Sunday, April 29, 2012

Men's Work and Women's Work

by Jeffe Kennedy

Back when I was a graduate student, lo these many moons ago, I attended the Neuroscience Convention in St. Louis. There I met another gal of my same age, doing very similar work, and we quickly bonded.

She'd recently married another graduate student and they'd started up their own household. She was at her wits' end, she confided, with the easy familiarity of instant friendship, about the chores. Before they married, she and her husband had shared a communal home with ten other people. People took turns making meals for the entire house. Chores were scheduled out. It had been a great situation, with everyone pitching in, equally.

Then she and her longtime boyfriend married and moved out of the communal house. Though both of them continued with demanding PhD programs, suddenly all chores were hers alone. All the cooking. All the cleaning. All the laundry. When she drew up schedules, like the ones they'd lived with happily for years, he became angry with her.

"He keeps saying I'm his wife," she told me. "I'm completely baffled."

She was considering divorce. Or annulment.

I didn't have much advice to give her except that I think the concepts of "what husbands do" and "what wives do" are so deeply ingrained in us, that they drive us subconsciously. What could be negotiated with a girlfriend, partner or live-in companion goes out the window when she becomes a "wife."

Both genders do this, applying expectations on the other, usually cobbled together from childhood examples, good or bad.

For me, I tend to fall in the camp that the person who cares most about the thing takes responsibility for getting it done. Having a clean, neat house matters more to me than it does to David, so I do most of the cleaning. He cares about having regular meals (I'm a terrible meal-skipper), so he does the grocery-shopping and cooking. I do laundry and he handles the cars. I handle the finances, mostly because he says I'm better at it.

We haven't always divided things out exactly this way. It's changed over our 21 years together - quite a lot from when the kids were younger and living with us. It's changed according to our work responsibilities, too.

Things change and we discuss rebalancing. I think this is also the key to our many harmonious years together. We can always work things out.

My instant friendship with that young woman didn't outlast the conference, though we made the requisite promises to stay in touch.

I wonder still how things worked out for her.


  1. Sounds like you have an awesome arrangement going on there, Jeffe. How sad for your temporary friend. When my husband and I got married, and I moved here to live with him, we decided he was in charge of all things international and I was in charge of all things domestic. (i.e. he maintains gainful employment and all the crap associated with that while I take care of the house and write.) It works for us. Plus, he does the laundry, which is always good. ;o)

  2. You sent me fleeing at "communal home shared with ten people."
    ~brain fails to accept concept~

  3. Ah, KAK - I can imagine such a thing would not be for you!

    Your arrangement sounds very workable, B.E.!