Men may not perceive domestic tasks as needing doing in the same way as women, philosophers argue

Philosophers seeking to answer questions around inequality in household labour and the invisibility of women’s work in the home have proposed a new theory — that men and women are trained by society to see different possibilities for action in the same domestic environment.

They say a view called “affordance theory” — that we experience objects and situations as having actions implicitly attached — underwrites the age-old gender disparity when it comes to the myriad mundane tasks of daily home maintenance.

For example, women may look at a surface and see an implied action — ‘to be wiped’ — whereas men may just observe a crumb-covered countertop.

The philosophers believe these deep-seated gender divides in domestic perception can be altered through societal interventions such as extended paternal leave, which will encourage men to build up mental associations for household tasks.

Writing in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, they argue that available data — particularly data gathered during the pandemic — suggest two questions require explanation.

One is “disparity”: despite economic and cultural gains, why do women continue to shoulder the vast majority of housework and childcare? The other is “invisibility”: why do so many men believe domestic work to be more equally distributed than in fact it is?

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