November 22, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017

Take out the trash and do the dishes

By Liliana Palermo
For the Herald

Can you prevent rows (1) about household tasks?

Even among couples who share housework and parenting, subtler inequities persist.

In her new book Drop The Ball, a manifesto for women juggling jobs (2) and an unequal share of the burden at home, Tiffany Dufu describes a phenomenon I’d never previously seen given a name: “imaginary delegation”. This is the all-too-familiar (3) relationship pattern whereby (4) you see (or just think of) some household task that needs doing (5), mentally assign it to your partner, fail to inform them you’ve done so, then feel sincere outrage when they disregard the instructions you never gave them.

The problem here is that both sides have an excellent case for feeling aggrieved (6). The person on the (non-)receiving end naturally protests that he can’t be expected to read minds. But the other person is also justified in saying she shouldn’t need to spell it out (7): for a cohabiting couple, teamwork demands that both partners keep an eye out for (8) what needs doing, without being told by the other. So the stage is set for the worst variety of domestic row: the kind where both parties are right.

I’ve been on both sides of imaginary delegation, but of course Dufu is correct that it’s largely a gendered affair: women do the imaginary delegating, while men fail to do the mind-reading. (She mordantly (9) describes the time she decided not to prepare a slab of raw beef for freezing, as usual, but to leave it to her husband. Days later, with rancid beef stinking up the fridge, she threw it out.) This, she shows, is the inevitable consequence of a situation where even among couples who share housework and parenting, subtler inequities persist: men get credit for “helping out”, so long as they do a bit more than the average man, while women still shoulder (10) what sociologists call the “worry work”, keeping track of what needs doing in the first place. As the columnist Judith Shulevitz has written: “Studies of heterosexual couples from all strata of society confirm that, by and large (11), mothers draft the to-do lists while fathers pick and choose (12) among the items.” The trouble with imaginary delegation isn’t only that it’s imaginary, but that it’s delegation. If one partner is dispensing the instructions, it’s hard not to conclude that they’re ultimately responsible for the outcome.

Which brings us to the trickiest of Dufu’s prescriptions: to stop feeling crushed by responsibility for every little thing at home, you will need to give up the sole right to define what counts as “getting it done”. If your partner’s standards of, say, tidiness are lower than yours – while still within the bounds of the reasonable (13) – it probably won’t work to insist that responsibility be shared, while the standard observed remains yours alone. (This isn’t to be confused with the scenario where the other person secretly does share your standards, but takes no action, banking on (14) your eventually doing it yourself.)

And while most of Dufu’s advice is about handing things off to your partner or others, surely some balls deserve to be dropped (15) entirely? If you ask me (16), it’s not just that you shouldn’t feel pressured to keep hardwood floors perfectly shiny or cupboards decluttered to a Kondo-compliant degree, etcetera. It’s that these don’t need doing at all.

Adapted from a story by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian



“rows” (1)
What the writer proposes is to avoid noisy arguments or fights, which is what rows are.  They usually have rows and one of them leaves the house to return a lot later.

“juggling jobs” (2)
A juggler throws and catches a number of objects so that at least one or some of them is in the air all the time.  Metaphorically speaking, if a person juggles jobs or activities, they keep more than one in motion at the same time and they handle all of them adequately.

“all-too-familiar” (3)
The expression “all too” is placed before an adjective to indicate emphatically that something is the case to an extreme, definitely but regrettably It has become all too common to interrupt a conversation to answer a call / He answered all too soon and he made a serious mistake / We should stop this practice, which is seen all too often nowadays.

“whereby” (4)
“Whereby” is a connector that joins a noun to a relative clause.  Its meaning is “by which way or method; because of which.”  They are going to set up a system whereby nobody will access the place without registration.

“needs doing” (5)
The construction made up of need plus an –ing form of the verb (a gerund) is used in English to express a passive meaning.  It is an alternative to the explicit passive form “need to be” plus the past participle form of the verb. The grammatical subject of the sentence is the person or thing that will experience the action.  My hair needs cutting / Your room needs cleaning.

“aggrieved” (6)
When a person feels aggrieved, they feel unhappy or upset, usually due to unfair treatment, as in She felt aggrieved at having been left behind to clear up the mess.

“spell out” (7)
When you spell something out for somebody, you make it plain, you explain it in detail and in a very clear way, usually to somebody who has not understood it well.  I had to spell all the rules out for her because she kept ignoring a few / I feel uneasy when I have to spell out how seldom you do chores.

“keep an eye out for” (8)
When a person keeps an eye out for something, they watch for its appearance, especially when you are doing something else.  Keep an eye out for the mailman.  I’m expecting official correspondence / Keep an eye out for houses to rent.

“mordantly” (9)
If you do something mordantly, you act in a cruel or sarcastic way, as in a mordant remark / Who made you think I was going to cook this evening,? she asked mordantly.

“shoulder” (10)
See “A shoulder to cry on” below

“by and large” (11)
This expression is used to indicate that what you are saying is mostly true but not completely so, and when everything is considered in a situation.  It is synonymous to “on the whole,” “generally,” as in By and large, he is happy in his new position.

“pick and choose” (12)
When you “pick and choose,” you choose with great care, selectively and in a way that is usually fastidious, and to finally choose only the best, or only what you really like.  Depending on the season, you cannot pick and choose the fruit that you can buy / It’s good to have a wide variety to pick and choose from when there are different dishes in a dinner reception.

“within the bounds of the reasonable” (13)
Something that happens within the bounds of the reasonable is allowable up to a certain point.

“bank on” (14)
When you bank on something, you expect something to happen or rely on a future occurrence, even though it may not happen at all. I’m banking on being promoted at the end of this year.

“balls deserve to be dropped” (15)
An image taken from ball games – in which all play stops if the ball is dropped – when the expression is used figuratively, the meaning is that to fail to keep working in some way or to make a mistake by acting carelessly.  The writer seems to suggest that we should not do all the chores, or that some chores do not need doing.

“if you ask me” (16)
When you say this before or after a thought, you just emphasise the fact that what you say is your opinion; it does not by any means imply the action of getting a question to respond.  It is an informal alternative to “in my opinion.” If you ask me, nobody performs better than the protagonist of the movie.


A shoulder to cry on

Women shoulder the “worry work,” that is they carry (this burden) on their shoulders; in a metaphorical sense, they assume or accept this responsibility as their own. If you have the ability to cope with unpleasant responsibilities, in other words, if you have “broad shoulders,” then you may cope with the “worry work” alone – particularly if the others at home “shrug their shoulders” when asked to contribute some work.

You use your shoulder to do many other physical things, such as Since she was carrying so many bags, she shouldered the door open / He shouldered his way through the crowd.

The name of this part of the body is used in several expressions and idioms to illustrate different meanings. If, for instance, the woman in question does not have to worry about the list of chores anymore, that will be “a weight off her shoulders.” When the task ahead is difficult, you certainly need to put a lot of effort or to “put your shoulder to the wheel,” – an expression derived from the physical action of shouldering the wheel of a mill to make it work. And, naturally, the best way to share the tasks is “shoulder to shoulder,” in other words, side by side, in close cooperation and with a shared purpose. However, you may be “given the cold shoulder” – you may be ignored deliberately – as in After I told him what I knew, he gave me the cold shoulder / The committee gave the cold shoulder to our proposal to carry out a survey to decide. But, in this last example, if you “rub shoulders with the ones who take the decisions” – in other words, if you spend time with someone important – then, you may get things done faster.

Finally, a person who feels treated unfairly and feels angry at this is said to have “a chip on their shoulder.” She still has a chip on her shoulder about their argument over the chores. They shouldn’t stay angry, but they shouldn’t “cry on their partner’s shoulders” either – which means to do so in a way to gain sympathy – they should just shoulder it.



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