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What IS Women’s Work? May 19, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Home & Garden, Humor.

Wikipedia ~ Vacuum Cleaner (in Public Domain)

Janna’s recent post about the division of labor in marriages, Compromise: Coercion’s Civilized Cousin, reminded me of the time  we went shopping for a new vacuum cleaner.

BFF does the vacuuming ~ it was going to be HIS new toy.

* He did ALL the talking.

* He asked ALL the questions.

* He said he wanted to take a model for a “test drive.”

The FEMALE saleslady plugged in the machine, turned it on, and started to hand it to me.

I threw up my hands in mock horror and laughed, “Don’t hand it to me!  I don’t know how to vacuum.”

She got visibly annoyed and said with biting intensity, “You just said you wanted to try it.”

I laughed, “No, I didn’t . . . HE did.  I’m just here as a detached observer.”

No rules.  Just write!

What about you?

Any favorite stories about “assigned gender roles” or “women’s work”?

Related posts:  Where Have All The Women Gone? (Random Thoughts From Midlife) * Hazards of Domestic Chores (Mangetout & Other Stories)


1. CMSmith - May 19, 2011

Thanks for the mention.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

You’re welcome, Christine. The division of labor in the home is one issue . . . who earns the bread and brings home the bacon is another part of the equation.

2. Greg Camp - May 19, 2011

What usually happens is that the person who tolerates dirt or mess the least does the most work. I’m always an advocate for entropy, but that position rarely wins.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

I expect that you’re right, in many relationships, Greg.

Fortunately, BFF and I share the same general standards for cleanliness and clutter control. We ended up with our unique, but fairly equitable, division of labor in a rather circuitous fashion. It works for us.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

I think that most people want to make a contribution to those they love. In the “olden days” . . . men brought home the bacon and women cooked it.

That’s changed in many families. BFF’s dad retired early from the police force and BFF’s mom went back to work. BFF watched his dad go grocery shopping, do the laundry, and vacuum.

As a result, he viewed most chores as negotiable. I’m better with numbers than BFF, so I do all the accounts, bill paying, investments, etc. Until recently, I also did most of the cooking, meal planning, and grocery shopping.

3. Cindy - May 19, 2011

Any bloke is welcome to my vacuum cleaner, but must stay away from my stove.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

I used to handle all the meal preparation from grocery shopping to meal planning to sous chefing to cooking. Now, BFF does more of the shopping, planning, and cooking than I do. 😀

I love it ~ I only cook only when I want to cook.

4. William D'Andrea - May 19, 2011

As a single guy living alone, all the housekeeping is up to me. I’m somewhat lackadaisical about it. The place could definitely use a woman’s touch. However, I live a simple, uncomplicated life, and the less complicated the better. If a woman should come into my life, that would be fine; but if no woman does, in spite of the untidiness, that would be even better.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Glad your bachelor lifestyle is working for you, William.

I expect that some men marry because they feel that they need a “woman’s touch” around the house . . . they would be sorely disappointed with me since I do not see “housekeeping” as women’s work. 😉

5. Debra - May 19, 2011

To me in any Team situation …there is a ‘division’ of labors/tasks. And there really has to be…if everyone is a Linebacker then there is no one to be Quarterback or Running-backs. And vice versa.

Yet the ‘division’ of labors/task should not be based on gender unless it has to be…(i.e. giving birth to little team members is still a ‘female’ thing at least for now)

As for vacuuming….when it comes time for a new vacuum, my SO and myself go together….SO is more interested in the specs than I am. I want it to be easy and through…Yes, I am the main vacuum-er. ( yes @Greg i tolerates less dirt)

Bottom line: Some days I am a Quarterback and some days I am Linebacker.Never judge a person by their gender, if you do be prepared for a surprise. 🙂

PS I LOVE watching Football and get way into it. SO does not 🙂

Thanks Nancy:) great topic!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Thanks, Debra. Wonderful comment.

Other than birthing babies (and breastfeeding), I don’t believe in mandated gender roles and assignments. The division of labor between the sexes in any relationship should be negotiable based on personal preference and proclivities.

6. suzicate - May 19, 2011

Love it…we know what assuming does don’t we?! So did he get the vac of his dreams…not that I know anyone who dreams of vacuuming?!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

On the way out this morning, BFF reminded me that I actually said, “Don’t hand it to ME! I don’t know how to vacuum.” I may revise later to more accurately reflect the conversation. 😉

And, yes, he did get the machine that he wanted ~ one with a powerful motor and rubber (not plastic) wheels. The next time we needed a vacuum cleaner . . . I didn’t even go with him.

7. oldancestor - May 19, 2011

I don’t mind the task, as long as the equipment is up to par.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

That’s BFF’s thought. And why I now let him choose the equipment that he wants to work with ~ from vacuum cleaners to washing machines.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Two things he insisted on . . . a telescoping handle (for extra height) and front headlights (for superior, interior, illumination).

oldancestor - May 22, 2011

I never got the headlight thing. I vacuum with the lights on.

With a straight face I say, it’s all about the sucking power.

nrhatch - May 22, 2011

That reminds me of a bumper sticker . . .

I do it in the dark.

I’ve always wondered if they were talking about vacuuming. 😉

8. Linda - May 19, 2011

I’m the inside and my husband is the outside. That saleswoman was plain crazy!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

I would say that anything that makes “noise” is BFF’s responsibility (chain saws, lawn mowers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners) and I focus on “quieter pursuits” ~ like paying bills and creating grocery lists.

We don’t have much outside maintenance here, but in MD, I did most of the gardening (flowers and vegetables) and composting while he maintained the rest of the yard . . . including keeping snakes away from where I was working.

9. jannatwrites - May 19, 2011

Boy, she made a huge, stereotypical assumption there. I hope she learned from that. Was BFF offended at all, or did he laugh?

We hit a stereotype situation when my hubby wanted to look for an engagement ring. He practically dragged me into the jewelry store (I felt like a dog digging in its paws at the vet’s office door.) The lady at the counter kept making wisecracks about me dragging him into the store. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and told her that browsing was his idea, but leaving was mine…and we left.

BTW, thanks for the pingback!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Love that story ~ maybe she was jealous that you managed to “catch a man” before she did.

In both your situation and ours, the “sexism” came from a woman, not a man. I find that is often the case ~ if they haven’t “broken free” from assigned gender roles, they question those who have.

Growing up, my mom wanted me to be a “nurse” ~ never mind that the sight of blood makes me queasy. My dad replied, “Why a nurse? Why not a doctor?” Go, Dad!

10. gospelwriter - May 19, 2011

Funny that it was a woman making that assumption, and her reaction on being called on it. She sure wasn’t listening…

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

It’s one of those “split second” moments that has stayed with me for years.

Was she annoyed because she thought we were wasting her time? Or because she was embarrassed by the erroneous assumption she made? Or because she didn’t like “women’s libbers”? Or because . . .

We are interesting creatures, that’s for sure.

11. Maggie - May 19, 2011

Men mow the lawn and take care of the cars. Women do everything else.

At least that’s how it is in my house.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Sound like our house growing up:

The “girls” took care of cooking, cleaning, and laundry. The “boys” did the painting, the woodworking, and the “heavy lifting.” Both did the yardwork ~ the “boys” did the lawn, the “girls” did the weeding.

12. Rosa - May 19, 2011

I’m pretty comfortable with “women’s work.” It’s in my nature (or nurture, or both) to pick up after people and I don’t mind doing things like dishes and vacuuming. But don’t ask me to mop or clean windows! Oh, and I Love doing the laundry! Weird, right?

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

I don’t think it sounds weird. Folding laundry, and smoothing out wrinkles, can be very soothing.

I lucked out when I got married because BFF was open to the idea that tasks should not be assigned solely as a result of gender.

I keep things uncluttered and tidy, but I never enjoyed dragging a vacuum cleaner around ~ or listening to the noise it made. DustBusters were more my speed. 😀

13. souldipper - May 19, 2011

Nancy, I chuckled over your comment “I now let him choose the equipment that he wants to work with”.

There’s no problem at my house – I do the pink and the blue jobs – they’re all purple at my house!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

You comment made me realize something . . . I’ve never lived alone with sole responsibility for the care and maintenance of a home.

I went from my parents’ house to living with roommates in college. After a stint back home, I rented an apartment with another girl for law school. Then, BFF moved in ~ he and I have lived together for the past 30 years.

Wow! Where does the time go?

14. Clar http://Clarbojahn.wordpress.com/ - May 19, 2011

Went from living with Gender specific family of three boys and three girls who learned women’s work, to living alone, to being married to being widowed to being married again. My first marriage we had gender roles but he helped a lot and this second marriage, we’re partners. We divey up the labor field.
Enjoyed the comments like usual and your topics are stellar. Love your blog.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Thanks, Clar! 😀

My favorite posts here (and elsewhere) are those that cause the conversation to start flowing . . . without too many feather flying.

15. Piglet in Portugal - May 19, 2011

LOL 🙂 Mr Piglet does all vacuuming. since moving to Portugal am a villa with tiled floors and a every noise echos, where you can here a pin drop two rooms away. My excuse was the noise hurt my ears. I don’t even know how to turn it on 🙂
Nice one Nancy!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

In a pinch, I’ve no doubt I could figure it out, but it’s been ages since I vacuumed. Like you, the noise just sets my nerves on edge.

16. kateshrewsday - May 19, 2011

Phil does all our vacuuming too. I’m waiting for him to declare our current one defunct but he’s getting every ounce of life out of it. When we get one I’ll test drive not only the vacuum but the attitudes of the salespeople!!

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

As I wrote this, it made me want to head round to Sears and check out the current attitude of vacuum cleaner salespersons.

My hope is that they have become more enlightened as a species over the years. 😀

17. Pseu - May 19, 2011

I hate the sound of the vacuum cleaner, but I tolerate it better if I’m the one using it – if someone else is using it I go out.

I have a quiet carpet sweeper that is brought out more often between hooverings. …

but with regard to gender roles this household has turned out to be quite traditional in that way. I cook,and organise, shop and do the garden – (though sometimes he will mow the lawn 🙂 )- but I admit to having a help in t house once a week. Bliss.

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Shh . . . BFF will hear you! I think it’s the same with me. The vacuum cleaner noise only bothers me if I’m doing something else. But he doesn’t need to know that. 😉

The help in the house issue is what cemented our division of labor. As an attorney, I was working 70-80 hour weeks. I refused to use my “free time” to clean. I wanted to hire someone to do come and clean every other week. BFF didn’t want “strangers” in the house. The compromise ~ he assumed responsibility for vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning of bathrooms. As you say, bliss.

18. Julie - May 19, 2011

My husband does all the ironing and sewing in our house. The other day he said, “Someday I’ll teach you how to sew properly.”

I responded, “Why? You already know how to do it, so it’s called division of labor.”

nrhatch - May 19, 2011

Sounds great, Julie. BFF is pretty handy around the house, but I’m not sure that he’s ever threaded a needle.

Neither of us do much ironing these days. Once I stopped practicing law, I weeded out all the clothes that required dry cleaning or ironing ~ except for one suit each (just in case). Now, we are a wash and wear family.

19. Sandra Bell Kirchman - May 20, 2011

As usual, a fascinating topic, Nancy.

In our household, it used to be a division of labor. I usually did the traditional roles for convenience and catering to my back. It almost pains me to admit my husband is a better cook than I am, although that’s pride talking – I don’t really like cooking.

And I don’t like housecleaning, except for things like doing the dishes, folding the laundry. However, I also don’t like a dirty house, so I did housecleaning until my back gave out altogether.

So then I came up with a brilliant plan that everyone involved in agrees is brilliant. I offered a friend, who is a professional housecleaner and darned good at it, to do the bookkeeping for her fledgling company in return for housecleaning once every two weeks. It is working out splendidly and we even survived income tax time 🙂

Here is a quick little story from the ’60s, just to show the different attitude towards women between then and now. I was a writer then too. I had written this delightful little science fiction story, which I sent to an agent in New York. The story involved a woman crewmember on a starship (and this was ages before Star Trek came out).

The literary agent sent it back to me with a note, “Wonderful story. However, I don’t feel I can place it because we can’t find a plausible reason for a woman to be on a spaceship.”

I was just furious at the time, fit to be tied, and stormed around for a while before I calmed down. I was a forerunner for Women’s Rights, although I don’t think I was ever really a Women’s Libber.

Now, looking back at it, I think it is funny. I wonder if the old goat even remembers that stereotyped thinking of his.

nrhatch - May 20, 2011

Bartering is brilliant ~ it creates a win-win for those with special talents and abilities! Both within and without the family.

I don’t read much in Sci-Fi, did Jules Vernes ever have women involved in his adventures?

20. Tilly Bud - May 20, 2011

Our division of labour has been all over the place.

The Hub used to do all the cooking and the washing when we first married; we divided chores equally.

When I had the children, I did all the homemaking and he did the blokey stuff.

Then he got sick and now I do lots of the blokey stuff like decorating, etc.

It’s about compromise, doing what you can, and not resenting each other.

nrhatch - May 20, 2011

Just so, Tilly. If we love those we live with, we should want to do what we can to make their lives easier . . . and vice versa. Illness obviously changes our abilities to contribute, but we can still find ways to contribute to the “common good.”

And, if we start to feel resentment, it’s time to have a heart to heart chat with further negotiation.

21. Baxter Bunny - May 20, 2011

The vacuum cleaner seems to be a hot topic. I have some very strange vacuum cleaner stories that have nothing to do with the division of labor. I know a lot of people that treat their vacuum as if it’s a prize luxury car. I also know other people who will not lend their vacuum to a neighbor because they don’t want other peoples’ dirt in their machine…they say their vacuum is “very personal.”

nrhatch - May 20, 2011

That’s something I’ve never thought about. Since most of their dirt would go into the bag and be tossed away, I suppose we would lend our vacuum out . . . but would probably toss their dirt out immediately upon receipt. 😉

Just talked to BFF. When he used our vacuum cleaner on construction projects, he would take the machine apart afterwards to clean it inside and out.

22. flyinggma - May 20, 2011

Growing up the women did the work inside our home the guys did the outside. I was often jealous of my brother outside cutting the grass while I was inside sorting laundry.

My home everyone gets a taste of everything. With a home full of adults everyone does laundry, dishes and cleaning. We have “cleaning parties” where everyone pitches in for about ten minutes to clean. It’s amazing what 5 adults can get done in ten minutes.

nrhatch - May 20, 2011

Awesome! I love when the division of labor doesn’t depend upon the body parts we received at birth. 😀

23. barb19 - May 20, 2011

I like your style! My hubby does the vacuuming in our house too.

nrhatch - May 20, 2011

Thanks, Barb. I love the equitable and genderless division of labor in modern households.

24. eof737 - May 21, 2011

Sheesh…I can understand why she was miffed. She thought BFF was kidding. I don’t blame her for her conditioning. 🙂

nrhatch - May 21, 2011

If we do not take note of how we have been molded by our conditioning . . . we are forever slaves to public opinion.

If we want to be free, we must be mindful of the world around us.

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