Shannon Kelley

Shannon Kelley
Santa Barbara, California, USA
June 11
Shannon Kelley and her mother Barbara Kelley are both journalists, and have just written a book called "Undecided". Together. (...Right??) This blog is a taste of what you'll find in "Undecided", a book about choice overload, analysis paralysis, grass is greener syndrome, longing for the road not traveled, and how the success of the women’s movement has left women stumped in the face of limitless options — and how to get over it. The book comes out on May 3: if you like what you're reading here, get the book here: And subscribe to our blog here:


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APRIL 13, 2012 1:10AM

Who Wants a Housewife?

Rate: 7 Flag

I’ll bet you do.  That’s right: you, over there.  The one who just fished a shirt to wear to work out of the pile of dirty clothes on your bedroom floor.  Trust me, I do not judge, having worn the same running clothes for three days straight.  (Right.  Ew.)

Seems to me, if we’re in the workforce, we could all use a housewife at home to pick up the groceries and fold the clothes.  But whether we’re married or not, with or without kids, said housewife is likely to be you. No matter where you work, or how hard, when it comes to the second shift, ladies, we own it.

Which is something, says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, that needs to change if we ever want to cut into the so-called ambition gap.   Sandberg has emerged as a leading voice in the quest to make life more doable — and the ladder more accessible — for those of us (read: most of us) who want the space to pursue both a career and a life.  And what she suggests is that if we ever want to get to fifty-fifty in the c-suites, we need to get to fifty-fifty back at home.

Unless, of course, we can hire a housewife.

In an interview for the Makers series from PBS and AOL, Sandberg spoke on a number of issues related to the difficulties women face in the workplace, from work-life balance (no such thing, she says) and the division of household labor.  The interview is broken up into mini-soundbites for quick hits of inspiration whenever you might need one, and at approximately 1:57 in this particular cut (scroll to the video at the bottom of the page) what she says is be careful who you marry (Cogent advice: we heard the same from Stanford economist Myra Strober, in an interview for our book):

The most important thing, I’ve said this a hundred times, if you marry a man, marry the right one.  If you can marry a woman, that’s better because the split between two women in the home is pretty even, data shows.

 But find someone to marry who’s going to do half.  Not just support your career by saying things – oh, of course you should work –  but actually get up and change half the diapers, because that’s what it takes.

Her overarching point? If women ran half the institutions, and men ran half the homes, the world would be a better place.  Hard to argue with that one, especially when you consider that, for most of us, the economy doesn’t allow for many single income families.  (And then, of course, there’s  the structure of today’s workplace that demands a 52 hour workweek.  But we’ve covered that.)

Anyway, I thought of all this housewife business the other day, after a class in which a student pitched a story on the lack of women in leadership positions in corporate America.  While we were brainstorming a fresh angle for the piece, one student brought up the issue of stay-at-home dads as one way to close the gap.  Good idea, right?  Especially in a classroom of forward-thinking millennial kids.  And so I turned to the men in the class and said, “Okay, how many of you would consider being a stay at home dad?”  Answers ranged from a reluctant “well, maybe” to “no way” to clearly the most honest answer of the bunch:  “I hate children.”  Which if nothing else was good for a laugh.  Then that student who had brought up the issue in the first place asked how many students had had stay-at-home dads.  Not quite radio silence, but close to it.

What struck me was the fact that here in 2012, a conversation about shifting gender roles seemed, to a classful of kick-ass college seniors, so, you know, quaint.  And so I brought up the topic again today, and one female student voiced a collective worry: I want a career and a family. But when and how do I make it  fit?  From the men, again, radio silence. What was interesting, but not entirely surprising, was that this was something none of the guys had ever considered.  Or, probably, would ever have to. You can be sure I pointed that out.

But then it struck me.  Is the issue the fact that we still define work outside of work in traditional gender terms? The most recent American Time Use Survey found that 20 percent of men did housework on a given day compared with 49 percent of women. Forty-one percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women.  And then there’s this: back in 2008, the Gallup Lifestyle poll (the most recent one) found that married couples still maintain a traditional division of labor:  men did the yardwork and took care of the car, women did the dishes and took care of the kids.  (Which often makes me wonder how the division of labor breaks down in, say, Manhattan, where folks don’t have a lot of cars, and even fewer yards.  But, anyway.)

So maybe that’s our first step:  letting go of traditional gender expectations, especially at home.  I myself just dragged myself home from work.  My husband, who was watching a hockey game, greeted me at the door with a glass of Pinot. Much appreciated. We’re having leftovers for dinner.  And everyday, he packs my lunch.

My students think that’s cute.

As for my running clothes?  Sigh.  Don’t ask.

Tagged: choices, Facebook, feminism, gender roles, Sheryl Sandberg, worklife balance, workplace structure

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Glaringly obvious in all these discussion about empowering women in their career-marriages is the fact that there is really no discussion at all of what's in it for the men.Those "silences" you referred to ought to tell you something, but then Feminists were never really good at" listening"
I wrote my thesis for grad school on this topic. I have counseled countless frustrated women, and many couples. It is a common area of couple frustration. Though I only see the people who are unhappy to the point of coming into my office.
I am a primary custody divorced mom - with a teenage son. My son has learned family chores rather than gender based chores.
A GREAT piece, again and again if this is only a discussion about women, we will make no progress. RRRR
After twenty years of that kind of cute from your husband, you will be resentful. I was.
Jille writes, My son has learned family chores rather than gender based chores.

"Yeah, Jille!"

That means the kid will know something about making a decent meal, when he has an apartment in college; he'll know how to pick up his clothes and wash the towels; he'll realize that other people exist. (You know how many guys can't even make gravy, because they weren't ever let into the kitchen and are terrified of it?)

You're getting him ready for college. Bully for you!
If there's a way for the community to start telling young girls, if he doesn't know how to cook (basic stuff), he's not for you….

("and grilling doesn't count, unless he owns a BBQ company.")
As I've watched many of my friends become parents in the last few years, it's been interesting to see how many of the men are working part-time and doing much of the parenting, while the women are working full-time. It's become not so much a gender thing, but an individual thing. Each couple finds their own balance in what they are each best suited for. A couple can only thrive by bringing out the best in each other.
Every generation thinks they have the answers, but it always comes back to this same conundrum. Wish I could add words of wisdom, but this conversation has been taking place for a very, very long time, which you mentioned quite eloquently in this piece. All I can say is, keep the conversation going. R.
I think getting the so-called 50-50 at home depends totally on your choice of mates. I have always done the cooking, cleaned house, taken out the trash when I was home and not traveling in my job. I loved to cook while my wife or girlfriend (one wife, many girlfriends) sipped on a good glass of white wine and watched me cook. I loved cleaning kitchen as well when she did the cooking. It's a partnership, whether one works, both works, or whatever. Enjoyed your article.
I agree that Sheryl Sandberg is a welcome voice in this whole glass ceiling thing. I do think that both the domestic and the public/workforce roles need to be valued equally, whomever is doing them. My husband stays home, I work, and he never gets enough credit for what he does, which is just about everything but cook. I'm not talking about me, but from his family, our friends, the rest of society. But I'm pretty sure he's much happier now than when he was full time in the workforce, at least at the end of his time there, before he decided to stay home.

I like your posts. Very rational thoughts on gender issues, always.