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October 26, 2022 11:07 AM EDT
Mangino is a gender expert who works with international organizations to promote social change. She is the author of Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home

All of a sudden, everyone seems to know the term “quiet quitting.” It’s alliterative. It’s descriptive. And the depth of its resonance demonstrates just how fried we all feel. Defined as no longer going above and beyond at work and simply completing necessary tasks, quiet quitting can feel like the last form of agency for the exhausted and unappreciated workers burned-out from trying to meet employers’ unrealistic expectations.

As a person who has been researching and writing about gender dynamics and household work for several years, I can’t help but see similarities between our homes and our current workplace conditions.

We may like to think we have achieved gender equality at home, but we have not. Research involving household chore journals—where participants log time spent on domestic tasks each day—tell us that in different-sex partnerships where both people work outside the home, two-thirds of housework continues to fall on the female partner. And sadly, this dynamic isn’t changing—data shows household dynamics have not progressed much since 1985. When it comes to household work, we have essentially plateaued. And keep in mind that chore journals only track physical work—they don’t even capture the cognitive labor required to run a home. While the two-thirds imbalance is an average—some partnerships are more balanced, some less—these journals give us a good indication of where we are as a nation. (There are many same-sex relationships that mirror this unequal divide, as well as households where the male partner is doing the lion’s share of work. Really, it doesn’t matter what your gender identity is—doing two-thirds is doing too much.)

Since my book, Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home, came out this summer, the questions I have been asked over and over are: “How can I, the laborer in my home, make a change? My partner won’t budge, and I am at breaking point. What do I do?”

To be honest, I don’t love these questions. I do not believe we should task the person already doing two-thirds of household work with another “to-do” item. Ideally, the person in the one-third role would realize they could do more and then pitch in, but 35-plus years on the plateau tells us this isn’t realistic. And there is probably a reason why I am asked this question so often: Because millions of people, the majority of them women, are literally at the end of their respective ropes.

Now that we have new vocabulary at our disposal, perhaps one answer to that persistent question is to quietly quit at home. After all, the parallel is perfectly applicable: relentless work, little-to-no reward, and little appreciation. Sometimes the only option is to back away.

Read More: Forget ‘Quiet Quitting.’ Here’s How to Actually Set Boundaries at Work

Leslie Forde, Founder and CEO of Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, told me this concept is not new to exhausted moms. “I interpret quiet quitting as a conscious choice to disengage emotionally or physically from work as a form of self-protection,” Forde explains. “And yes, it is happening in the home in lots of different ways.”

What would quiet quitting at home look like?

First, we have to consider the actual tasks that need doing in the home: washing, cleaning, cooking, and laundry. Of course, if there are small children, pets, or an ill family member in the home then you can’t stop these tasks completely. But maybe you don’t do your partner’s laundry anymore. Maybe you can stop making the beds, give up on ironing, or refrain from constantly cleaning up after those around you.

As everyone who “does all the things” knows, the physical tasks are just half the load. To quietly quit at home, one must also find ways to back away from those invisible tasks that often feel the most burdensome and stressful. Since a lot of the cognitive labor falls into the necessary column, no one should stop scheduling medical appointments for the kids. But maybe you don’t need to schedule anything for your partner. Or you could tell your family that unless someone else does the meal planning and grocery shopping, everyone will be eating PB&J’s with carrot sticks. Every night. For months.

Like its workplace equivalent, quiet quitting will look different for everyone. But it comes down to this: Think through everything that is necessary, and everything that is extra. Then, try to eliminate as many “extras” as you possibly can.

Ideally, quiet quitting in the home will lead to some long, overdue conversations about the impact of domestic work imbalance. With willing participants and regular communication, it is possible to more equitably reappropriate cognitive and physical labor.

If no conversations come of it? Well, then at least the person saddled with two-thirds of the household work removed some things from their to-do list, which is a critical start. Blessing Adesiyan, Founder and CEO of Mother Honestly, affirms that to really shift the balance at home, both partners need to make a change. “We don’t need to meditate. We don’t need a gratitude journal,” Adesiyan says. “We are not magically going to self-care our way out of this disaster.”

It’s simple math; one person needs to do less, and the other needs to do more.

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