Over the last few years I have stumbled across a number of articles from Traditionalists and Feminists alike, talking about “Egalitarian Marriage”. In my adventures, there seems to be two underlying trends that I’ve encountered among these articles regardless of who it is writing them: The majority of people talking about Egalitarian Marriage are unhappy with their marriages, and their authors seem to have little idea of what legitimately constitutes an Egalitarian Marriage.
What does Egalitarian mean? Simplistically put, to be an Egalitarian or hold Egalitarian beliefs means that you believe all humans are inherently equal in fundamental worth, morality, and status within society. And because of that, you also believe that they therefore deserve equal social, economic, political, and civil rights and opportunities as one another. In other words, all men are created equal and shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of sex, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or other factors. Instead, all people should be treated accordingly as our unconditionally inherent equals in society on a base and fundamental level (which is not our current modus operandi despite us often believing otherwise).
It’s simple enough to understand, right? And it also seems simple enough to apply to marriage… Which leads me to wonder why everyone seems to be getting it wrong and / or winding up unhappy; what are they actually talking about when they put two and two together and exclaim that it is “Egalitarianism”?
Call me crazy, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.
When reading articles like these that talk about Egalitarian Marriage, I regularly see phrases that focus on “shar[e]d equal responsibility for work in the home”. And like the definition of Egalitarianism, that makes sense; relationships are not- and cannot be one sided. Everyone in a relationship has to take equal responsibility for what creates a family, what stabilizes a healthy relationship, what makes a house a home, and what upkeeps it all of it.
But a large number of articles go beyond just talking about shared responsibility to the household… They focus on actual work; on the labor itself, and the division thereof. And on that front, many of their arguments for or against it hinge almost entirely on keeping score of how many times which partner did what household duty as opposed to the other- as if it’s a major arguing point for or against the validity of Egalitarian Marriage structures.
It stands to reason, then, that the one thing these articles and studies truly have in common (arguably their point of total failure) is a simple thing: Everything is focused on work in terms of small, individual acts of labor performed; how much of each type of work that every person does, with a specification that every person does exactly 50% of everything that needs to be done.
I see a fundamental problem with this on several levels. Mostly it stems from the fact that this structure just isn’t Egalitarian. If anything, it actually makes a complete mockery of Egalitarian ideology because Egalitarianism isn’t about the equal division of physical or emotional labor. It’s about human value and the right of all people to have equal rights and opportunities within our society… And in a truly Egalitarian Marriage, this does not and should never honestly translate to “everyone pulls exactly their equal weight in all things at all times”.
It’s incredibly unrealistic that everyone’s responsibilities consist of exactly half of every little thing that needs to be done, because no one can realistically contribute exactly 50% of every laborious act necessary to upkeep a Household. There’s simply too much that needs to be done at any given time. Eventually you will have days where one partner is outside of the house for longer. Certain types of labor also requires certain skills- and while that doesn’t mean that both shouldn’t learn those skills, it does mean that someone is inevitably going to be more suited for it because they have more skill with it. And all of that- and more- means that eventually someone will have to pull more weight in one area than another partner. It’s ridiculous for us to expect otherwise- both from ourselves, and our partners.
The unrealistic nature of this expectation is ultimately detrimental to us psychologically, too. More than that, it’s dangerous to our marriages as well; if you’re counting individual jobs and saying things such as “I walked the dog 3 times in a row, now it is your turn to walk the dog 3 times in a row”, and thinking that it’s an entirely logical demand? Then of course you’re eventually going to wind up unhappy, angry, resentful, and generally feeling like you do more work than your spouse. It’s an impossible and unrealistic thing to expect of them in the first place!
Everyone is thinking about marriage and partnership as a 50/50 responsibility. However […] each person needs to be giving 100%. The 50/50 mentality will lead to “point tracking” in a relationship and everyone always feels like they are doing more than others because of the value we add to our own time and activities. [I do not help my wife]
But if an Egalitarian Marriage isn’t about people doing exactly 50% of each individual act of labor in a home, then what is it about? What does it mean to have a truly Egalitarian Marriage?
For me, it comes down to two things which can arguably be summed up by a quote found in an article titled 4 ignorant delusions people have about feminism, written in 2014; though I think it uses unnecessary language in places- and it’s actually about Feminism as opposed to Egalitarian Marriage- the article really hits home in a relevant way, saying:
[It’s] not about who opens the jar […] It is about making sure that nobody ever has to do anything by “default” because of their gender; the stronger person should move the couch. The person who enjoys cooking more, has more time for it, and / or is better at it should do the cooking. Sometimes the stronger person is male, sometimes not. Sometimes the person who is best suited for cooking is female, sometimes not. You should do what works.
But it is also about letting people know that it is okay to change. If you’re a woman who wants to become stronger, that’s great. If you’re a man who wants to learn how to cook, that’s also great. You might start out with a relationship where the guy opens all the jars and the girl cooks all the meals, but you might find that you want to try something else. So try it.
In other words… So what if I walk the dog more often than my Husband does? Why is that even something that matters? And the long lost answer to those questions that everyone seems to be searching for is this: It really doesn’t.
It doesn’t really matter who in the relationship does what or takes on which duties. Nor does it really matter when, or how often they do so… And it doesn’t matter because individual acts of labor isn’t the point. It never has been. In fact, if focusing on labor on such a micro scale does anything at all, it’s that it misses the point of Egalitarianism entirely- and completely manages to defeat its point at least in part.
The reality is that there are only two main factors in whether or not an Egalitarian Marriage can genuinely be considered a true and legitimate one: Equal respect, and equal opportunity. And yet that still begs the question of how we actually apply to Marriage in a genuine way that doesn’t warp or incorrectly focus the point of Egalitarianism. Fortunately for us, the answer is actually an easy one.
The idea that all people have equal worth- and should therefore have equal opportunity and rights- inherently includes the topic of how labor is divided in the pursuit of creating and maintaining a Household. That’s true. But the application of Egalitarian ideology in Marriage in this area more correctly involves each person taking on equal responsibility in the overall duties of the household and family- not the individual duties.
More than that, its application includes ignoring things such as societal gender roles which dictate that “financial provision and labor is a man’s work” and “domestic duties and emotional provision are a woman’s work”. And it does so in favor of partners taking on the familial and household responsibilities that suit them best– either because of the individual’s personal preference, skill, availability, or other contributing factors.
Perhaps more importantly, having an Egalitarian Marriage means that every partner in that marriage is considered equal to the other in all ways. On a base and fundamental level, that means no partner should ever be seen as inferior to or lesser than the other in any way. Instead, every partner approaches the other as an equally important contributor to the household, views their needs and desires as equally important to their own (and takes their needs and desires into equal account at all times), and ultimately respects the other irregardless of their differences in responsibility to the Household.
In their article Idaho: What Makes Love Last?, Ash writes probably one of the most poignant things about love and lasting Marriage that I’ve ever read in my life:
I cried in that airport because I realized that I don’t always know the kind of love that takes another turn a few seconds later. The kind of love that doesn’t have to follow a perfect rhythm of give and receive. Sometimes it all goes out of order and you don’t tally it up; sometimes the clock ticks by and you don’t remember who owes what and why.
While their article isn’t about Marriage or Egalitarianism, I feel like it’s entirely relevant to its point- and to the widespread misunderstanding of it in our current culture: A truly Egalitarian Marriage does not look the same for each couple. Nor does it always involve the same division of labor. And the fact that one may do 80% of the housework and the other may provide 80% percent of the financial income doesn’t really matter in the long term.
When you look beyond the absurdity of keeping count of the individual laborious acts themselves? You realize that the important part isn’t who does what. It’s about how well you work together towards a common goal. Because Marriage isn’t supposed to be a competition, it is supposed to be an exercise in teamwork. And the reality is that teams don’t force people to perform 50% of everything… They play to the strengths and weaknesses of their individual players in order to accomplish their goal. And that inherently means that each person often sacrifices something of their own, or winds up doing more of a certain task than another, in order to help the team succeed.
Even if I walk the Dog more often, my Husband and I are still a team. As a team, each of us still contributing equally to the relationship and the household we have agreed to create together- and we still view each other as equals within our relationship. Our mismatched division of labor on the micro scale doesn’t change this in the slightest. It only means that our priorities and the individual acts of labor we perform in pursuit of our grander goal are simply different than one another’s…. And that’s ok.
Sharing has to be equitable and that should take into consideration “all” work that both parents do. And as long as they both agree what is equitable, it makes for a happy family […] Things are not as black and white, we live in a world of gray everywhere. [I do not help my wife]
Unfortunately this is something which is overlooked in the focus on “equal work”. Yet the sooner we realize this, the sooner A Happy Egalitarian Marriage becomes less of an enigma- and the faster we can all move on to being genuinely happy in our Marriages.