Big news: A new trend is sweeping the country, and I'm at the cutting edge. (The real big news is that I'm at the cutting edge of something. The last time this happened, I ended up with sore legs. You might not remember Earth Shoes, but I do.) This time, though, it's housework.
According to a story in my morning paper this week, men across the country are taking on household chores like never before. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has just released a study that shows that men last year reported doing 16 minutes of housework per day, up from just 14 minutes in 2003, while in the same time period, women's housework dropped, from 58 minutes per day to 52 minutes.
I learned a lot from this statistic. First, I learned that there are people inside the Bureau of Labor Statistics who really need to find something better to study. (Note to my congressman: When you're trying to figure out the whole "fiscal cliff" thing, start your cost cutting with the folks who are surveying people to find out how much housework they do.) Secondly, and more important, I learned that I should have appreciated 2003 a lot more than I did at the time. If this trend continues, by 2020, men will be doing as much, if not more, housework as women do. By 2030, there won't be any advantages left (other than shorter bathroom lines) to being a man.
Manufacturers of consumer products have noticed and are stepping up, marketing everything from dust mops to detergents to men. Tide now features New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees on detergent bottles. I haven't seen the bottles, but hope he at least looks ashamed of himself. There are ads for diapers aimed at dads. (If they want to promote abstinence, they should make every high school boy change a poopy diaper, just once. Teen pregnancy rates would drop dramatically. Girls would have to start chasing boys.)
And while women are glad that men are stepping up to the plate (and washing it), they are concerned that men aren't doing a very good job at it. This is because women will feel shame if the house is dirty, while men will feel like getting a beer.
As I said, although, I am, to my everlasting horror, at the forefront of this trend. These days, I do all kinds of housework. In 2003, I could brag that I didn't even know how our washing machine worked. I knew we had a vacuum cleaner but couldn't tell you where we kept it, and while we had a bucket in the pantry, I used it only to wash the car or put by the kids' beds when they went to sleep feeling queasy. These days, I do dishes, I vacuum, I do half the laundry and I do grocery shopping. But, true to the trend, I do it a little differently.
I'll do laundry, but it's more of an assembly line, where I shove enough clothes in to fill to the brim, press "super size load" and walk away. There are a number of different settings, and supposedly things turn out better if you separate whites and darks, but once you get used to all your clothes being some sort of gray, it's kind of soothing.
I fold laundry, but much more efficiently than my wife does. She takes each piece of laundry out of the basket individually and folds it before putting it in piles. I go through the sorting first, chucking boxer shorts across the room into a pile, socks in the corner, pants in another direction, and towels at the end of the bed. Then I take those piles and stuff them into the appropriate dressers, unfolded. I can hear women out there across the country gasping in horror, but I don't really care. Nobody knows if your underwear was put away neatly folded, or stuffed into a big pile all wrinkled. If they do see you in your underwear, it's not your underwear they're noticing.
And while I will go grocery shopping, it's only for certain items. When it comes to meat, I'll buy a big slab of chicken and freeze it. If my wife's away for any length of time, every meal that week will be a chunk of chicken, fried in a pan, but with a different sauce each night. (Monday--soy sauce, Tuesday--teriyaki, Wednesday-- whatever that other sauce is in the fridge. Thursday will be pizza, and Friday will be morning prayers that my wife gets home in time to make something.)
The way this is trending, though, I'd better up my game. Some of the other guys in the neighborhood keep their houses so nice, and I don't want to look bad.
Peter McKay (peter-mckay.com) is a writer living in Ben Avon. His syndicated column Homemaking appears Saturdays in the Post-Gazette.