Domestic labour,  unseen work, and gender politics

July 2, 2020 Nic Beets

Verity and I often discuss how gender politics in heterosexual couples seem to have got worse over the last 25 years we have been practicing.  More women talk about “his money” or say “I don’t work” if they aren’t in paid employment.  More men see themselves as “providing” for the family with an implication that what the woman provides is somehow of lesser or even of negligible value.


While it is fair to say that there is wider acceptance that domestic labour is not just “women’s work” this only seems to come on the back of the assumption that two incomes are necessary to adequately provide for a family.   The research is clear that women do more  and that men are poor at assessing what proportion they are doing – even when both partners are home full-time

As a broad generalisation, our culture socialises women from birth towards caring for others, towards deferring to others, and towards managing other people’s feelings for them.   Conversely, men are still socialised to regard showing care, vulnerability, or even emotions (other than anger or lust) as weakness and “unmasculine”.

This is part of the reason that so much of the work of running a family and maintaining a social network is unseen and unregarded by men.  It involves emotional work, the exercise of empathy, and denial of self.   Things that challenge the conventional male role.

Recently clients introduced me to a tool they are using to address this issue.  It’s a book and a “game” called “Fair Play” by Eve Rodsky.  With four rules and 100 cards, it is a system for working out what is fair for your relationship and your family.  A lot of couples try and solve the problem by writing lists but as Rodsky says – “lists alone don’t work, systems do”.  And she has designed a system that tries to tap into core values.   My clients were really enthusiastic about the value of finding an equitable solution to this perennial problem.  Here’s a link to an article about it in a Fathers magazine:

Whether or not Rodsky’s solution fits for you (she’s a Harvard-educated mediator and there do seem to be some cultural and class assumptions in her approach) this is an issue that does require addressing in a way that maintains the integrity and respect of both parties.