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Gender Parity in the Modern Home

At SheMD, we highly believe that to achieve equality in the workplace - whether that is the hospital, clinic or boardroom - we have to achieve equality at home. Dr. Huma Farid joins us today to discuss what gender parity in the modern home looks like, or does NOT look like, and how that lack of equality at home can lead to a stalling career and marriage. As #womeninmedicine, we need to push for continued gender parity in our homes, which will allow us to achieve better gender equity in our workplaces as well.

Half-empty sippy cups and a bottle of bubbles crowd my dining room table; magnetic tiles and toy construction vehicles cover every inch of free space on my kitchen floor. I stare impassively at the mess, as though the force of my glare could magically resolve the clutter. Sadly, unlike Mrs. Weasley, there are no housekeeping charms to help me, and I resign myself to roping my children into cleaning up before we leave the house tomorrow morning. I cannot spare the energy required to pick up after my toddlers today, because I need to focus on my academic research and writing projects, which have clearly taken a second seat.

I am an obstetrician/gynecologist at an academic tertiary care hospital, but for the past four years, I have spent the vast majority of my time gestating, breastfeeding, and parenting rather than writing grants or research proposals. My career has effectively stalled. Between the demands of a full time job as an obstetrician/gynecologist, a second full time job being a mother, and a third full time job trying to figure out where, how and when to pump, I found myself stressed and overwhelmed.

I also found myself simmering with anger at my husband. I felt angry when I cooked dinner for the next night at 9pm while he watched television. I felt angry when I came home from a busy day on labor and delivery to a sink full of dirty dishes and bottles. I felt angry each time I washed the pump parts that I used to extract nourishment from my body to feed our child for over a year. I felt angry as I packed my children’s lunches daily and got them ready for daycare while my husband stayed in bed until 20 minutes before he had to leave for work.

Anger became the core of our relationship--my anger at him for being oblivious and not helping, and his anger at me for ignoring him.

When I argued that I didn’t spend time with him because I was too tired between work, taking care of the house, and taking care of the kids, his response was always that he helped me as much as he could, and that he never said no when I asked him to do something. He didn’t grasp the mental load I carried daily--the list of tasks running through my head that kept the house running and our children’s needs met. When I did ask him to do something, I felt like a chief resident with a delinquent intern as I checked and double checked that he truly had accomplished the tasks.

This lack of initiative was a nearly universal relationship theme among my friends, all of whom worked. Our partners waited for us to dictate what needed to be done around the house or for the kids. We bore the burden of the mental checklist, the organizing, and the scheduling, and it was exhausting. My friends encouraged me to hire help. I wondered how much more help I could hire to be the equivalent of a second parent, because that was what I really needed--for him to step up and parent.

Recently, my friend lent me a copy of Darcy Lockman’s book, All The Rage, prefacing it with a warning that she had hesitated before giving it to me because she thought I might explode if I read it. I did not explode, but I did feel vindicated, and I felt less alone. It also made me realize that my husband wasn’t a bad man, nor was he a bad feminist. He was just a lazy feminist. Equality was a great notion when he didn’t have to do anything, but being in a dual working professional household with two young children meant that for us to be equal partners, he would have to do more than pay lipservice to the idea of equality. He would have to hustle just as hard as I was hustling in order to truly have an egalitarian marriage, and that is where we were falling short.

Lockman writes that “children...create an inequality of crisis proportions.” Research has demonstrated that the majority of couples experience a decrease in marital satisfaction and an increase in conflict after the birth of a child, and this persists after the birth of each subsequent child. One child had caused us to argue much more frequently than ever before; the second child hit our already rocky marriage like a bomb, sowing discord and resentment into our daily routine.

What keeps people together despite these massive, glaring inequalities? What keeps women married when we are treated as household managers and caretakers despite having busy careers?

I don’t know. Perhaps the memory that you did love each other, which is what enabled you to procreate in the first place? What I do know is that women find workarounds. We hire additional help. We think about the kind of mother we want to be and know that regardless of our husbands’ contributions, we will continue to read bedtime stories, pick up after our toddlers, and play with them. We give much of ourselves without expecting our partner to contribute, because the expectations have been unfulfilled so often. As my colleague told her husband, “You do you,” and she would take care of the rest.

Is this fair? No. But the alternative of arguments and resentment that ultimately lead to separation rather than the partner changing is much worse for some women. Lockman wrote that it will take at least 75 years before we have gender equality at home, and a 2017 report from the OECD Development Center called gender inequality in unpaid care work “the missing link” in the analysis of persistent gender inequality. Working around this inequality does not mean that we accept it or ignore it, but that we acknowledge our limitations in changing men’s inherent patriarchal views. It does not mean that we remain silent, but only that we continue to push for change and hold men to a higher standard knowing that true equality may never be achieved in our lifetime.

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