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Here’s hoping household chores don’t include having to ask men to do them ‘properly’

How one word can become a battle line of domestic warfare between the sexes

The word “properly” is a flashpoint in homes across the nation. It has a needling frustration to it that hunches shoulders and sets teeth on edge. You can hear the italics in the tone. It is the vocalised version of accidentally biting into tin foil or scraping styrofoam with your nails.

“Can you please clean the bathroom?”

“I did.”

“No, I can still see hairs in the sink. Please come back and do it properly.


For some of us, the stand-offs involve teenagers who are so full of promise and youth that they half-arse chores in a rush to get back to their lives. These are lives that haven’t been crushed yet with the adult realisation that they will be mainly spent wiping down a surface with a sponge in various states of disintegration. Until you let yourself get a new one from the pack, as a form of self-care.

Men being ‘bad at housework’ was once an unquestioned staple of couples comedy, alongside jokes about your wife being a ‘ball and chain’

In some ways, it’s easier having a teenager scream at you that you’re ruining their life by pointing out that kicking all their clothes under the bed is not the same as “cleaning” their room. You can hope they will eventually grow out of it and appreciate how much you did for them when they move out of the home, discover no one is picking up after them, and find they have no clothes to wear to work because they’ve been re-enacting the World Cup with the bed base for goals. If you’re lucky you might even get an apology for how awful they were until their frontal lobe developed at age 25.

The “properly” argument becomes dangerous when it occurs, repeatedly, between two adults. Especially if those two adults fell in love and now share a house and have the burden of keeping children alive as a consequence. Having to explain to another fully grown adult with a fully developed frontal lobe that splashing bleach into the toilet and flushing is not the same as “cleaning the bathroom” is only going to breed resentment. For both the person who feels like nothing gets done properly unless they do it and the person who feels their efforts go unappreciated because they “can’t get anything right anyway!”

Unfortunately, due to the gendered division of labour remaining in most Irish households, women are more likely to be the ones making the argument while (many, but not all) men don’t understand why attempts to “help out” cause an argument. The key word here is “help” because, as I’ve said before, men should not “help out” around a house if they live there. This is in the same way that they don’t see going off to their place of paid employment every day as “helping out” their boss. It’s just their job.

While women, whether by choice or economic necessity, have stepped outside of their traditional gender roles to work and contribute income, it seems men have been less enthusiastic about picking up the household tasks. The research tells us this, but so too does the growing online community of frustrated women. Second-wave feminists had consciousness-raising groups to help them realise “it wasn’t just them” feeling this way. This generation has TikTok, which saw terms such as “weaponised incompetence” and “married single mother” go viral last year, spilling into think pieces, research and books. TikTok meant that millions of women finally gave voice to that listless feeling of frustration over dishwashers left unstacked and benches half-swiped of crumbs.

Men being “bad at housework” was once an unquestioned staple of couples comedy, alongside jokes about your wife being a “ball and chain” and hating your mother-in-law, but the mood has shifted. Joking videos about a father being concerned about his toddler daughter’s nails never growing (his wife cut them) and a husband “washing spuds” for dinner with Fairy Liquid are littered in the comments with accusations of how unfair their apparent ineptitude is on their female partners.

Women are not ‘better’ at housework, they are just expected by society to be competent housekeepers at an earlier age

It seems that after the pandemic, where a special term, “the pandemic penalty”, was invented to describe the extra burdens of homeschooling and domestic labour foisted on women even as both partners worked from home, men being “bad” at housework isn’t funny any more.

Women are not “better” at housework, they are just expected by society to be competent housekeepers at an earlier age, and shamed if they aren’t. An ex’s mother gleefully told me once how I would have to do all the housework because he, an adult, didn’t even know how to turn the vacuum on. It was clear that I was expected to keep him oblivious about housework by stepping into his mother’s role and doing it all for him. This was even though we split the rent 50/50, made the same money and worked the same hours.

My parents did not make sacrifices so that I could be the first person in my family to attend university and pursue my dream career, just to have my time wasted by picking up after someone else’s son. I didn’t care then that it didn’t sound “nice” to say that and I don’t care now. We all had that lazy housemate in our early 20s who left dirty pots lying around the kitchen for days under the excuse they were “soaking”, but imagine being married and trying to raise kids with them for 20 years.

I’d much rather have a partner that does things “properly”, thanks.