When asked “how can I help?” women often feel like they’re supposed to be grateful. The problem is, she’s the one who is always in charge of planning, shopping for, preparing, cooking, serving meals, while the helpful man asks if he can chop onions.
Thing is, when he does help, he doesn’t remember how to perform helpful tasks because his help is not regular but occasional. So he asks, “how thin should I chop them?” ‘Help’ becomes an additional burden – another person to teach, guide, manage.
If asked to do more than one task at a time, his machinery will malfunction: “I burned the rice because I was busy chopping onions!” Meantime, she’s making a healthy salad while cooking the chicken curry and washing up the fruit, and getting the kids ready for bed at the same time.
Asking him to do something means she has to ask him multiple times (often because he’s listening to music on his headphones in order to help him through this drudgery). He’s also doing something ‘important,’ so he’ll say ‘in a minute’ (and then forget), – which means she’d better do it herself. If there’s a phrase that’s calculated to destroy me, it’s that one: “In a minute.” Because among all the different things I’m managing simultaneously, I don’t have a single minute.
In my family, I’ve noticed that when we sit down to watch a family movie, I usually sit down with eggplant and garlic so I can chop while watching. Sometimes I’ll sweep the floor while watching. My friend says the same thing happens when he’s on the phone; he just talks and relaxes while his wife talks on the phone while cleaning up the kitchen at the same time.
And then there’s tidiness. By and large, no one sees the stray sock sitting on the living room couch (I have experimented with this: it stays there) except me. No one physically sees the dust bunnies but me. No one changes the bed sheets or towels. I am the expert on the kid too, so I am the only one who can pack for her, or pick outfits, or be ready for weather the next day. Men are conditioned to think as individuals, and women are conditioned to think for everyone.
But this job – it’s not a job, it’s a way of being – means women are constantly on task. Doing the groceries means she’s shopping for the family meals and he is shopping for work lunches and snacks.
This is not unusual. This is the patriarchal ‘normal.’ My mind is so clogged with household management, I can often not find the space for the academic work I need to do. And so the household division of chores bleeds directly into the workplace and income inequality.