“Men believe in housework fairies”: Women on why they still do more chores than men

The ONS has revealed that women still do far more domestic chores than men, but how is this happening during a wave of popular feminism?

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In news that will get ladies across the country clutching at their pearls and/or fainting, the Office for National Statistics has revealed that women are still doing 40 per cent more housework, on average, than men.

According to the ONS report, men spend around 16 hours a week doing chores, while women clock up 26 hours. Although it’s great to have quantifiable statistics on housework – which the ONS are calling “unpaid work” – it’s hardly news. Not in the sense that men on Twitter argue it isn’t (“Write about geopolitics!!!”) but in the sense that many, many women are all too aware of this fact.

But how do the statistics align with the notion that we are currently living in a new wave of feminism, where more women seem to self-identify as feminists than ever? To find out, I asked women of all ages why they’re still doing more of the housework, even though it’s 2016.

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Alice, 24

“I lived with my boyfriend (now ex) for four years and always did twice as much housework. Why? Because if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. It sounds ridiculous but if I didn't want to live in a dirty flat, it meant I had to be on top of the cleaning.

“He had major only child syndrome and now lives with his mum who still does all his laundry – even though he's 26!”

Deborah Talbot, 49

“My partner always thought he did an equal share, as he was a feminist. He did not. I've come to the conclusion that men believe in housework fairies or that somehow we have magical houses that self-clean. I've decided to believe in them too. Hence our house is quite messy.”

Kate Ng, 24

“I do more chores than my significant other because he wasn't taught by his mum to do them properly, so they're always really half-hearted – which makes for a sloppy house. I'm trying to train him, which has resulted in lots of newspaper smacks; it's slow going.”

Anonymous, 42

“In our house I think it's because he has a higher tolerance for dirt and clutter so can live with it, whereas I can't. Plus I work from home so I see it all the time, so I want to do something about it. Doesn't make it right of course!”

Catherine Queen, 30

“Otherwise we would live in filth and eat pizza every day and he wouldn’t care. I have tried not doing them. I always crack.”

Helena Tait, 60

“I see the need, he does not. He says ‘Sit down, I don’t like to see you work so hard’, but he thinks I enjoy it. He has to be given chores to do otherwise he does not see it needs doing.

“He does bring me coffee every morning without fail. He brings in the milk and wheels out the bins and opens the gates for me. He says he doesn’t know how to use the washing machine.”


Photo: Getty

Brenda Wong, 23

“It’s more because I like things my way, rather than it being an 'unfair' thing. There’s only so much patience you have when your partner forgets to do something or puts something in the wrong place.”

Georgina Fuller, 38

“My husband thinks, for some misguided reason, that he helps around the house but all he actually does is iron his own shirts and, begrudgingly, take the bins out. Having three young children, there is obviously a lot of housework to do on a daily basis and, working from home as a freelancer, it inevitably falls to me.

“I think my husband genuinely doesn't really see what needs doing and thinks, consciously or unconsciously, that it's primarily my job. That probably harks back to the fact that his mother always did it when he was growing up. I certainly wouldn't expect him to hoover, dust or mop the kitchen floor on the rare occasions when he works from home though!”

Charlotte Mullin, 22

I don't live with my boyfriend, but I lived with four boys at university and I was the only one to clean because otherwise it literally would not get done. They liked to keep cartons of milk in the fridge way past expiration date so they could 'use them in truth or dare'.

Anonymous, 27

I tend to do more of the cleaning as I'm always the first to crack! We have separate bathrooms and clean our own and it's like he can't see the mould and grime in his. It's filthy.

Eleanor Gluck, 27

Growing up with two brothers, my sisters and I always did more chores and still do if we're all at home for Christmas. We are a feminist household and I'm sure we would all say we think men and women should do equal [housework] if asked but in reality, growing up, me and my sisters always did the washing up, cooking, etc, most of the time. I think the disparity comes from the fact that as girls we did these chores without being asked whereas my brothers would always need prompting.

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Unless you're a man* you probably don't need the common themes here spelling out. But statistics don't tell the whole story, and some women got in touch to tell me that the men in their lives do more chores, either because they're naturally tidier or because they (the women) fought back. Here are their stories. 

*Don't worry men, this is a "joke", women can do them too (though obviously not very well).

Ruby Lott-Lavigna, 23

I tend to make the men I date do the majority of the domestic labour. I've spent too much time watching mothers, sisters, daughters silently take on tasks they shouldn't, out of some gendered obligation or because men are too fucking hopeless to know how to wipe down a stove top properly or chop up an onion. Making men cook and clean for me is a small 'fuck you' to a gender that still – today, in 2016 – feels little pressure to pull its weight.

Jill Stevenson, 50

My partner does mostly all the housework in our house. He enjoys doing it and he notices mess more than me! Also, he's retired.

Anonymous, 27

I grew up in a house where the women ended up doing all the cleaning and cooking, and by the time I paid my own rent I was determined this wasn’t going to happen again. I was the only girl in my first shared flat, and I politely declined the idea of 'communal eating' and ignored my mum’s off-the-cuff suggestion that I should 'cook them all a nice meal'.

This worked pretty well, but then the three boys went home for Christmas before I did, and I found myself left in a flat that still had unwashed dishes in the sink. I didn’t want to leave the mess over Christmas, but before I left I photographed all the evidence and sent them an email. They were all lefties who described themselves as feminists, so I thought I’d hold them to it. 'I can’t help feeling like this is a case of [a] woman being expected to clean up,' I wrote.

I wouldn’t say everything changed overnight, but I did get an apology and I believe some of the worst offenders have scrubbed up since.”

Hannah Todd, 21

My boyfriend and I both have full time careers and our own stand-alone (and combined) social lives and hobbies. He prioritises the cleanliness of the home a lot more than I do, so he does a lot more of the chores. But there are areas he doesn't like doing (like cleaning the bathroom and kitchen) so I do those ones. It works really well, though I do often feel a level of guilt for not doing more. He also does more of the cooking as he really enjoys it, but I do make sure to offer regularly and cook when I can prise him out of the way!

Diana Silva Franco, 35

My boyfriend does almost 85 per cent of the cleaning and cooking in our house. I was very honest before we moved in together, saying that I didn't like to do housework and I'd be glad to hire help if needed, but he said we wouldn't need to. I help him in the kitchen and try to keep things as organised as possible in the bedroom and living room...but the cleaning part is totally his!

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Many more women got in touch to say that they've worked out a perfect balance, either dividing the chores equally with their partner, or one doing the cooking, the other the cleaning. It's important to note that these are just a few women's experiences, but they do reveal some common explanations for why the Fifties are continuing into 2016. 

Though hateful people might use the idea that women “notice” dirt more, or want to live in tidier spaces, to argue that women therefore should be doing the chores, it's important to consider the centuries of misogyny at play. From a young age, many women are taught that cleaning is their job, and this message becomes internalised. If you are man who waves the flag of feminism, then great. From now on, that flag is a fluffy duster.

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh