I am such a Neanderthal.
Case in point: One recent day, I was furiously scrubbing the bathtub when my husband Dan peeked into the bathroom doorway.
“Hey, as long as you’re doing that,” he said, “The toilet in there is looking . . . um . . . really, really gross.”
Yes, thank you. I knew that. We have hard water, you see. And as anyone who has hard water knows, mineral deposits regularly do make the insides of sinks, bathtubs, and toilets look . . . well, really, really gross.
“It’s next on my list,” I told my husband.
Then, as he turned to walk away, I called after him, “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to scrub a toilet now and then!”
“It might,” he smiled.
I had registered my “complaint” as a joke, actually, because I figured it was the kind of protest a bathtub-scrubbing wife is supposed to make when her husband reminds her not to forget the toilet, too. The truth be told, though, my husband never does scrub the toilets. And, though I know this is “backward” thinking, I am okay with that.
An Oxford professor recently published a study in which she ranked husbands around the world, from best to worst. Australian men ranked rather poorly, while men from Sweden and Norway scored high marks for desirability as life mates. Her criteria? The percentage of household tasks the men performed on a regular basis.
This is where my inner Neanderthal shows, I suppose, because I don’t rate my husband’s desirability according to whether or not he vacuums or does the laundry. And good thing, too, because he does neither of those.
Well, okay, he did run a vacuum recently — it was a shop vac he used while sanding and refinishing our wood floors. Which brings me to my point: What about more traditionally “male” tasks? Do these not earn husbands any credit?
Dan built our house; I think I hammered a nail once. He works at a job outside the home; his income affords me the luxury of working on my own time from home. He hauls our trash to the dump; I don’t “do” garbage. He maintains our cars and mows the lawn; I revel in the fact that my household responsibilities end when I step outside my front door. Dan also paints, hangs drywall, fixes leaks, keeps a fire burning in the wood stove all winter long, and is always, without fail, the grown up who gets up to investigate frightening noises in the middle of the night.
I wonder if my stubborn refusal to do what I consider “men’s” work would earn me low marks in wifely desirability on any Oxford professor’s scale.
Those who bristle at the mention of “men’s” work or “womens” work, rest assured: I know I am supposed to feel oppressed by my marriage’s traditional division of labor. I was raised in the 1970s and 1980s on a steady diet of angry feminist propaganda — not from my parents, but from a culture steeped in the idea that cooking and laundry are oppressive to women. The world has already done its best to teach me that I should fear “losing myself” as I embrace the daily duties required in running a modern household.
But my experience contradicts those expectations. While I don’t pretend to know what arrangement works best for all marriages, I do refuse to apologize for embracing the traditional split of household tasks that absolutely does work in mine.
In my experience, happiness in marriage lies not in snookering your spouse into doing his or her “fair share” of the housework, but in relentlessly training and re-training our own selfish selves to give more and count less.
I have not always been such a Neanderthal in my approach to housework, but I never felt so free as the day I decided I would not demand any household help from my husband. If and when my husband helps with “my” work, I consider it a favor, never a requirement. This attitude alone frees me from an awful lot of obligatory list-making, chore-counting, and belly-aching.
One recent evening, my husband sat at the kitchen table paying the bills — yet another job I never have to do — while I stood at the sink nearby and washed the dinner dishes.
I gazed into a sink full of bubbles and thought: I don’t fear losing myself in these tiny tasks that make up my days here in this home, in this marriage. This is where I am free to be the me God intends. This is where I am found.