Cleaning up - the original family business
The beds are unmade, breakfast dishes sit in the sink, and dirty laundry is piled next to the washer. It's 7:30 a.m. and, like millions of women who once would have been home during the day to do these tasks, you're racing the clock, heading out the door for work. Dust and disorder will have to wait - but for whom?Skip to next paragraph
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Very likely, for you. Despite a dramatic increase in the number of women working outside the home, little has changed inside the house for many couples. In a recent Redbook Magazine survey, 89 percent of women said they did most of the housework and child care, although 90 percent also said their husbands were helping out more. And a just-published Ladies' Home Journal poll reveals that the greatest cause of anger among 86,000 women respondents is having to pick up after everybody else.
''Housework is one of the major day-to-day problems in our country,'' says Don Aslett, a cleaning consultant from Pocatello, Idaho. ''When we hear the word 'cleaning,' it's synonymous with women.''
Why do some husbands who profess to be ''supportive'' of their wives' careers suddenly vanish into the dirty woodwork when it's time to clean?
Tradition is partly to blame. Until recently, generations of wives and mothers have done virtually all the housework themselves, making role-sharing males as scarce as dust-free houses.
Other subtle influences reinforce the image of cleaning as ''women's work.'' In the comics, Dagwood Bumstead lifts his feet while Blondie vacuums around his chair. And Andy Capp forever naps on the sofa while long-suffering Flo cleans and waits on him.
And in TV commercials, who worries about spots on the stemware, splatters in the oven, and whiter-than-white in the laundry? Not men, usually. The most common male role remains that of a voice-over - an unseen, authoritative male keeping his hands clean as he intones advice to a desperate housewife about which oven cleaner or detergent she should use.
Off-camera, in real homes needing real cleaning, the script can get funny, if a bit wry, when talk turns to the subject of men and housework.
''My husband thinks all rooms are round,'' says one working wife. ''He doesn't seem to know about corners.''
Another woman, the wife of a globe-trotting businessman, says, ''I don't understand how (he) can find his way around the world, but can't manage to find the laundry room in the basement.''
Still, it's hard for some working wives to find much humor in a situation that leaves them feeling constantly outwitted and outwaited.
Toni Pighetti of Oak Park, Ill., who conducts seminars on conquering disorganization, suggests a simple test: ''Consider the leisure in your home,'' she says. ''Who has the most leisure? If everyone else has time to sit down and watch TV, and you have to watch the program while you're doing the dishes, it may not be an equitable arrangement. Just because you do household tasks best is no reason you should be stuck doing everything.''
''The division of chores is a simple, simple thing,'' Mr. Aslett says, probably oversimplifying. ''Everybody should clean whatever mess they create. There's no immorality in making a mess, but leaving a mess is a real zero.''
Unfortunately, some of the most eager messmakers - children - are also the most reluctant mess cleaners. Too often, Mr. Aslett says, ''Kids don't think it's their work. They think it's their mother's privilege to clean up after them.''