When Liz and I first started living together, one of the areas of disagreement was housework. Not unusual exactly but there you are. Cohabitation is cohabitation no matter who is involved. We had the usual arguments. Your standards are higher than mine, I said. You never do things when you say you will, said she. Both true but largely irrelevant. People are different. This is true in most areas of our lives and what we usually do about it is find accommodations.
The bottom line was that Liz felt she was contributing more to the maintenance of the household. I thought I was contributing equally. How can you ever resolve such a problem?
The same way you resolve every disagreement. Not with more yelling but with evidence. So I determined to gather evidence.
I sat down with her and we developed a list of all the tasks required to keep a house running. Doing dishes and laundry are obvious as are shovelling the walk and getting the groceries. But we also looked at more obscure tasks, like balancing the cheque book and planning vacations. We then assigned each task an unpleasantness score from one to ten. So planning vacations was, we agreed, a two (I said one and she three because of personal preferences). We both agreed cleaning toilets was a ten.
Then for a month we kept track of how much time each of us did each task. We stretched it out to reduce the chance that one or both of us would make a special effort. It’s hard to cheat consistently for thirty days.
At the end of the month, we tallied up the scores — multiplying the time spent by the difficulty score and guess what?
Liz was absolutely right. Her score was over sixty percent; mine under forty. There was a definite imbalance in our efforts — even when taking into account the time spent earning money.
There was only one logical solution. I had to do more. So over the years I’ve tried and succeeded in increasing my efforts. Liz and I have negotiated standards of housecleaning we can both live with. We’ve divided the tasks in an agreeable way so that neither of us feels too burdened. Tasks I would hate to do, she sometimes doesn’t mind and vice versa.
Recently — fifteen years on — we sat down and considered where we were. This time Liz scored 51% and I got 49. We agreed it could be a rounding error.
Equality is a nice concept but it is not merely subjective. Equality is measurable and attainable with good will, hard work and concrete action. If it works for housework, it could certainly work in the larger world of politics, rights and economics.
And that’s ten minutes.