Do chores have a gender?

Dec 17, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. ET

My husband and I have never been big on traditionally defined gender roles at home. We both cook, clean, do yardwork, nurture, discipline, take out the trash, and all that. Divisions in these roles have come more from personal strengths than chromosome makeup. So imagine my surprise when one of my boys resisted doing a chore because it was a "girl" chore.

Unhappy Boy

It doesn't matter what the chore was; to say that I was surprised was an understatement. My son had seen his father doing this same chore multiple times, though perhaps not recently - and has seen me do what he declared in the subsequent conversation a "boy" chore multiple times, as well. Clearly the idea of "boy" chores and "girl" chores came from outside our home - and I wondered what other gender ideas my son was picking up. And was I inadvertently reinforcing these roles?

In fact, a study conducted by Highlights magazine of kids age 5-12 reports that 73 percent of girls have assigned chores at home, compared to 65 percent of boys with assigned chores.

Influence of popular culture

The obvious culprit is, of course, popular culture - but that's only part of it. It wasn't just that he was getting these gender ideas from the world around him, it was that the simple example at home wasn't quite consistent enough to counteract it. We as parents need to be more overt in the message we want to send sometimes, whatever that message may be. In addition to leading by example, we need to be vocal about how we believe that men AND women can do things from cleaning bathrooms and laundry to mowing the lawn and taking out trash - to being leaders and achievers and so many other roles in both the microcosms and macrocosms of our society. In our family, it's about individual strengths and weaknesses, not gender.

Separation of duties

In light of our conversation, though, and just be sure I was walking the walk as well as talking the talk to my son, I looked at what chores each of us in the family was doing. It had slanted a little more along gender lines than I'd realized - not a lot, but a little. Although my kids had seen each of their parents do each of the chores, more often they were seeing one or the other do some very traditionally genderized things. Hmmm. In light of this, we decided to rotate the chores a little more consistently around all of us, so we really were doing a bit of everything. I'll be taking out the trash more often.

While, true, men cannot give birth to babies, men can be just as loving and gentle parents as a mom can. Moms can coach sports teams and dads can be PTA officers and classroom volunteers. Moms can change tires and dads can do the ironing. Chores, I think, don't have gender.

So Tell us: Do you assign chores by gender? Comment below!

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