There is no one ingredient that turns a romantic relationship into a marriage – people propose for a cluster of reasons. It is never just because someone you date has a pretty smile or are well read and a good listener. People propose because all these factors are present in a single being, which makes the person imagine a lifetime of pleasant, easy loving.

Marriages also fail not because of one flaw – people rarely leave their partners for infidelities alone. Marriages survive lean financial times, interfering in-laws, bad sexual patches. Many marriages unravel when one part of the couple decides that the other is not easy to live with.

In 2019 there are as many women as there are men in the work place. Women go to school, then to university, and graduate to hold responsible professional jobs. The trajectory of a girl’s educational future is as positive as that of a boy; in fact most homes in South Africa are headed by females who are responsible for both finance and nurturing.

Many marriages fail in 2019 because while women have adapted to the times and joined the work place to become income earners, men are lagging behind and not joining women in being proficient contributors to running the home. Men are still under the impression that housework is women’s work.

When I was married with four kids, three under the age of ten, I worked full-time and brought in half the household income, but my ex-husband considered the house entirely my department. He would act helpless when confronted with household appliances; he never learnt how to sort the colours from the whites; he never learnt to load the laundry into the machine. I alone was responsible for the preparation of all meals – on weekends I would be cleaning, and he would follow me around like a two year old expressing how hungry he was, instead of feeding himself like an adult.

At the end of our marriage I had begun to feel like he was my fifth child. He had a learned helplessness when it came to domestic chores. He would claim that the inside of the house was my turf, and the outside his – an unfair division of labour because a lawn only needs cutting once a week in summer, while dishes need to be washed three times each day.

I tried to express my dissatisfaction at how things were. There would never be any spontaneous washing of dishes from his part, yet he would complain about my lack of spontaneity when it came to initiating sex. In the end the unfair division of labour ended the marriage. I grew tired of being the only one to pick up socks, to launder them, to help the kids with homework, to cook meals, to scrub floors, to change linen. All of this while still bringing half the income. There was no longer any electricity in the marriage. Though I suppose to him there was because he saw me as an appliance, his trusted dishwasher and washing machine and vacuum cleaner!

I remember a particular incident which I decided was not covered by the vows of better or worse, richer or poor. I had four small children, and we were headed out for a family lunch. I remember my ex showering and getting ready while I fed the kids breakfast and changed nappies and packed baby bags and washed breakfast dishes.

Obviously he finished his shower before I finished my list of chores. He then ate and paced around the house, glaring at me, looking impatient. Finally he decided I was being tardy and he went and waited in the car. It took me almost two hours to get all the kids and myself out of the house, also making sure I am leaving the house in a clean state.

When we finally drove away he lamented how slow I am in getting ready for trips. He then compared me unfavourably to himself and bragged about how it took him thirty minutes to get ready for the lunch.

The absolute irrationality of his words made me decide then that I did not want to be married to him. I was tired of him thinking that it takes a uterus to help with getting his kids ready for a trip.

I saw in that moment in the car that to him I was a lesser being because I was female. The fact that he could not see the energy strain of raising kids, and he chose not to offer anything but finances told me that the gender inequalities were too wide between us, and I had no interest in educating him how to be a decent partner.

I joke with friends that my marriage ended because my ex husband would not wash dishes but this jest contains truth.

When I had picked up my seven thousand four hundred and twenty third pair of socks, when I had prepared ninety-five percent of all meals, I finally made the decision that he was not easy to live with and I filed for divorce. Because in the end each of us is looking for someone who will be a partner and a helpful pair of hands.

There is no place where gender inequalities are more glaring than in a home.


Tell us: what’s your take on gender roles?

This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.