'Dads doing half of domestic work is a good start but still not enough'

Trading domestic work for sex work isn't equality.
Trading domestic work for sex work isn't equality. Photo: Reddit

“I’m going to do 50 per cent of all the work.” This was the proud declaration I heard from a man in my inner circle who was expecting his first child.

My first thought was, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

Despite all the talk, and in many cases, best intentions, finding a father who actually does half of the childcare and associated domestic tasks is a bit like finding a unicorn.

Regardless of the supposed new era of involved fathering, the research suggests we’ll be waiting another 75 years before men’s actual behaviour matches their intentions when it comes to sharing the domestic load.

But let’s give this father-to-be to benefit of the doubt and assume that he will in fact share the childcare and domestic work 50/50 with his female partner when the baby arrives.

That’s great, but it’s still not good enough. This arrangement would still be a domestic free ride for the dad.

Let me explain.

When it comes to raising kids and running a household, doing half the tasks is not the same as taking half of the responsibility.

What’s the difference?

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If it’s responsibility, it means that the buck stops with you every single time. If it’s a task, then you’re just a bit player, whose contribution isn’t absolutely necessary.

Here’s just one example out of thousands to illustrate the distinction: a child is sick and both parents have to go to work. Dad might grab the Panadol or chuck bucket on his way out of the door and then get on with his day as normal.

That’s doing a task.

Mum, on the other hand, has to call in sick or frantically scramble around to find a babysitter at late notice, assesses the severity of the illness, make a judgement call about going to the doctor or hospital, and then try to make a medical appointment.

That’s taking responsibility.

If you’re still unclear, try taking a poll of all the fathers you know to find out how many of them have the phone number of their child’s babysitter saved in their mobile phone. The results might surprise you.

A perfect, yet extreme, example of fathers performing tasks and mothers taking responsibility is Daddy’s Sticker Chart that surfaced on Reddit last week.

The sticker chart, presumably made by “mummy”, lists a series of chores for “daddy” to complete, such as washing dishes, changing nappies, bathing children, packing lunches and cleaning up vomit.

Each time daddy completes a chore he gets a princess sticker. Once he has accrued six stickers for each task he receives a reward.

Rewards range from a 12 pack of beer, a free pass to take even less responsibility for his kids with rewards such as “Don’t have to go to some annoying kid’s birthday party” and sexual services such as a naked hula dance and oral sex.

Given the number of stickers on the chart, this woman’s approach to get her husband to participate in family life appears to be working. But let’s think about what happens if daddy can’t be bothered performing these tasks on any given day? What if daddy doesn’t change the nappy or pack the lunch?

He doesn’t get a sticker. Big freaking deal.

It costs daddy nothing to absent himself from his parenting tasks because he knows that mummy will always pick up his slack because she’s not going to let her kids to be unwashed or unfed. Mummy is responsible.

As I say, it’s an extreme example, but this sticker chart amply demonstrates that even when women do try to bribe or coerce their partners into sharing the domestic load, they can end up simply exchanging domestic work for sex work.

This is not dissimilar to the sentiment behind a recent post by social media influencer Bri Dietz. Dietz posted a picture to her 76.8 thousand Instagram followers of her kissing her partner who is holding a sign saying: “Helping with housework so you can get lucky is called choreplay”.

Some have argued that Daddy’s Sticker Chart and the Choreplay post are just bit of fun, harmless playfulness between couples.

But at the core of both of these approaches is the acceptance and normalisation of domestic inequality. And there is nothing fun, playful or harmless about that.

Kasey Edwards is the author of The Chess Raven Chronicles under the pen name Violet Grace.