In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne, a group of men and women were asked about a messy room, owned by either by a woman named “Jennifer” or a man named “John”. Participants were not told the room was clean or unclean, they were only asked how Jennifer or John might be perceived if their boss, or family, (including in-laws) or friends dropped by unexpectedly for a visit. The results, though unsurprising, were still disturbing.
“Women with a messy house are not just perceived as messy” says sociology lecturer Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner, who led the study. “People actually said that if someone drops in unexpectedly, people are going to see that woman as less human.”
We know that there’s a gender gap in housework after a woman has her first child. Survey after survey tells us things have remained largely static since the 1970s, despite gains for women in education and the workforce. But the prescription has always been to relax, and stop worrying about the housework. JK Rowling once said the only way she was able to write Harry Potter was by letting the house go to ruin. It was an almost feminist message: just do less.
It’s true, women are adopting this strategy, and our homes are getting messier, but, according to Associate Professor Ruppanner, it hasn’t translated into less stress.
“Women are still responsible for the mental load, which is why they report feeling overwhelmed, like too much is going on, this work/family balance doesn’t exist and they feel incredibly anxious … like they aren’t doing enough.”