The gender pay gap is not the only measure of gender inequality that’s getting worse in Ireland.
The bulk of the domestic workload is still being carried out by women, regardless of whether they work outside the home or not.
A Europe wide study found huge disparities in the unpaid workloads of Irish women and men, with almost 90% of Irish women, and less than 50% of men, doing household chores including cooking and cleaning.
A study by Bord Bia completed the same year found the situation has actually deteriorated in recent years. In 2013, 29% of men took responsibility for cooking, but this had dropped to 23% by 2017.
By taking on too many household responsibilities, while men take free time to recharge and advance their careers, women can lose sight of their priorities and fail to move ahead in areas that are most important to them.
Are men conditioned to do less because perhaps they’ve seen their own mother take on the responsibility for the household?
Have men already figured this out (which is why many of them aren’t raising their hands to take on more housework) or are they just conditioned to do less because perhaps they’ve seen their own mother take on the responsibility for the household?
A 2015 study from McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that “women in senior management are seven times more likely than men at the same level to say they do more than half of the housework.” Women who outearn their husbands actually end up doing more housework than their spouses.
Jenna* and her partner left Ireland to look for work abroad. After finding work the couple moved in together for the first time. Jenna’s partner leaves the majority of the housework for her to do.
“I work more, he’s at home lots and does hardly anything. He doesn’t see how hurtful it is that I’m doing everything. He tells me to stop comparing.”
“I just feel I’m sinking and I either struggle on or I leave everything the way it is until one of us gets sick of the smell.”
“I’ve tried so many things I’m at a loss. I’m worried that the last step is going to couples counselling, and that the therapist might take his side. It was so much easier just looking after myself.”
He acted as if he was doing her a favour any time he did the slightest thing in the house.
Alison* was living with a man in his 30’s who seemed to want to be equitable in the distribution of household chores.
“When we first moved in together he was great, he would do the washing up, hang out loads of washing – he pretty much did half the work.”
Over time Alison noticed her boyfriend was doing less and less work in the house. “It was being left to me to pick up the slack. We were both working outside the house at that time but he worked less hours than I did. I got so mad that he was leaving it all for me.”
Alison had a talk with her boyfriend and they agreed to divvy the chores up between them. She says that only lasted for a week, “until gradually the jobs he was supposed to do were again being done by me.”
“The deal was if I cooked he washed up. But he would say he’d do it in the morning and it would sit there all night and then in the morning he’d say he’d do it after work and then I’d end up having to wash the dishes in order to have the tools and space to cook dinner. It was infuriating!”
Alison says that he began to act as if he was doing her a favour any time he did the slightest thing in the house.
“He’d come from a home where his mother had been like a slave to him and his dad so he had these strange ideas about what a woman should be like and do for her partner. I think he wanted and expected a 1950’s housewife-in-the-kitchen. I eventually broke up with him as I couldn’t handle the inequality and unfairness of it all.”
Witnessing this inequality in the home can shape a child’s perceptions of “normal” as children are modelled by, and learn from the adults around them.
Believing in and enforcing gender stereotypes is linked to domestic abuse so the statistics indicating the inequality Irish women are experiencing in the home are particularly worrying. If a male partner is content to allow or force a woman to undertake more than her fair share of the household tasks, in what other areas does he consider her to be unequal to him?
Witnessing this inequality in the home can shape a child’s perceptions of “normal” as children are modelled by, and learn from the adults around them. They will notice and pick up on who does what tasks and replicate that in their own adult lives. This could perpetuate another generation of people who believe that domestic work is “women’s work”.
Gloria Steinem said, “Women are not going to be equal outside of the home until men are equal in it.” Given that women are doing even more unpaid household work now than they were a few years ago, equality both in and out of the home feels a long way off.
*Names changed to protect identites.
About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.