In Equal Partners (St. Martin’s, June), Mangino explores the ongoing struggle to achieve gender equality in domestic duties.
You write that “everything inside the home is connected to everything outside the home.” What do you mean by that?
What we have time for outside the home is often linked to what we do inside the home. Traditionally, because women have been coded with doing the household work, they have limited time outside the home to look for professional advancement. We’ve coded men’s work with breadwinning, so they have that focus on the workplace and earning to provide for the family, which limits their time in the household. So it’s a cycle. What we do outside the home has a huge impact on the time, attention, and bandwidth we have for inside the home.
Tell me about how the concept of cognitive labor speaks to this disparity.
Cognitive labor is the anticipating, planning, and monitoring required to keep a home functioning. In a household, you have many mini projects going on at any moment at different places in the planning cycle. If you went out for a run for 25 minutes, that would be seen as pleasure time. But if you’re in that female role, you’re doing cognitive labor in tandem with personal activities. If you’re sitting getting a pedicure but you’re making a list of the work that you need to do the next day, that’s not restorative.
You discuss research showing the birth of a couple’s first child often results in an uneven distribution of responsibilities, even when the couple had achieved parity before. What’s going on there?
In the confusion and fatigue of having that first baby enter the home, we fall back on role modeling that we’ve watched throughout our lives. We’ve heard time and time again that mothers have this caregiving chip that comes along biologically with having a baby. Unless you have a really intentional conversation with your partner about parity, you tend to fall back on those patterns of behavior that you’ve been witnessing for many decades of your life.
What surprised you in your interviews with men who are equal partners?
I think it surprised both of us, once I started asking questions, how much knowledge they had about what’s necessary to make that kind of a partnership work. The other thing that surprised me, and really disappointed me at first, was that I couldn’t find some sort of pattern. But then I realized if you flip that upside down, it shows that there are no parameters and anyone can achieve this. That was even more freeing and surprising.