Do Wives Just Do Double The Work?

The Inbox letter “Double the Work” — in response to this Kichels comic — continues to draw feedback about gender roles and responsibilities in marriage. Below is the original letter, and a sampling of the responses. 


So I know the Kichels about the men completely not listening to the women was just a joke, but it’s given me the opportunity to share something that bothers me quite often with the larger frum community because I am very curious what others would think of this.

I’m 22 (and dating) but my biggest fear about marriage is this idea that women should take care of everything and men are somehow incompetent and must be babied and built up but can’t act like adults, can’t even pay attention to their wives, and women should just take it and do everything because “that’s just men.”

I’ve had many people, mainly women, tell me that I can’t expect help around the house from my future husband and no matter how much I hate to cook, I will have to do it anyway because he can’t help. Not only must I cook, but I have to cook certain foods that nauseate me because he will want it.

I think I’m the only one who feels this way but I’m not sure I want to get married if it just means having to do double the work and never being allowed to ask for help. I really do not understand why we have and perpetuate the idea that men are incompetent and wives are annoying whiners just for needing help.

I would love to hear other people’s take on this.

Name Withheld 

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December 2, 2020
LAST UPDATED 3 years ago

Comments (16)

  1. Avatar

    I could not help myself but respond to the single girl who hates cooking but plans to do it anyway.
    I admire your fervent idealism. I think back to my own childhood, where my father worked, and my mother stayed home and raised her family. So many home-cooked meals, a clean house, a mom available all day, every day. Just like the mishnah you wrote about.
    But somewhere down the road, the game changed. Maybe it was inflation. Perhaps it was expectations. Some fault the seeping in of the secular feminist culture through the cracks of our insular community. Whatever the cause may be, our women have taken on a “man’s role.” Frum women are now at work.
    Those hours where women would be staying home — cooking, cleaning, and mending stockings — are now spent in the office making that money to help pay those bills. And please let’s not start bashing “lavish vacations” that don’t exist. Let’s not debate whether expensive clothes are a prerequisite for a teenage daughter, or whether our children really need summer camp.
    For most families, after willingly paying over 70,000 dollars of tuition for at least six children, there isn’t much left for any of the above. Frum families will gladly work to pay for a yeshivah education as all of us are watching the rest of the world sink into moral disarray.
    This just makes it all the more obvious: If husbands are not making big money, if there is no parental help, if there are no trust funds, if there are no stock market bonanzas, and if there is no federal aid, then there is no choice but for a woman to work.
    So these “confused feminists” you speak of are not really that confused, nor are they feminists. Nor are they refuting the mishnah. They are simply overworked and overstretched — lacking the resources to get it all done.
    Women today are waking up in the middle of the night for their babies, chugging coffee, and davening before running a carpool. Then they are racing off to work, leaving work early to food shop, and then carpool again. After that, it is helping with homework, making dinner, and sweeping the floor. All the while hoping that there will be no snag such as a flat tire, a sick child, or trouble at work that will make this house of cards fall down like the huge pile of dishes in her sink.
    These “confused feminists” you speak of are only asking one question: How can I do a woman’s job, if I am doing a man’s job?

  2. Avatar

    To the single girl who is worried that all responsibilities will fall on her after marriage: I teach my talmidim multiple times a year that I expect them to help out at home and be true partners to their wives. Every good rebbi I know does the same, incorporating it into their shiurim over the year. The more rebbeim that do this, the better off these boys will be.
    May you find your zivug hagun b’karov.

  3. Avatar

    In response to all the single girls who hate to cook, I wanted to add that I was once a single girl who hated to cook (and clean, and babysit, and lots of other household stuff). Now I’m baruch Hashem a mother of ten and I’m still mostly undomesticated — but I love to cook for my family and take care of my own children.
    I am blessed to have a wonderful cleaning lady who keeps me sane and a wonderful husband who chips in with the bathrooms and floors when she doesn’t show up (which was the case for six months during the COVID lockdown).
    But I want to reassure all those singles that whether or not you like to cook has nothing to do with wanting to nurture your own family, with whatever that entails. As long as you have your priorities straight and you see it as a privilege and blessing to build a Jewish home and family, you’ll grow into your role. Don’t worry so much about the details!

  4. Avatar

    The moment I saw the letter in the Inbox from the single woman concerned that her husband would never help around the house, I knew I could expect a series of responses the following week. True to their reputation, Mishpacha printed an array of responses, all reassuring and informative. There was however, one element that I would have liked addressed: This woman pointed out that men are often portrayed as incompetent.

    To that I would like to say: I agree wholeheartedly. Humor not only serves to entertain, but can create and perpetuate stereotypes in a subtle and dangerous way. Our frum world has been seriously affected by secular society, where TV depicts dads characterized as clueless, incapable annoyances, while the moms are powerful and smart.

    We see the same stereotype when Jewish kids’ song tapes feature a mom scolding everyone in the house — including the dad — for not having enough zerizus to take out the garbage. We see it at the Shabbos table when women make silly comments that put down their husbands, comments that would be considered horribly insensitive if made by the husband about the wife.

    Unfortunately, there can sometimes be a major double standard in the respect afforded to men versus women in our community. It’s not overt — that would be mean. Instead, it’s in our humor columns and our anecdotal talk, and that can have the greatest impact.

    Furthermore, in relation to discussion on “real men washing the dishes”: I have never heard anyone say that “real women do tax reports” or “a good wife would offer to change a flat once in a while.”

    I don’t think the problem here is men doing the dishes or not, but rather that instead of being characterized as fools, they should be given due respect for the role they play in consistently supporting and securing their families’ needs, both spiritual and physical.

  5. Avatar

    I’d like to respond to the Mishpacha reader who wrote in saying that women must realize it’s their job to cook and clean (using the Mishnah to back her up) and that women should only ask for help if there is a dire need.

    In my opinion, unless we want women to stop wanting to get married and raise large families (which is a value for us, I hope) we (as a whole) must encourage husbands to help around the house. Here’s why.

    -Most women nowadays contribute to the family finances, which according to the Torah is a man’s job. So, if we’re going to be so finicky about whose job is whose, then the kollel system will fall apart. It can’t work unless a husband helps out his wife, significantly.

    -Most women nowadays who don’t support the family need an outlet/social life (or both) outside of the house to keep them sane. Sometimes the outlet/social life makes money. Then great, it’s a win-win. Sometimes it doesn’t, which is tricky because it’s unrealistic for a woman to shoulder all of the household responsibilities along with endeavors out of the house.

    -Women used to live near their mother, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts, who would help pitch in to raise the family. This is not the case nowadays for many women, so men must be aware that even if a woman’s sole responsibility is running the home, she’s gonna need help from somewhere to make it happen.

    As for me, my husband came into our marriage with the notion that it’s not his job to help out. Baruch Hashem, with the right marriage guidance, and using the advice from the amazing book The Empowered Wife by Laura Doyle, a lot was able to change for me, although, unfortunately, due to influential people in my husband’s life who tell him that it isn’t his job to help out, it’s not perfect, and I compensate by hiring lots of cleaning help without feeling guilty (even though we can’t really afford it… it’s either that or paying a therapist).

    Husbands happily helping out is the only way we can keep our marriages strong. We don’t need our husbands anymore for parnassah or to physically protect us. We need their companionship — and helping out a wife struggling to raise a family is top-notch v’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha.

  6. Avatar

    Your letter perplexes me. You say that you’re dating, and yet there don’t seem to be any good reasons for you to get married, according to what you write.

    From what I’ve understood from your letter, marriage means living with an incompetent and selfish being of the opposite gender who tolerates you (and your whining) for your cooking and dishwashing capabilities. Well, if that’s the prize for giving up a well-paid, career-oriented, responsibility-free single life, the girls must be flocking.

    Allow me, as another 20-year-old single in shidduchim, to present to you my own view on marriage.

    Firstly, a definition: Marriage is a partnership between two people who share a common goal and want to build it together.

    The way I see it, in marriage you can either care about equality, or you can care about attaining your goal.

    Equality is a mirage. Women will never be equal to men if equality means being able to do everything men do. On the other hand, when two people work toward a common goal, each of them contributes his specific skills and the idea of “equality” is irrelevant.

    The point is that when you’re working together, things cease to be an expression of the unfair prejudices husbands have regarding wives, and become simply another task that needs doing to reach your goal. When the husband is better equipped for a certain task, he does it — in some homes the husband does the cooking, or a portion of it. When the wife is better equipped — and being equipped doesn’t only mean enjoying it (because she doesn’t always), but also having the skills and weighing them against those of her husband — she does it, as the wife does the cooking in most cases.

    This balance of skill sets fluctuates with changes in circumstances. So, regarding your example, if cooking a certain food nauseates you, that ceases to be part of your skill set because the negative effects outweigh the positive ones. A husband who views his wife as a robotic cook and dishwasher would understandably be annoyed at her failure to continually produce the same level of cooking. But a caring husband wouldn’t want his wife to continue making those foods and end up miserable, and wouldn’t mind helping in the kitchen or around the house if she needed it, and as far as he could.

    I blatantly refute what these “many people, mainly women” have been telling you, and can assure you that I intend to have a loving, respectful marriage where I take responsibility for the tasks that are in my domain, and ask my husband for help when I need it. I can also assure you that, since I may lack credibility due to my lack of experience, I’m drawing on knowledge of my parents’ marriage as well as those of my friends and relatives.

    Perhaps you should be getting advice from different people. Or perhaps you have been assaulted by an overload of eitzeh-gebbers. Either way, there’s a reason why middos is always first on people’s lists.

  7. Avatar

    Perhaps the 22-year-old letter writer should take a break from dating and think a bit more about what marriage is all about and why Hashem created it in the first place.

    Both men and women are incompetent somewhere and that’s just it — both have their strengths, both have their weaknesses — both in different areas, so their lives together will be a life of respect, avodas hamiddos, and ve’halachta bidrachav — emulating Hashem by becoming givers.

    Hashem is purely a Giver — He has no needs at all. And so, to emulate Him, the wife supplies her husband with his needs, even those that aren’t shared — think cooking food for him that she doesn’t especially like — and he gives to her things he wouldn’t need at all — think a compliment, a necklace for Yom Tov, or constant encouragement.

    Lo tov heyos he’adam levado applies to both of them equally. Today’s i-generation personifies what happens to a person focused on self-fulfilment to the exclusion of everyone else. You might call that type of person an annoying whiner!

    Maybe one of your wonderful columnists can run a series on this topic that is so foreign to today’s singles who are bombarded and befuddled by a constant barrage of women’s lib propaganda, and who have not yet realized that the greatest joy a person can possibly experience is the giving between husband and wife, parents and children — and all of us to Hashem.

  8. Avatar

    Regarding the letters about future husbands who won’t help their wives with housework. I was one of those at age 20. I was not learning in kollel. My wife was studying in college and then in graduate school for a master’s degree in special education. I was in law school, flunked out, and then went to work in a family business. We eventually made aliyah at age 32.

    Very early in our marriage I asked my young wife to serve me breakfast cereal. She went to the cabinet and took out a box of cereal and put it on the table. She then took out a bowl and spoon and put them on the table. Finally, she took out a container of milk and put it on the table. She then said, “Did you see what I did? That’s the last time I’m doing this.”

    I’ve been serving myself breakfast ever since.

    I’m now 72 years old and a new widower since Yom Kippur itself. I thank my wife Laura z”l that, because of her, I also know how to do the laundry, how to use the vacuum cleaner, etc., etc.

    I wish all the young couples a happy, healthful, and cooperative life together until 120.

  9. Avatar

    I was kind of befuddled and disturbed when last week’s Inbox included three responses, all basically saying the same thing — namely, “MY husband helps around the house, so who’s feeding you this nonsense? And if you marry a mensch, you’ll be fine.” You are asking this young woman to ignore what she has heard from her many married friends, and instead listen to three anonymous people who kindly took the time to write.

    These three women are very lucky that they married helpful husbands. But to deny the fact that most men are simply not as domesticated and in tune to the household needs is to deny the basic makeup of men. Just take a look at a typical boys’ dirah as compared to a girls’ apartment.

    The problem with this young woman’s worldview is in that she views marriage as nothing more than “just having to do double the work and never being allowed to ask for help.” Marriage is not just about who works more in the house. Marriage is a sanctity and bond between two people, who each come along with their own personal, individual makeup. It is about building a family, a home, and creating a place where the Shechinah can rest.

    Marriage is uniting with another person and recognizing that you each bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. While women have to put up with some annoying habits of men, men have to accept some bewildering and frustrating tendencies of women as well.

    In the olden days, it was a point of pride for a woman that her man could come home after a long day and rest his feet while his wife served him his cup of tea. Today, with the inroads of feminism, we have taken to expect men to take on a role that is contradictory to their nature, while berating them for being “incompetent [people who] can’t act like adults.”

    While recognizing that women today work just as hard outside of the house as men, the basic natures of men and women have not changed. So to the young woman who wrote the original letter: While I validate your perception that men are not domestically inclined, as you have already heard from many other people, and which you have gathered from your 22 years of life experience, I hope you learn to understand that marriage is not a transactional endeavor where it’s all about who does what. It is about finding the other half of your soul, and through which you can both grow as human beings and ovdei Hashem.

    I hope you find your zivug hagun in the right time, and when the time comes, yes, you are allowed to ask for help. But please don’t disrespect your husband (and all men) for having been born with a different nature than yours.

  10. Avatar

    In my home, I sometimes cook, clean, and watch the kids. I’m also a husband, father, and earn a living, and I certainly don’t do any of these tasks alone. My amazing wife does each one of these things as well, and together we get through the amazing dance called married life.

    The letter writer behind “Double the Work” is causing me to assume that a few of her friends are in unhappy marriages and I would recommend not getting your life’s advice from these people. There are certainly marriages that involve very divided responsibilities. In the traditional version, the wife might be managing the home while the husband is providing the income. In your letter you mentioned that this causes the woman to have double the work — however, you neglected to realize that the man in that example is also required to earn double the money. If you plan to never spend money on anything, then you may have a legitimate concern, but I suppose that won’t be the case. (Please ask your friends if they occasionally spend money earned by their husbands.)

    More commonly, however, responsibilities in a healthy relationship are shared. Perhaps one party might do more of one specific thing, but the other is ready to pitch in when needed. So as you begin/continue your search for the right partner in life, I suggest that you seek out one who shares your concerns. Someone who will be there for you when you need and want it. Believe me, those people exist. My wife did it, and she approves this message.

  11. Avatar

    I was so sad to read the letter of a 22-year-old single girl and her cynical view of marriage. It bothered me so much that I thought about it all Shabbos.

    My husband is probably one of the husbands the letter writer looks at with disdain. He has little to do with the day-to-day inconveniences and schedules of our home. He doesn’t remember which day we do car pool and forgets most weeks which day the cleaning lady comes. But he is the biggest support I could ever wish for.

    He bathes the kids, changes diapers, puts away groceries, and does laundry (although sometimes he messes that up and we lose a few good Shabbos clothes each season). And although his cooking abilities only include grilled cheese and hot dogs, he is the first to beg me to buy, instead of bake, cake for Shabbos and will be the one to suggest we order pizza when I am overwhelmed.

    His main goal is to make my life as easy and trouble-free as possible. And although he doesn’t do well with the trivialities of life (he once forgot his photo ID for an airplane trip after I packed every other thing), he is there for me as a support in both ruchniyus and gashmiyus. I discuss any big or small matter with him and value his advice above all else.

    I am happy to deal with the mundane matters and leave him to guide our family in matters of hashkafah and chinuch. Is the captain of the ship busy with the mess hall staff scheduling? Does a rosh yeshivah deal with the bed placements in the dorm? My husband is the strongest and most dependable person I know for the things that really matter. He is my best friend, the one who cares about me more than anyone in the world, and carries my problems as his own.

    Please don’t misunderstand a husband’s inability to deal with the details of life as meaning he is useless. On the contrary, there is no better partner to encourage you and support you through life than a loving spouse.

  12. Avatar

    So I know the Kichels about the men completely not listening to the women was just a joke, but it’s given me the opportunity to share something that bothers me quite often with the larger frum community because I am very curious what others would think of this.
    I’m 22 (and dating) but my biggest fear about marriage is this idea that women should take care of everything and men are somehow incompetent and must be babied and built up but can’t act like adults, can’t even pay attention to their wives, and women should just take it and do everything because “that’s just men.”
    I’ve had many people, mainly women, tell me that I can’t expect help around the house from my future husband and no matter how much I hate to cook, I will have to do it anyway because he can’t help. Not only must I cook, but I have to cook certain foods that nauseate me because he will want it.
    I think I’m the only one who feels this way but I’m not sure I want to get married if it just means having to do double the work and never being allowed to ask for help. I really do not understand why we have and perpetuate the idea that men are incompetent and wives are annoying whiners just for needing help.
    I would love to hear other people’s take on this.

    1. Avatar

      To the young woman who’s scared her future husband will never help out at home, I don’t know who you are getting your information from, but I really don’t think you have to worry about marriage meaning “double the work and never being allowed to ask for help.” If your husband is a halfway-decent man, he will be eager and happy to serve as an equal partner in building a home together.
      I, too, find it strange when men are portrayed as wimps who are incapable of childcare or housework. Because the husband I know (and many other men too) is sometimes better at juggling it all than I am! A real man is strong and capable and will take great care of his wife and family.
      Wishing you hatzlachah on your dating journey, and may you find a man who will make you laugh that you were once “hesitant about marriage.”

    2. Avatar

      Dear Dating 22-Year-Old,
      Your letter made me feel frustrated. Who’s been feeding you all this nonsense? I wish I could take you on a long walk and explain some things to you.
      Here’s what I would want to tell you: A bit about my own incredibly helpful husband of over ten years, who spends Friday afternoons in the kitchen cooking for Shabbos, and while he’s a serious learner who isn’t home so much, is always totally available to help with the kids when he is home. About my father, who cleans for Pesach and helps serve the Shabbos meals. About my friend’s husband, who does the shopping and makes his kids eggs for breakfast.
      I know different husbands have different comfort levels vis-a-vis help in the kitchen, with the children, and with jobs they perceive as the woman’s. And I’ll be the first to say that I think it’s so important for woman to retain clarity that when her husband helps at home, he is helping with her responsibilities, the same way a woman who works to bring parnassah is helping her husband with his responsibilities.
      But the specifics of a man’s comfort level with shopping or cooking aside, the point is this: When a woman asks her husband for help, a person with good middos will help! If you are lying on the couch in early pregnancy terribly nauseous and ask your husband to help with supper because you’re not up to it, a husband with good middos isn’t going to say, “Sorry, that’s your responsibility.” He might make grilled cheese for the two of you, he might order pizza, he might ask his mother for help if she lives nearby, but he won’t just dump it on you!
      As for all the woman who are telling you that men are incompetent and don’t listen and don’t help — I’m not going to deny that they are experiencing that if that’s what they told you. But I wonder: Could they possibly have chosen to stick to the role of the martyred, no-one-helps-me-ever wife? Men aren’t good with hints. But did these women ever go over to their husbands on a bad day and say, “I’m having a hard time. Can you please do such and such, just for today, so I can rest?”
      Ask them. Maybe the answers will surprise you.
      Wishing you hatzlachah in finding your zivug hagun soon, and all the joy a healthy Jewish marriage brings.

    3. Avatar

      Thanks for a great magazine. I’d like to respond to the letter writer of “Double the Work” in response to the Kichels, who keeps hearing that men don’t help their wives:
      You’re obviously talking to the wrong people! Marriage is a tremendous brachah, and any ben Torah who is a baal chesed and baal middos will help out at home as much as he can, given his scheduling constraints. Just read the gedolim biographies or go into the houses of those who espouse these values.
      Of course everyone has different jobs that they do, and for practical reasons, many women spend more time on housework/cooking than men, but in a marriage based on Torah values, spouses help each other when they’re overwhelmed.
      I’m not writing from a modern or feminist perspective at all, but just from the perspective of someone whose husband and sons are bnei Torah who help out in the house. If I’m overwhelmed by childcare or household tasks, I just speak up and they lend a hand.
      My older boys can cook Shabbos on their own and often cook one or two dishes to contribute to Shabbos when they’re home, and my husband often helps out with tidying up. We work together so my husband and boys use their time efficiently and make Torah learning their first priority, but there are times where they can fit in helping around the house, and they do.
      On my end, I try to push myself so that they can maximize their time for learning, and on their end, they try to push themselves so that they can help out; we build each other up and don’t keep cheshbonos about who did how much housework.
      The Kichels are appreciated and beloved, and they enable us all to take a lighthearted, happy look inside frum society, but ultimately we each build our own realities and our own chinuch in our own homes.

    4. Avatar
      This is Our Role

      In this past week’s inbox, a letter writer shared her feelings of unease regarding being told that she “can’t expect help around the house” from her future husband. I too am a girl who is currently in the parshah, and I too have heard about this reality many times. I would, however, like to offer a different perspective.
      As maaminim bnei maaminim, we know and believe that the Torah — which includes Torah shebe’al peh — is our guide to life and is the absolute Truth. What does the Mishnah tell us about a wife’s role in the home? “These are the tasks a woman must perform for her husband: She grinds (the flour), she bakes, she washes, she cooks…” The Mishnah also says that if there is someone else (specifically, a maidservant) available to do these tasks, then the wife does not need to do them. However, it is clear from the language of the Mishnah that if there is no maidservant around (or, in today’s terms, if your cleaning lady doesn’t stop by on a daily basis), the responsibility for getting household tasks done lies with the wife.
      So yes, “no matter how much I hate to cook, I will have to do it anyway” — but that is true because it is your job to be the one who does the cooking, not because your husband “can’t help.” As Torah Jews who believe that men and women have different roles — not as indignant, confused feminists who believe that household responsibilities should be split fifty-fifty between husband and wife no matter what — we declare without apology that the ultimate responsibility of keeping the kitchen running belongs to the wife.
      However, as far as I know, most Torah Jews do not believe — and nowhere in the Mishnah does it say — that a wife is “never… allowed to ask for help.” When a married woman tells her single counterpart not to expect help from her future husband, I don’t think the married woman means that she would hesitate to ask her husband to wash a sink of dishes if she was feeling completely worn out one day. It just means that she doesn’t expect her husband to help unless she really needs the help, and that otherwise she accepts full responsibility, day in and day out, for doing the laundry and mopping the floor and baking the brownies. Not because she is a martyr, not because men “can’t act like adults,” not because men “can’t even pay attention to their wives,” but because it is ultimately your job and not your husband’s job to do these tasks.
      In cases where the wife cannot do all of the household tasks on a consistent basis (maybe she gets overwhelmed easily, or she just had a baby, or she is the primary breadwinner and just can’t do it all), of course a wife should ask her husband for help and of course she should expect that her husband will step up to the plate if he can. But otherwise, the wife is the one whose job it is to “take care of everything” that the Mishnah lists. That is our way.
      Another single girl who hates cooking but plans to do it anyway

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