I recently stopped reading a perfectly normal article when I came across this sentence: “fertility rates increased when men helped out more at home.” The article was otherwise quite interesting; it tackled the falling birth rates in China and the US, and what initiatives are helping. But I just couldn’t get past the fact that we still talk about “helping out at home” when it comes to men and fathers.
Then I came across this journalistic comic about a couple “at odds” during the pandemic and the “easy fix” they found. Keni Dobbs and her husband Max have a five-year-old son, Kaiden. During the pandemic, Max, a vice-president of sales, works from home, while Kaiden does home-schooling. Max has a good job, while Keni would love to dedicate herself more to her business ideas and passions, but she is stuck taking care of many things at home.
Their “fix” to this problem is divvying up the housework more so that Max “helps out” a bit more. “Max is making an effort to show me he wants to make life easier by taking concrete actions, such as taking the time to make breakfast for the family once in a while,” says Keni. And Max’s side of the story is this: “While Keni still pushes me to do a little more, she appreciates my efforts. She knows that I try to help.”
Oh no! The “help” word again! In the comic, the wife reacts by saying: “Thanks for cleaning that, honey!” What’s most tragic about this comic is that in many ways the actions taken by the Dobbs may seem like a step in the right direction. At least we’re talking about sharing the workload at home, right?. But no, I don’t think it’s a step in the right direction! The point is not helping. The point is to turn the ”help“ mentality onto its head, and to start again, resetting expectations and gendered roles. I talk about gendered roles because i…