Usually, housework falls on the shoulder of women, it is an unsaid clause that a woman signs without signing since her birth. It is a privilege that is served to men for being born men. Nobody thinks of household chores as a life hack that every person should know, it is considered the responsibility of women only. The irony is men don’t even recognise someone is working for them constantly, and it is not magic. The women’s work in the home is completely invisible.
The question is why do men assume chores are not their work to do? How do men living under the same roof perceive the chores? In a new study, a philosopher tried to answer it through a theory. He proposed a theory to comprehend the inequitable distribution of household labour based on how men and women perceive their domestic environment.
Gendered Affordance Theory Examines Why Men Avoid Housework
Philosopher Tom McClelland and co-author Prof Paulina Sliwa argue that unequal divisions of labour in the home and the men’s inability to identify it can be best explained through the psychological notion of “affordances”. Affordances mean a possibility for action, the idea that we perceive things as inviting or affording particular actions. This new theory is called Gendered Affordance Theory.
According to Sliwa, “Neuroscience has shown that perceiving an affordance can trigger neural processes preparing you for physical action. It can range from a slight urge to an overwhelming compulsion. So, when the same affordance perception is applied to the domestic environment and assumes it is gendered, it goes a long way to answering both questions of disparity and invisibility. Putting women in a situation: either inequality of labour or inequality of cognitive load.
In this case, when a woman enters a kitchen she perceives the affordances for particular domestic tasks – she sees the dishes as ‘to be washed’ or a fridge as ‘to be stocked’. Whereas men simply see dishes in the sink without perceiving the affordance. Over time, these evolve into disparities, and tasks are formulated accordingly, as per the theory.
Basically, McClelland feels social norms shape the affordances that both genders perceive, so it would be surprising if gender norms do not do the same. Some skills are explicitly gendered, such as cleaning or grooming. Hence girls are expected to do more domestic chores than boys. The perception trains their ways of seeing the domestic environment. However, their sensitivity to domestic tasks must not be equated with a natural affinity for housework.
The theory raises two questions- Why do women continue to shoulder a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare despite economic and cultural gains? Why is there a widespread one-sided misrepresentation within different-sex couples about how domestic and caring work is distributed between the two partners?
In an attempt to answer these questions, the theory says– Being sensitive to domestic affordances doesn’t compel one to act on those affordances. Women always have the option of not acting on a perceived affordance. Still, her sensitivity can nudge her toward performing the afforded task. Also, men’s lack of sensitivity to a given domestic task affordance does not make it impossible for them to perform the domestic task. Over the course of the day, such small differences quickly add up to significant disparities.
The answer to the second question as per theory is- A man will systematically overestimate his contribution to domestic work and systematically underestimate the woman’s contribution. Besides, a failure to perceive an affordance for a domestic task makes a failure to recognise that one has not done it – and that another person has done it. The work done is invisible, the person doing it is not recognised. So basically, domestic affordances are literally invisible to the agent.
The philosophers in the report state that these deep-seated gender divides in domestic perception can be altered through societal interventions. For instance- extended paternal leave. These little things can shape their perception of the affordances which contribute to domestic work. The Paper majorly focused on disparity and invisibility and how gender perceives it. The same understanding could be applied to gendered sensitivity. This could also be applied to workplace labour, where again there is a disparity in pay, promotion, and also distribution of work.
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