Who Wants A Housewife?

I'll bet you do. That's right: you, over there. The one who just fished a shirt to wear to work out of the pile of dirty clothes on your bedroom floor. Trust me, I do not judge, having worn the same running clothes for three days straight. (Right. Ew.)

Seems to me, if we're in the workforce, we could all use a housewife at home to pick up the groceries and fold the clothes. But whether we're married or not, with or without kids, said housewife is likely to be you. No matter where you work, or how hard, when it comes to the second shift, ladies, we own it.

Which is something that needs to change if we ever want to cut into the so-called ambition gap, according to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. She has emerged as a leading voice in the quest to make life more doable -- and the ladder more accessible -- for those of us (read: most of us) who want the space to pursue both a career and a life. And what she suggests is that if we ever want to get to fifty-fifty in the c-suites, we need to get to fifty-fifty back at home.

Unless, of course, we can hire a housewife.

In an interview for the Makers series from PBS and AOL, Sandberg spoke on a number of issues related to the difficulties women face in the workplace, from work-life balance (no such thing, she says) to the division of household labor. The interview is broken up into mini-soundbites for quick hits of inspiration whenever you might need one, and at approximately 1:57 in this particular cut (scroll to the video at the bottom of the page) what she says is be careful who you marry (Cogent advice: We heard the same thing from Stanford economist Myra Strober, in an interview for our book):

The most important thing, I've said this a hundred times, if you marry a man, marry the right one. If you can marry a woman, that's better because the split between two women in the home is pretty even, data shows.

But find someone to marry who's going to do half. Not just support your career by saying things -- oh, of course you should work -- but actually get up and change half the diapers, because that's what it takes.

Her overarching point? If women ran half the institutions and men ran half the homes, the world would be a better place. Hard to argue with that one, especially when you consider that, for most of us, the economy doesn't allow for many single income families. (And then, of course, there's the structure of today's workplace that demands a 52-hour workweek. But we've covered that.)

Anyway, I thought of all this housewife business the other day, after a class in which a student pitched a story on the lack of women in leadership positions in corporate America. While we were brainstorming a fresh angle for the piece, one student brought up the issue of stay-at-home dads as one way to close the gap. Good idea, right? Especially in a classroom of forward-thinking millennial kids. And so I turned to the men in the class and said, "Okay, how many of you would consider being a stay at home dad?" Answers ranged from a reluctant "well, maybe" to "no way" to clearly the most honest answer of the bunch: "I hate children." Which, if nothing else, was good for a laugh. Then that student who had brought up the issue in the first place asked how many students had had stay-at-home dads. Not quite radio silence, but close to it.

What struck me was the fact that here in 2012, a conversation about shifting gender roles seemed, at least to this classful of kick-ass college seniors, you know, quaint. And so I brought up the topic again today, and one female student voiced a collective worry: I want a career and a family. But when and how do I make it fit? From the men, again, radio silence. What was interesting, but not entirely surprising, was that this was something none of the guys had ever considered. Or probably would never have to. You can be sure I pointed that out.

But then it struck me. Is the issue the fact that we still define work outside of work in traditional gender terms? The most recent American Time Use Survey found that 20 percent of men did housework on a given day compared with 49 percent of women. Forty-one percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women. And then there's this: back in 2008, the Gallup Lifestyle poll (the most recent one) found that married couples still maintain a traditional division of labor: men did the yardwork and took care of the car, women did the dishes and took care of the kids. (Which often makes me wonder how the division of labor breaks down in, say, Manhattan, where folks don't have a lot of cars, and even fewer yards. But anyway...)

So maybe that's our first step: letting go of traditional gender expectations, especially at home. I myself just dragged myself home from work. My husband, who was watching a hockey game, greeted me at the door with a glass of Pinot. Much appreciated. We're having leftovers for dinner. And he packs my lunch every day.

My students think that's cute.

As for my running clothes? Sigh. Don't ask.