mix. We brought our daughter in to help now - she’s a mad baker. She’d probably bake every day if she could,” he says.

“I think we share it out, my wife and I, and now I think it’s starting to get shared a bit more equally with the three of us.” 

Modelling shared chores and housework is vital in showing kids that relationships should and can be equal. Shifting the balance at home can have a bigger impact than you might expect. So, what are the next steps for you?