You might have seen the now-private viral post about a husband’s response to his wife telling him that she felt like she had no personal achievements. He told her that his achievements were also hers and how he wouldn’t be able to reach them without her managing their home. Although the post received praise, it also met backlash—with some netizens calling it misogynistic.
Even if it’s good-intentioned, the post seems to gloss over the fact that men have historically been able to “achieve” more because women have been pushed to the background and forced to simply support their partners by doing all the housework. Just think of all the scientists, presidents, and composers whose names you study in history class—there’s a reason why they’re all men, and it’s not because women aren’t capable of doing what they do. Being able to pursue their own goals hasn’t always been a choice for women.
While the couple has since clarified that they both felt that the appreciation post was misconstrued, it provides an opportunity to talk about the reasons why reproductive labor should be shared work. The division of labor between men and women started to change when more women started entering the workforce in the ’70s. That was decades ago, so how come most women are still seen as secondary earners in the family and solely responsible for housework and child care?
Marxist feminists like Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James have claimed in the past that reproductive labor is characterized by gender hierarchy, not by an innate woman’s goodwill. Reproductive labor includes child care, care of the elderly, cleaning, cooking, and other unpaid domestic work.
Of course, the goal is not to erase the fact that there are women who find joy and fulfillment in this work but to break free from the imposing conditions that make it alienating. Let’s take cleaning the house as an example. It becomes less of a simple house chore and more of alienating labor for a woman when she is expected to finish it alone for the benefit of her family rather than have it as a shared responsibility so everyone is able to pursue other work or even hobbies. Finding purpose and pride in the work that she does, no matter how important it is or how much she loves her family, then becomes harder. Ever heard your mom tell you something along the lines of, “Ano ako? Alila?”
Women are also still taking the brunt of emotional labor, which stands for managing one’s emotions to serve others, during the pandemic. At the height of lockdowns, women in the frontlines and at home were expected to be pleasant and sympathetic to customers and family members even if they were dealing with their own traumas. In relationships, emotional labor can manifest as the burden of “parenting” your partner or protecting their ego.
What’s worse is that when men do not share the mental load (as perfectly captured by this comic) of running a household and holding a family together, women tend to pass the care work to—you guessed it—other women. Over 76% of domestic workers are women, and despite the important work they do to keep societies together, they tend to be overlooked in labor laws and are more vulnerable to abuse.
Even the best partners run the risk of inadvertently failing to support their wives if they fail to see and share the weight of all this invisible labor. If you really want to be a supportive partner, sure, gratitude is key—but so is doing the chores without being asked.