It is now mandatory for the newly married people of Spain to do their ‘fair’ share of the household chores. This new rule was added to the marriage contract signed in civil weddings, and if one of the partners feels that the other is not living up to the contract, then that’s a legitimate reason to call it quits.
Imagine the poor divorce judge who must decide what is a fair distribution of the chores in order to grant the divorce.
My own parents had worked out a fairly good system given that both worked full-time and jointly raised 4 girls. Dad would make sure the cars were in good running order, with enough gas to get everyone where they need to be each day, and kept the house in good physical shape. My mother did the laundry and a good portion of the cooking. Setting the table and cleaning up afterwards were done by us kids. Yard work was a joint parental project, whereas cleaning of the common rooms was a family effort. Each kid cleaned their own room and looked after their own pet. Being the much younger child, for a while there I was a chore that was rotated among the family members – until I was old enough to join in on the cleaning routine, as measured by the ability to reach the bottom of the sink while standing on a stool.
This system seemed fair enough for our family.
Spain, however, is the originating country of the Macho Male. Yet, the reaction among men toward the idea of legalizing the shared chores doctrine was mixed. Within a month of passage of the new divorce law, there were numerous ‘Chores Schools’: Places where men could go to learn how to do laundry and iron their shirts. To be taught how to be manly as they dusted. Enrollment has been steadily increasing over the past year. On the other hand, in the bars and cafes where the men come to be men, the older generation have grumbled that the law would change the cultural dynamics of the country, that the work around the house they’ve done for generations would now become undervalued. If a man is to be expected to wash and iron his own shirts, could he not expect that when he hands his wife the keys to the car she’d fix the ‘odd rumbling’ coming from the engine?
What I find interesting is the fact that even in this country the old question still exists: “What’s the difference between a cook and a chef? Gender.” What, exactly, is “women’s work” and “a man’s job” – in the modern world there hardly seems to be much difference between the two. That being the case, imagine the person or persons who must come up with some sort of exchange system: Three cleaned and ironed shirts is equal to one mowed lawn. One mopped kitchen is equal to one vacuumed livingroom. One fed and walked dog is equal to one fed and groomed cat. One dirty diaper is equal to one spit up cleaning. And so on.
While I applaud the Spanish Government in trying to generate more gender equality, I hardly think making chores legally mandatory is going to improve the lot of women. If anything, it will make life for them harder – sons won’t want to move out and get married if Mom is already doing all their chores for them. The better solution might be to establish mandatory pre-nuptial agreements in which the couples would outline the division of chores for themselves. Chores are like vegetables: they’re good for you, but no one wants to deal with them, and everyone has a preference. I’ll trade you my peas for your spinach; Clean dishes for a clean bathroom sink.
On the whole, the mandated 50% split of chores that the Spanish Government has put into place might be a good thing, in the long run, but for now it makes me wonder if there might not be some poor person who counts sex as a chore. For what chore would they be willing to trade?