#16: Tackling gender inequity at home

Apr 3, 2024

Eve Rodsky

About The Episode

This episode is all about invisible labor. 

More specifically, the concept of fairness in relationships when it comes to unpaid domestic work and carrying the mental load at home - something that data shows women shoulder at least two thirds of for their families.

Navigating the mental load is something that comes up often in Parentaly’s coaching programs, especially as we work with new parents figuring out their new normal and the additional responsibilities that working parenthood brings.

So we thought - what better way to dig deep into this topic than with Eve Rodsky, the “Fair Play” champion herself?

Through her Fair Play movement, Eve introduces a real-world solution to equity in the household. Her book is a NYT-best seller backed by Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s media company, whose mission is to change the narrative for women through storytelling.

In this episode, we cover what she means by fair, whether income should dictate the division of household labor, and even how she applies the Fair Play framework to her own marriage.

She also puts Allison in the hot seat for a quick game of Fair Play to show how the framework helps coupled parenting units better split the household labor. 

Links & Resources


Disclaimer: This podcast transcript is autogenerated and may contain minor errors or discrepancies

Allison: Hi Eve, I am thrilled to welcome you to the False Tradeoff podcast.

Eve: Hi, Allison, thank you for having me.

Allison: This has been a long time in the making. We reached out to you a while ago because so many of our listeners, our community, the new parents we work with are completely obsessed with Fair Play, as am I. I have the book. I have the cards. I have unicorn space as well. And so I am going to try and pack as much as I can into the next 20-ish minutes. 

I want to start by asking you about the concept of fair in fair play. So I've heard a lot of interviews where you have said, it's not about being equal, but it's about being fair. It's not about keeping score. It's about being fair. What does fair mean?

Eve: Such a great question. So fair is a concept that has to do with equity, Allison. This idea that equality is not always the right lens in which to look at an issue. And in fact, I've been researching the gender division of labor for over 10 years. It was not on my third grade “What do you wanna be when you grow up” list, I did not say gender division of labor researcher, I think it said veterinarian…such is life, I'm sure you feel the same way. 

And in a world where women shoulder two thirds or more of what it takes to run a home and family, and it gets even worse if you look at it and actually dig down into like the fair play cards and how conception and planning differs from just executing on a card, which we can talk about. 

And as you said earlier, fair play is a metaphor for what it takes to run a home. The home is an organization in Fair Play, the Fair Play movement, and the 100 cards represent those tasks that it takes to run that organization. And so what we found researching, and this is early, early on when Fair Play was not a book, it was not a game, it was just Eve trying to either decide whether to leave my marriage or to stay.

I came across lots of articles about this issue that we're talking about today, that women shoulder all of this unpaid labor for their families. One of the interesting findings I saw was that this idea of perceived fairness was almost actually more important than actual fairness. I decided to stop looking at actual fairness because in the 90s, there was a movement called where if I wake up one morning, then you have to wake up the next morning. If I make $50,000 a year, you have to make $50,000 a year. And it felt really antithetical to all the research about how to run a great organization to do that type of micro-scorekeeping. 

So instead I looked at the data that showed, we're really looking for perceived fairness between the two parties. And to get to perceived fairness in some homes, perceived fairness is in the fair play parlance, women shouldering 76 cards and a partner, often a man, when it's unfair, shoulders one. Sometimes it was a 50-50 partnership in terms of looking at these tasks, but often it wasn't, Alison. And in fact, that was okay with me because I knew fair play was going to do better as a tool, as a resource, if I let people play the way that they wanted to play.

Allison: Yeah.

Eve: And so that's why I look at perceived fairness between the parties. And I start to ask about perceived fairness as opposed to a 50-50 down the line split in terms of domestic tasks.

Allison: I want to pull on that idea of perceived fairness because that actually now makes so much sense to me when I think about all of the inputs that I'm sure couples are thinking about, whether that's who makes more money, who works in office versus working from home, who has to travel a lot. And so I personally struggle with the idea of what is fair because I have a very different job than my husband. And I like this idea of perceived fairness because it's more about let's make the unsaid said.

Eve: Yep.

Allison: So as long as we're on the same page and we have a discussion about all the little things that have to happen to make the household run, maybe it is that one person has more cards than the other, but now we feel like it's fair because we've actually talked about it as opposed to, I think the whole concept here is like, if you don't talk about it, there's usually one person who is sort of spewing in resentment of everything you're doing.

Eve: Yep. Well, as right, what was that, you know, we talked about third grade. I think they also put something on the board, right? Like assumptions make an ass out of you and me, right? So what one woman, if you want to put that succinctly, said to me that what Fair Play taught her was that she doesn't have a magical vagina that whispers in her ear to tell her what her husband's mother wants for Christmas. 

And so if we can get rid of this assumption of these magical vaginas, right? That somehow we know how to do everything better. And then in fact, we internalize that by saying somehow, women are better multitaskers. In the time it takes me to tell him/her/they what to do, I should do it myself. You know, we say things like, well, my job is more flexible. We start to internalize these toxic time messages is what I call them. So that we justify, we become complicit in our own oppression. Because we start to justify why we believe what we believe. 

And so if we can take a sort of a step back and say, yes, fairness is going to look different for everybody. But the one thing I'm asking for is to replace your assumptions for some version of structured decision making. And we know, and Jessica Nordell has a great book called The End of Bias, that the way to end bias, actually, in many areas, not just in the home, is to replace assumptions with structured decision-making. And unfortunately, the structured decision-making, Allison, can't just be on who does what in the home. Otherwise, fair play cards would have been invented years and years ago. 

Unfortunately, what we need to address is just bigger than who does what. It's looking at getting rid of assumptions and adding that structured decision-making for three things. Systems, which is what we just talked about, that is the who does what, the tasks, the fair play cards. But unfortunately, that's not enough. You also have to have those assumptions traded for structured decision-making around our boundaries, how we perceive each other's time, and also structured decision-making tools for how we communicate.

Allison: Mm-hmm.

Eve: And so that's why Fair Play had to become a movement because it's really a secret formula for how to run your home, recognizing that of course what you do is so important because we need to have corporations be involved and we need the federal government involved and state governments involved to make things easier for parents. 

So thank you, Alison, for all of your incredible work. But at least we know if we're breathing polluted air, we still have to breathe. And so what Fair Play says is that you can take agency in your own home while we wait for these other things to happen and part of that taking agency in your own home is that structured decision-making around a secret formula of boundaries, systems and communication.

Allison: What role does money have in this? You do talk about this in your book around how part of the problem potentially is that, as a sweeping generalization in heterosexual couples, the man usually makes more than the woman. And so it's sort of this default of, well, if he makes more money, then I should be, it's more expensive for him to be doing these things around the house. How do you think about navigating that financial piece? Is this about money or is it not really?

Eve: It's not at all about money. It's literally the opposite of about money. And for two reasons. One, because men will always make more money than women for now because of the gender pay gap, because of the assumptions that women do more in the home. 70% of our pay gap is, and the fact that we don't get promoted is due to the fact that we have something called the motherhood penalty. 

And so we absolutely cannot look at this as a money situation or who has more flexibility in their job because that will always put the power back to men and it will never ever break any of the systems and we'll just keep repeating the same cycle, same shit different decade. So instead I like to say that we have to look at time and how you wanna live and act in your home organization.

And I fundamentally believe, regardless of who makes more money, that we have to look at our time equally. There's equity, like I said earlier, in how many cards you may hold. I'm not saying that just because somebody makes more money, they should hold more cards or the exact same amount of cards. That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that this is a boundaries issue. 

So before you can get to who does what, we have to look at what does it mean to hold and respect a true boundary for the people who live with you in your home, AKA your partner. And that is to look at that person and say, I don't care how much money you make. I see that you have 24 hours in a day and you deserve as much time choice over how you use those hours as I do. That's the fundamental premise of fair play, right? 

Allison: Yeah.

Eve: Yes, of course, when Seth took over cards, and we'll talk about sort of how that happens, but as Seth started to adopt the Fair Play system and hold unpaid labor, it was changing my life. But really the true change was Seth looking at me and saying, I can't believe I ever looked at your time as money. Your time is your time. And you deserve as much time choice over how you use your day as I do. And if I'm getting three hours after our kids go to bed, four hours after our kids go to bed to watch SportsCenter, work out, finish a PowerPoint deck, where you, Eve, are doing things in service of our home until your head hits the pillow, two hours after my, I go to bed. That's fundamentally unfair. And we're not gonna live that way anymore. 

And so that's what I'm looking for. I'm looking to retire the conversation about who makes more money and instead look at each other and say, let's not even go there to who does what yet, but can we look at each other and both say that we acknowledge we both just get 24 hours in a day and we both wanna maximize those hours and how we use those hours and we both perceive each other as people who deserve fairness and how we get to use those hours. It's a very different lens.

Allison: Yeah, my husband is going to love that we are doing this episode right now. So I am the stereotypical man in our relationship in the sense that he does virtually everything for our house. He does all the cooking. And as you know, it's not just cooking, it's meal planning every week. It's going to the grocery store. It's feeling stressed every time we're getting low on certain things that he knows that our first grader likes, but our 3-year-old doesn't. He owns that. He does basically every single thing around the house. 

Eve: Hahaha. Yes, yes, of course.

Allison: And then one time I said, well, I do the cleaning. And he said, you write the check to the cleaning lady and half the time forget to write the check for that. So I am actually counter to what you would normally see. And so for us, reading your book, using the cards, has actually been incredibly helpful. And I think that actually it's less about who makes more money or not. And for us, it's been two different things. 

I'm curious to get your feedback on this. One is we talk a lot about our comparative advantage. My husband loves to cook. He's really good at it. And so we've defaulted to him cooking every meal. That's one thing is like, where is your comparative advantage? The problem is he's better at everything than I am. So all of a sudden, he's doing everything.

Eve: Mm-hmm. Correct. And that's what women will hear, that they're better at everything. It's called weaponizing competence. So we actually can't use that lens, right?

Allison: Right! Right. And then the other thing we talk about is my job is very different as an entrepreneur. I have an unlimited amount of time that I could work. So it's not that I'm relaxing a lot. It's that I'm working a lot. But to your point, I think what you're challenging me on is like, that's also my choice. And I love my job. And so if I want to take my free hours and put them to work, that is my choice. If he wants to take his free hours and put them to watching TV or whatever else he may want to do, that's his choice.

Eve: Correct.

Allison: And I think that's the piece that I didn't fully internalize until this conversation.

Eve: That is his choice, absolutely, because at the end of the day, you are both just saying to each other that you respect, that you both get choice over how you use your time. Now, again, what I will say is that the person usually doing unpaid labor typically will be the person who probably needs more unicorn space, which I call that, which is this idea of being able to sort of escape from daily life. If we don't have unicorn space, we often default to hedonic pursuits like edibles and mommy and daddy juice and doom scrolling and watching lots of freaking TV because the jobs of unpaid labor are so undervalued in society that there's a lot of depression and angst around that work. 

If it was more valued, right, this is again why Fair Play is a movement and not just a game. If we valued an hour holding our child's hand, and the pediatrician as much as we valued an hour in a boardroom, then the people doing the unpaid labor probably wouldn't need as much time choice to do some of that, Mommy juice, edibles, all the things that we have to do to get us through our days. Because that work is, it's so taxing, it's so undervalued, but it's also incredibly overwhelming. 

But as I like to say, especially for the men out there who are still saying things like, well, if my wife is so overwhelmed, just get help. What's nice about the Fair Play cards is that it helps you, again, if you're gonna use it as a scorekeeping tool, then please don't come to this amazing podcast. This is to really understand that this tool of who does what in the home is really meant to, instead of looking, like I said, it's like, will you do that or I do this? It's meant to say, these are literally our humanity, Allison, right? So we wanna start valuing. And so I'll just do this with you, just so you see what I mean. 

So a lot of times what we're asking people to do is look at their deck, first of all, and say, can you take things off? Because even if your partner wasn't the one holding that as many cards, what you would realize is that even when two people are able to manage the load, it's still overwhelming even if you have a fair partner because it is more than a nuclear family can handle. Let's just say that in America. And that's what you're working on. You're working so beautifully, right, to help and invite corporations into their full power and helping in this caregiving conversation.

But I think some of the beauty of understanding that this is not a who does what conversation. And even if it changes, Allison, and one day you go back to being the default, the she-fault, and your partner ends up in an entrepreneurial role, or they take a job, things change. And so the goal is to have some fluidity, but understand how valuable these cards are.

Allison: Mm-hmm.

Eve: So I just think it would be fun to play a game. So, and then again, as you, the person who holds less…what's your partner's name? Jake, Jake. No, I was just gonna say we love you, Jake, but I want, you know, again, to value what Jake does. So let's just, I'm just gonna pick a card. Let's just go.

Allison: I'm sweating.

I actually asked him last night, I said, how much am I allowed to talk about you on this? And he got real nervous.

Eve: Oh well that's all I wanted to say. This is not about him, this is about you. All right, but keep going, keep going. Just tell me when to stop. I'm just gonna keep shuffling.

Allison: No, we can do it. He's totally fine with that. I mean, I think what I have realized, what I didn't appreciate is how taxing it was for him. Even the other day, he thanked me for buying new toothbrushes for the kids. And I said, why'd you thank me for that? And he said, well, because I can't believe you noticed. And I just, it was such an insight into, he's always looking around, noticing how to keep, and by the way, he's a full-time big job as well. Like, it's not like he's, there is no difference in like, I don't know how he ended up taking over everything and the mean selfish person is like I hit the jackpot but like the loving person is like this is not sustainable.

Eve: Well, it's never sustainable, but that's also why you check in. And that's why I said it's a boundaries, systems and communication formula. Because if you thought that it was sustainable to never talk about the home, Allison, then it's like you telling me and coming to my check-in and I'm your doctor. And for you to say to me, you know, I say to you, are you fit? And you legitimately say to me that you exercised once in 2014, right? And yes, you were fit. 

Allison: Right.

Eve: Just say stop. Okay, let's see what we picked. Okay, here we go.

Allison: Okay, stop.

Eve: All right, here we go. Bedtime routine. I wanna know about your childhood. That's what I wanna know. I wanna know what your bedtime routine looked like when you were a kid.

Allison: Honestly, I have no idea.

Eve: Okay, so tell me what you do remember about it. Like, so you're seven years old, you're home. Who was there? Did you remember who put you to bed?

Allison: I think both of my parents. 

Eve: Okay, so you had two parents home, okay. Did you have siblings?

Allison: Yeah, and I shared a room with my middle sister, I'm the oldest, I shared a room with my middle sister. And so she, my memory of bedtime is always with her.

Eve: Oh, I love that so much. Are you still close?

Allison: Yeah. She moved into my neighborhood a few blocks away because, as you know, you can't survive all of the stuff without family.

Eve: Okay, so look what I just learned about Allison in that 11 seconds. I learned more about you than in this whole conversation. I learned that you had two parents in your home. I learned that you had a sister that you got to sleep with at night. I learned that you have a family member close by to hopefully pinch in or pinch in, pitch in for all the safety net reasons we need people close to us when we have families.

That's what I'm looking at. Because the problem is if we look at this conversation as just who does what, or if you're so overwhelmed, just get help, or stop complaining because they make more money, which is where your question started, then we end up in the scorekeeping mentality that really is a race to the bottom.

If we look at these cards or these tasks, the 100 tasks that represent sort of this fair play movement, and we look at them as our humanity, that they're our core memories, bedtime with your sister is probably one of the reasons you're close to her now, I'm gonna say. Then we know a lot about Allison. We also know maybe where Allison would come from. 

So say I see later on that you and your partner have a disagreement about whether kids should share a room. That may come, Seth and I had that disagreement. I wanted my kids to share a room. He wanted them to have their own room. Again, that's a privilege. I was afraid growing up, but I also didn't have a parent who put me to bed at night because my mother was a professor. She was a single mother and she taught night classes. So I put my disabled brother to sleep, but I put him on a mat in my room and I wouldn't let him leave my room because I was scared at night to go to sleep by myself. So I do value kids sharing a room, whereas my partner had his own room, Seth, and he thinks it's important to value that independence and people are going to want their own room as they become teenagers.

Allison: Yeah.

Eve: Actually some values conversations around, do our kids share a room or not? And so the point is that happens with all these cards, but we don't start from a perspective of understanding our own memories. And so we forget where our values are coming from. And so that's what I ask people to do. Take a step back. If you can't even imagine having this conversation with your partner, start to remember your own memories. As Alison said in the beginning, she's like, I don't even remember, I've never thought about that for a while. We don't think about these things. And so start with yourself, start with yourself, because then when you understand yourself better, you'll have better points in which to bring to the conversations with your partner.

Allison: That's amazing. And our kids do share a room. And you're right. We never discussed why. I mean, we talked about how we thought it would be cool for them to have each other. We tried it. They loved it. And it's like their security blanket. But you're right, we never really parsed through the why. Yeah.

Eve: Amazing. Yes, yes, and I love that. I bet, I'm gonna guarantee that part of your underlying why was the fact that it was something that you did and you had value in it.

Allison: Yeah, yeah. Okay, we are almost at the end. This is amazing. I still had so many other questions for you. We like to end with rapid fire questions. We put on LinkedIn that you were coming on. A ton of people sent us questions. So the idea here is to answer them as quickly as possible because I know we're running out of time. And actually some of them I'm going to cross off because we've already hit some of them. 

Eve: Love it. Let's do this again, let's do this again for Unicorn Space for a 2.0.

Allison: Yeah, I know I was going to say I haven't even gotten to that section. Oh my goodness.

So rapid fire here. What is your advice for someone expecting their first child as it relates to fair play?

Eve: Oh my gosh, my number one piece of advice is start on, if you're looking at the boundary systems communication formula, start with communication now. Start implementing a practice of what I call the check-in, where you're not gonna give feedback in the moment, but you have conversations when emotion is low, cognition is high. 

Every single night, 10 minutes with cookie dough or glass of wine, bring a timer, and I don't care if you don't know what to say in the first couple of conversations, Every night, 10 minutes a day, check-in, emotion is low, cognition is high.

Allison: What are the best and worst tasks to outsource?

Eve: Great question. So if you look at the Fair Play cards, there's a hundred of them. 50 cards are actually not outsourceable according to our surveys. So the worst cards to outsource, I would say, would be like medical and healthy living. As much as you love Alexia, your nanny, she's probably not deciding whether or not your child's adenoids are being taken out. But the best cards to outsource are what I call the daily grinds. So daily grind cards are, there's a little coffee cup next to them.

And they are from your data, your data out there, people like you have told me that they love to outsource things if possible, like cleaning, like dishes, laundry, and meal planning. A lot of people are now outsourcing meal planning through certain delivery services and things.

Allison: Funniest story you've heard about a couple's experience with Fair Play.

Eve: Oh my gosh, there's so many. I will say just really quickly, that is probably Richard and Amy, a couple who came to me during the pandemic, where the non-default parent took over a non-outsourceable card called Magical Beings, which includes Santa, Tooth Fairy, Lucky Leprechaun. He became the Tooth Fairy. The first time he was a Tooth Fairy, the Tooth Fairy did not come.

Because they were in fair play, she did not do the verbal assassin, you ruined our child's life. And he did not blame her for forgetting to remind him to put the dollar under the pillow. He took accountability and he tells me, he emails in front of her, toothfairy@gmail.com and said, hey, what happened to the teeth? Like you were supposed to come. And he says that during his workday, he got a response from toothfairy at gmail.com. He showed it to his daughter. So thank you, toothfairy@gmail.com, whoever you are out there. You're doing God's work.

Allison: Hahaha.

Eve: He showed it to his daughter and said, the tooth fairy said there was a supply chain issue with teeth because of the backlog during COVID. And so she's bringing you twice the money. And he's still the tooth fairy, but I love that story because not only did toothfairy@gmail.com come in to save the day, but it shows what happens when you just make these small micro changes.

Allison: Right. Almost done. One personal example. I know you share a lot of personal stories, but maybe one personal story you haven't shared about how fair play has helped your marriage.

Eve: I'd say for me the biggest change in our marriage was Seth was one of the most open-minded thinkers I thought in terms of supporting my career and being a quote unquote feminist, but really, really believed that time is money. And he just couldn't get his head around this idea that because I made less money than him, that he should take on unpaid labor. 

What I will say now is what he says to me, you know, sort of 10 years later, when he holds probably more similar to you, Allison, more cards than I do and still makes more money than me. I will say that he says that there is not one day since he took over this work that he regrets any of it. That for him, his life has only been exponentially better because he knows the fundamental insides and outs of our children.

And so that to me is something I don't get to talk about a lot because we don't reflect often. I tell a lot of early origin stories, but I will say now 10 years later, we talk about it a lot. And there's not one day he says that he regrets anything. And it's been hard, Allison, you know, lice in the bed, people vomiting on him, you know, lots of investment in sports, you know, where your kid sits the bench the whole day.

Allison: Yeah.

Eve: So, lots of disappointments along the way, but doesn't regret it.

Allison: Yeah, so powerful. Final question, where can people, what do you want people to do who are more interested in this? Do you want them to come to you, to find you, to buy your book? And what's coming next for you?

Eve: What do I want people to do? I want them to realize that they are cultural warriors. So, Allison, the fact that you have a partner, Jake, who holds more cards than you do, who does unpaid labor, I need Jake to parent out loud because it's still so rare to have a man be in that role. Jake is a cultural warrior. So that's all I would like for you to do. If you are playing fair, please, please talk about it on LinkedIn, talk about it on your podcast, talk about it with your colleagues. 

The more we can see these dynamics shifting, the more that we're gonna make societal change. And for those of you who are new to Fair Play, what I would say is that, yes, of course you could buy the book, you could buy the cards, but really this is a nonprofit, it's a movement. And so everything can be found at fairplaylife.com. If you can't afford something, we're more than happy to send you all the tools. Just reach out to us at info at everodsky.com or info at fairplaylife.com.

Allison: Wonderful. Well, I've learned a lot today. I think Jake is going to be thrilled to hear this. And it is something that we talk a lot about, about how we are not normal, quote unquote. We are not representative. I need to get better. But also, it is kind of cool that we are starting from a different space. And we can figure that out. And you're right that every time we challenge what the sort of gendered stereotypes is, it does help further that conversation. So I really appreciate that.

Eve: Absolutely, absolutely. Keep letting Jake hold more cards. I'm not gonna let him off the hook that way because I do like that you're challenging those stereotypes. It's very important from a cultural perspective, but also I think from a relationship perspective, all time is created equal and just have that check-in to make sure that things are being perceived as feeling fair to both you and Jake along your amazing ride as an entrepreneur.

Allison: Well, thank you so much. And I hope we continue to stay in touch and continue to learn from you.

Eve: Thank you, Allison.