What's Yours is Ours: Finances and the division of LabourJun 16, 2022
By Samantha B
Every day my partner and I do something that is a tremendous financial sin to me. Thankfully it's not as egregious as buying smashed avocado on toast every week or insisting that going to brunch counts as a religious activity. But I will often jiggle him awake and bribe him to get out of bed to pursue a coffee. Buying a beverage each day is a personal sin because if you're a Ladies Finance Club babe, you know that the little things add up. Sure it's $4.50 at first, but times that by $365.00, you can kiss your return flights to Europe goodbye. Just kidding, $1642.50 is barely half of the cost of airfare.
But I'm not here to depress you into a grand illusion where you can't enjoy a sip of happiness every day. I am here to tell you about a discussion after a delicious experiment I conducted in the confines of my long-term relationship. Yes, this information is top secret, and yes, my partner didn't know about it (it's called a single-blind experiment, okay?). Besides, I had to ensure that he acted as naturally as possible whilst conducting my observation-based research.
Since we're besties at this point, I might as well divulge more secrets. I am terrified of getting married. Yet, I am engaged. I didn't realise this until I was older. I always resented getting married because it implied that I would follow in my mother's footsteps—an incredibly hardworking Latina woman. Growing up, I often witnessed her take on an enormous amount of the mental load. While my father was always working full-time, she worked part-time and raised the kids full-time. We didn't have a word back then to explain the invisible labour women typically take on.
The term "'invisible labour' stems from a 1987 article by Sociologist, Arlene Daniels. It's unpaid work that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unregulated. God-I felt exposed just reading that. The fact that unpaid labour in the household goes unregulated gave me an idea for my little experiment. What if I want my partner to notice my invisible labour? To not go unregulated and start treating the hidden load for what it is- more f*cking work. In my experience, the invisible load is a cycle of perpetual overtime where the "reward" is more work.
So, you see, that's how we end up here- in an observational experiment of my own making and, eventually, a coffee shop walk that hushed my suspicions. My hypotheses were bountiful. Was my fiancé an evil overload who took derisive pleasure in lifting his feet as I vacuumed under them? Did he purposefully eat all the food, not leave any for me, and expect me to create a shopping list? Was he a double agent by being a fantastic lover at night and a slobbish gremlin during the day? How do sauce stains even get on the cabinets? More importantly, was my partner even aware of how much time I was putting into maintaining, cleaning, and organising the home? The answer to all of those is no. Except for the saucy stains on the cabinets, that's all him.
But like any decent experiment, we need data and lots of it. So, I took it upon myself to record how much housework I was pitching in during April 2022. Remember that these are only the recorded hours- as a double income couple, working part-time due to study commitments. Our couple status is worth mentioning since I imagine these obligations are even heavier for parents working full-time on top of wrangling kids. On April the 11th, I did two hours of housework, and on the 22nd and 23rd of April, I might have been on drugs ( I wasn't) because I did 15 hours of housework. On average, that's a minimum of 17 hours of housework I'm doing monthly, and I bet my life savings it's an under-estimate. For those of you who think 17 hours isn't that much, I hope to convince you that there are other things I'd rather be doing.
In my opinion, parents should talk more candidly about how many hours they're pulling at home because the energy you put in as a spouse and parent is finite. We often ask about people's pay checks and whether we're getting the same salary or negotiating a better salary. But I know that I can't talk to another woman and mutually agree on what average housework is acceptable. Of course, this quota will be different for different family structures, but I wish the number of hours partners put into housework isn't received as complaining. But they are instead viewed as a desire for a division of labour that holds everyone accountable. Mentions of accountability take us back to where this story began, at our favourite coffee shop—a corner store of cardinal financial sins. I asked my partner what he thought about an app that tracks the division of labour in the home? He seemed stunned, and a small yet noticeable squirm escaped his body- partially because I might as well have told him to fight me. Or that all the Laksa I've been cooking is worthy of financial compensation. Fish balls, anyone? He took a moment to compose himself and argue that such a system would be toxic, that it could open a blame game between partners. Therefore, demonstrating that one partner is going more of the heavy lifting than the other. I squinted at him and asked, "isn't that kind of the point?" He elaborated that he has no issue being a "modern renaissance man" and a feminist. Still, he stressed that it shouldn't get to a point in your relationship where you feel like you can't turn to your partner and ask for help when you're tired of doing a lot of chores.
In a way, I see his point. I don't want to look at a screen and point out my housework stats. I can see that such an app could be an excellent measure to prevent being gaslighted in your relationship. But if you're getting gaslighted in your relationship in the first place? Run girl. Resuming a conversation about tumultuous relationships, I have some significant critiques of this personal experiment I conducted.
Firstly, we didn't replicate the experiment across similar or different family configurations. Secondly, I hope this article didn't come across as condescending because most partners know they don't have to do all the chores themselves but still invariably manage the invisible load. Thirdly, the main point of this article wasn't just to 'spill the tea' in my personal life but to encourage you to find a sustainable and long-term solution to the division of labour. We both know that time is money, and your time doesn't have to be free.
What negotiations or stipulations do you have regarding sharing the invisible load with your partner? Does your partner take you out for bottomless mimosas if you do the housework on the weekend? Or maybe you both hold hands and look at which stocks you want to invest in together? You deserve rest, relaxation, and riches.