Every year I go on holiday in a cottage somewhere with the same group of 10 people. It’s lovely and a really important chance to catch up with old friends I don’t see enough. But every year I end up resenting the half of them who don’t pull their weight with the chores.
Not all of us are decent cooks, and it seems perfectly reasonable that only the people who are good at it cook dinners. And we have a “you cooked, so you don’t have to clear away after dinner” rule. But that’s only a tiny fraction of the cleaning that goes on during the week. We also need to load the dishwasher at several other points in the day, do the shopping, plan what we’re going to do, keep tidying things away, organise the holiday itself… All of this emotional and logistical labour and the majority of the cleaning/ cooking is done by the same small group of people.
As you might have guessed, there’s a strong correlation between gender and whether or not people do their share, although it’s not clear cut. My (male) other half is one of the cleaners, and one of the worst shirkers recently came out as non binary, so I don’t want to make a thing of the gender issue as it isn’t as simple as just the women doing the work and the men avoiding it.
I have in the past said something like “it feels like the same people do the majority of the chores, partly because a lot of it isn’t noticeable unless it doesn’t get done, so please be aware of whether you’re doing enough”. This has increased the amount of chores the shirkers do slightly, but not to their fair share, and it hasn’t changed the balance of emotional/ logistical labour. It also resulted in one of the shirkers hiding in a corner not talking to anyone for a couple of hours. (They’re in bad mental health and will do this occasionally throughout the week).
Policing other people’s chore is a) annoying and b) yet more emotional labour I don’t want to do. I’ve tried just not doing the chores, but this results in them not getting done until one of the people who already does too much work does them.
Lots of my thinks this is just one week a year and I should just deal with it and not make a scene or sit there stewing when half the group aren’t contributing. But I’m really pissed off by the injustice of it, especially given the gender divide. And as a friend, I also think my heterosexual male friends are much more likely to have happy romantic relationships if they learn how to divide labour more equitably.
I Am Not Your Mother
(She/ her pronouns)
Dear I Am Not Your Mother:
You can’t fix the balance of labor inside your friend’s relationships or make your vacation a way to model a different balance. I get where you’re coming from, but please let that go for now.
You probably can more evenly distribute holiday chores among your friends if you plan and spell it all out in advance. This is somewhat counter-intuitive advice because it means that you will do more emotional labor up front but it might be worth it so you can enjoy your vacation at the time. General messages like “We all need to be aware of x…” never work, they are the equivalent of post-it notes on the office fridge. The people who need to be told never actually think it applies to them, and the people who don’t need to be told resent being told.
I go away with a group of friends at least once a year. They are planners and it is great. (SO GREAT ❤ ❤ <3) We are very explicit about money (two of us are accountants and at least one is an office manager, I am like, the least organized/planner person in the group), which meals will be eaten at the house, who is making them, who is bringing what, which stuff will be grocery shopped for, and what’s involved in getting the rental in shape before we check out, etc. Being so clear and specific about everything means the actual trip is fun because we can relax knowing that we’re doing our part and everyone else is too and there doesn’t have to be a lot of negotiation at the time.
My suggestion for you is to divide up the days of the vacation and make a list of the days and the stuff that needs to be done each day, like:
- activities – planning, transportation, logistics
- meals – planning & shopping
- meals – preparation & cooking
- meals – cleanup and what that means (dishwasher run, counters & cooktop wiped down, table cleaned, etc)
- daily tasks – garbage out, dishwasher run nightly & unloaded each morning
You could try dividing up the tasks day by day or you could try dividing up the days between teams of people. Maybe three people take on activity planning, meals, and cleanup for each day, so you can get a team of a good cook, a sous-chef/cleaner, an activity planner doing what they are best suited to. When it’s not your day, make sure your personal dishes go in the dishwasher and your stuff gets back in your room from the common areas and relax the rest of the time – you’re just along for the ride, no need to stew. When it is your day, you & your teammates take the lead on care & feeding of the friend group. However each team of three divides the work up between them is up to them as long as it gets done (even if that means some gender binaries creep in). Depending on how long the holiday is everybody might get two days they are “on duty,” mixed & matched into different teams.
What system you institute isn’t as important as clearly communicating the system to everybody and giving everybody some agency within it. The people who aren’t getting it won’t magically get it without being told. Also, some days the work might not be awesome or done exactly the way you would do it or divided fairly between the three people. It might take a few go-rounds for this to work like clockwork, so, be gentle.
I will also give you my super-secret guide to making groups in film production classes now if it helps. Most of the time I let people make their own groups, but sometimes for specific projects it’s best if I design them.
I used to try to balance the groups regarding abilities, like, spreading the really ambitious students out and also spreading the less ambitious/focused students out. Then I stopped. The ambitious students were used to carrying the load group projects. The less ambitious students were used to hiding behind other people. Now, while this is not a perfect science, I try to split them this way:
Ambitious students = all together! Let them experience the novelty of having fellow organized & assertive people working with them, and people who will challenge their ideas.
Least ambitious students = all together! They can’t hide. The project might falter, but more often, at least one of them will rise and get yon shit together.
Most introverted students = all together! They get to experience not being talked over and also break the cycle of “whatever you want to do is fine.”
I would never, on pain of death, tell you which group is which. (My colleague SK has a little survey where she asks students to self-identify re: “I am here to have fun and learn a little bit” vs. “I am here to make the greatest possible film”)
I leave this here for you if it’s useful, and if you end up creating the chore groups. Maybe it’s worth having a day where nothing much gets done and y’all order in vs. “balancing” the skills.