We used to read in the feminist press about those darned husbands who just won't do their fair share (that is, 50 percent) of the "household activities"–which, naturally always means washing the dishes and folding the laundry–never shoveling snow, changing a tire, cleaning leaves out of the gutter, getting rid of that spider, and organizing the family finances. Much less going to work and earning the money that permits the household to exist.
That was then. But now there's a new thing to complain about: husbands who won't do their fair share of shouldering "the mental load."
What's that? It's the burden of just thinking about all the undone dishes and the unfolded laundry, plus the fact that you've got to remember to take Junior to the doctor, pick up some mustard for tonight's hot dogs, get new leggings for little Sylvia since she's outgrown the ones she has, and pay the nanny or she'll quit–my heavens! And, as comic-creator/"mental load" theorist Emma writes (and draws):
The mental load is almost completely borne by women.
It's permanent and exhausting work.
And it's invisible.
Is it ever! Here's an Emma-example:
It's like when my friend J., on her way to bed, asked her husband:
"Can you take the baby's bottle out of the dishwasher when it's done?"
–and getting up for the first nightly feed found the dishwasher open, with just the bottle on the counter, and everything else still inside.
Um, didn't old Jimbo do exactly what she asked him to do? But you see, Jimbo wasn't carrying his fair share of the "mental load." If he had been, that dishwasher would have been completely emptied, every dish returned to its proper place on the shelf, the kitchen floor mopped for good measure, and the baby bottle completely filled and ready to go.
That's what "mental load" means. You see:
When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he's viewing her as the manager of household chores…
The problem is that planning and organising things is already a full-time job….
At work, once I started managing projects, I quickly stopped participating in them. I didn't have time.
So when we ask women to take on this task of organisation, and at the same time execute a large portion, in the end it represents 75 percent of the work.
In other words, what a feminist wife needs to do to offset that "mental load" she's carrying is to make her husband do, not just 50 percent of those chores but maybe 75 percent of them. Or why not all of them, since she's the project manager and gosh, it's so "permanent and exhausting" to think about Junior's shots and the vegetables that could be rotting on the counter unless he puts them into the fridge.
What a deal! Ah, feminists! Always dreaming up new ways to get men to do more of what you want them to do!