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Staying Home – Domesticity and the Intelligence Gap

I won’t write about Corona. There are so many people who know so much more than me and we don’t need another voice shouting into the void about what the world should be doing right now. I don’t know. Heck, even the people who run this world don’t know.

So instead, I’ll write about domesticity, since we’re all getting way too much of it at the moment. In our home, privilege often plays out most intimately and most difficult to dismantle. Who wants to tell their partner that they’re being sexist every day until they either stop or leave? Who wants to stand up to the wealthier members of the family whose support you really do need? The consequences might be dire, and we love our partners and our families, we don’t want to cause them any distress. Different levels of privilege have to be lived with if we don’t want to lose our social surroundings. And so we do what we can, not just to live with others, but to live with ourselves, because having to face the reality that oppression can come from or be exerted on those we love the most is unbearable to face.

I’ve seen so many women start their adult lives with talent, confidence, self-worth and the willingness to work hard, only to undergo a true transformation once they met a man they were serious about. This man is usually a wonderful person: kind, respectful, caring. He’s talented and intelligent and helps everyone he can. The trouble is just that so is his partner and for either of them to not have to make compromises between what needs to be done and what they have the potential to do, the other person will have to do the chores. When asked directly, the man would never say that he thinks it’s his partner’s job to do that, and usually he doesn’t believe it, either. But when she does take on certain tasks that he postpones, he doesn’t complain. And once she’s done the laundry five times in a row, there’s now no reason anymore why she wouldn’t continue to do it. It’s just a couple of minutes, after all, and she likes him and wants to see him happy.

At first, nobody notices a difference between the lives of the two partners. But if this continues for a couple of months, he might get an opportunity that she doesn’t. It’s still hard to lead this opportunity back to the unequal distribution of free labor at home, because it’s just one thing and this work hasn’t consumed her life after all. Allow it to continue for a couple of years, though, and the inequality has increased to an extent that is hard to live with for the less fortunate member of the couple. She used to have the same opportunities as him, didn’t she? And isn’t she with a man who loves her and never forced her to do any of the stuff she now spends hours every day on? So she must have been just a little less talented, a little less intelligent, a little less willing to work hard. In order to live with the inequality of it all (and often also his authority over decisions since he’s usually the one paying for them), she starts to believe that all of this is true. Because otherwise, the violence would become apparent, and it’s really hard to admit that to yourself or tell it to your partner. He might feel personally attacked. He might leave you.

So she comes to believe that she’s simply a little dumber and a little less worthy of personal or professional success. I cannot count how many times a woman in a long-term heterosexual partnership has made a joke about being dumber than her partner – a joke that stung just a little too much. Or how many times, when something unexpected or unknown happens, I’ve seen a woman call her partner, because she believes him to be more able to deal with it than her, despite him being just as clueless. We all show our assumptions about our place in the world and in our own lives by little actions like these. And women signal the internalization of oppression daily, we merely need to read the signs. It is easier, after all, to make peace with the injustice when we can somehow twist it into being just, and believing that we deserve a less privileged position can give us this sense of justice.

I haven’t seen this dynamic play out in same-sex couples. It seems that no matter how much we know about feminism and privilege, it’s really hard not to follow this development of inequality in our personal lives, but that heteronormativity normalizes this aspect of sexism. Your unequal treatment may come from the outside, but it doesn’t come from your partner, and that is already a huge step. Because now you stand together against both of your oppression instead of standing against each other.

It is therefore possible to have a partnership where one person isn’t lead to believe (by the slow introduction of more and more unpaid care work) that they are for some reason less worthy of self-actualization, financial independence and trying to see how far their potential might take them. Heterosexual couples can learn so much from the LGBTQ+-community in this regard. But it takes discipline, vulnerability and the willingness (on the woman’s part) to even lose your partner in order to gain your life as belonging to you. It’s still more expensive and risky for the woman to demand true equality of labor. And that’s why, dear tiny percentage of straight men who read my blog, it’s on you to make this possible for us.

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