As far back as 2001 I was lamenting the gender divide when it came to performing household chores. In Time women took a stand on burdens of housework, I reported "Statistics New Zealand found that women do more housework than men" and noted that most of us probably didn't require hard data or deep analysis to understand this truth.
"[H]ousework is a soul-destroying process which, by its very nature, is undone as soon as it is performed," I wrote, adding that the issue possessed "misogynistic subtext" and that the attitude of men towards housework was "part of the undeclared war against women". With a feminist bee in my bonnet on the matter, I clearly sensed a conspiracy.
Thirteen years on the subject continues to occupy the minds of researchers. It was reported in A man's behaviour is influenced by female relatives - study that "[m]en who have sisters are less likely to perform housework". This research is "part of a new wave of evidence that women have a profound influence on men's outlook". Sociologists believe that "[s]isters, daughters and wives all have a distinct impact on the way men behave".
It was explained that "[y]oung daughters are more likely to be asked to help in the house ... and the habit of watching their sisters work prevails for boys into adulthood". In other words: if your partner doesn't do his share of the housework you can now blame your parents-in-law.
In a longitudinal study carried out over twenty years and with just a single subject, I did my own research in this area. In the process I discovered for myself what it takes to convert someone averse to housework into someone who keeps a home in tiptop shape.
I spent most of 2002 living in Christchurch while I completed a journalism qualification. I'd applied twice for admittance to AUT's course but was unsuccessful on both occasions. So, when accepted by the University of Canterbury, I willingly left Auckland from March until October while I studied.
This also meant leaving my husband and so he was in charge of the house (and housework) for the first time. Prior to my absence he seemed to suffer from a condition that rendered him incapable of recognising household tasks that needed doing. Any prompting would be interpreted as nagging and would usually also serve as a precursor to discord.
But once he was home alone he had no choice but to be proactive and notice what had to be done. It was either that or let the condition of the house deteriorate to a level at which it could have starred in one of those extreme housekeeping reality programmes. When I came home in the holidays, the house sparkled throughout. It was far cleaner than when I was in residence. We could have eaten dinner off the kitchen floor.
It proved my theory that, in taking responsibility for cleanliness and tidiness, women are unwittingly training men to be helpless in this regard. It's only constant exposure to undone tasks that allows the ability to recognise them unprompted to develop. By the time I returned to Auckland, I was in possession of a diploma, the ability to take notes in shorthand - and a husband who now did housework without needing direction or supervision.
These days we share the chores. I dust. He empties the dishwasher. I cook. He cleans up. We're each responsible for our own clothes washing but no one takes ownership of the hard-to-reach cobwebs. I do the daily supermarket shop. He does the main one at weekends.
It's difficult to tell who performs most of the housework but if there's an idle slob in this relationship, I'm afraid to say it's more likely to be me now. And I haven't done the vacuuming since I had a C-section in 2003. I'm counting on getting my money's worth out of that surgery for a few more years yet.
Who does most of the housework at your place? Does the man in your life do his fair share?