Perhaps for the first time in my life, I am living in a truly egalitarian household.
It occurred to me today, as I was feeding the sourdough starter and making pancakes from the extras. One of my roommates had to run out the door, but said, “Please, save me one!”
Three feminist femmes living together – in one sense, of course there is equal distribution of household labor. But at the same time, it still feels so new and refreshing. I’ve lived in plenty of roommate situations with other women where I was doing the bulk, if not all, of the work and chores of the household. And it’s exhausting.
But here, everyone brings home some of the bacon and does some of the work around the house. I will come home to find the trash taken out and I didn’t do it. Or the rugs vacuumed. There are days I cook dinner, and days I come home to hear, “Are you hungry? I’m cooking,” or mornings where I get eggs for breakfast without lifting a finger.
We all do laundry. We all work in the yard. I do most of the dishes, but my roommate calls the landlord when something needs fixed. It all balances out.
When I was growing up, the division of labor was very clearly along traditional gender lines. I was never taught to change a spare tire because here is a AAA card instead. My father would never let anyone else use the grill. Things like that. I think my mother felt taken for granted, but there was also never a family discussion or expectation about dividing things more equitably, and a lot of times when I did try to help it turned into a power struggle. I could never do anything “right,” which made everyone feel unseen, frustrated, and like our efforts were not appreciated.
That’s the thing, too. In order to share labor, you have to be willing to let someone do something a different way than you would. To have a truly egalitarian household, you have to agree on the standards of the household together, rather than one person laying down the law. I think part of the reason my roommates and I get along so well together is that we have similar ideas about the environment in which we want to live. I know that’s not as possible with a biological family, or sometimes even in a roommate situation.
But I am grateful for the opportunity to see how good things can be when everyone is on the same page.
When I first came out, I identified as a lesbian. I remember clearly telling a family friend and his response being, “But you would make such a good wife!” In that moment, what I heard was that my personal autonomy was less important than my value to a man. But looking back, he was objectively right.
I enjoy domestic tasks. I love to cook and bake things from scratch. I enjoy growing herbs and vegetables. I clean pretty frequently because too much clutter or dirt makes my brain unhappy. But at the same time, if I feel like someone is making extra work for me, or that the work I do is not valued or even seen, the path to frustration and resentment can be worn pretty quickly.
What I value about my current household is that we all take care of each other. No one person is expected to do everything, so whatever gets done is appreciated. Because it is no one’s “job,” or to look at it another way, it is EVERYONE’S job, we are all always looking for ways to contribute, and we all cut each other slack when the demands of work outside the home zap our time and energy. So someone else doing something is seen as them helping me out, rather than a default assumption and expectation about how things work. Everyone pitches in in the ways that they choose, or we ask for help when we need it, and everything gets accomplished.
Objectively, I would make a good wife, in the traditional sense of the wife being the one who does the bulk of the household labor. I recently attended a conference about polyamory, and the keynote speaker talked about how in the modern world, all the duties of the “wife” can be outsourced, if you have the means (think Instacart to grocery shop for you, going out to a restaurant, hiring a maid service, or even going to see a sex worker, etc.) And of course in that model, poor women of color suffer the most, so we haven’t found the answer yet. But it begs the question: What would a world where no one is the wife, or where everyone is the wife, look like?
In the sense of division of labor, my roommates and I are all both wives and husbands. And of course, everyone can choose to divide household labor in whatever way they choose. I’m not saying we’ve found the correct way to do things. Only that this setup works better for me and is more fulfilling for me than past living situations. Now I feel seen and valued and appreciated. There is nothing wrong with an agreement where a woman takes on the traditional roles and duties of the wife, as long as it is consensual and the work is appreciated. And the division of labor can be fluid rather than static, with different members taking on different roles and duties at different points in time.
But in the more traditional model, the wife ends up doing the household work while the husband relaxes, which creates an unequal balance where one person doesn’t have the time or ability to do the self-care needed to survive. And in the current economy, it’s unlikely that majority of households would be able to have a member who does not work outside the home but rather does the work to maintain the home. Right now, I have time for work, time to help around the house, and time to do as I please. Which is the way it should be.
So, yes, I would be a good wife. I am a good “wife” now, as chicken stock boils on the stove and there’s a plate of pancakes waiting in the fridge for when my roommate comes home. But she’s a good “wife” to me, too, and that’s the part that really matters. I don’t want to be in the position of taking care of someone who can’t or won’t take care of themselves. Right now, we all take care of each other. We all get to feel nurtured, and we all get to nurture others. Which to me, is just about perfect.
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One thought on “Labor of Love: Thoughts on Domesticity”
I am working on a piece about my experience taking home economics classes in school. You touched on some things I have been thinking about. I thought I didn’t like those classes, but in hindsight I realize I enjoyed the activities but I was angry about the expectation that the care of the home would be my job.