Decades ago there was a study in Russia that claimed that a woman worked four more hours a day than a man on average. Men and women were equal in Russia and all had the same 40-hours-a-week jobs. Women were not, by and large, housewives, for they worked full-time.

So where did the additional four hours come from? They were devoted to house chores. In Russia, women did everything at home — at a time when life in Russia was much more difficult. For example, my family didn’t have a washer, or a dryer or a dish-washing machine. Plus, everything was in deficit, so to buy milk or a sweater, women had to stand in lines, sometimes for hours.

My mother was very bitter because her husband, my father, never helped her. So I always hoped that when I got married, my husband would take on some of the house chores.

When I married Andrey, he was somewhat helpful — better than the average Russian husband. Then, when I was at grad school, we had a baby named Alexey. Andrey convinced me that I had to take over all the child care because only women could get academic maternity leave. It seemed logical and I agreed.

In a year, when the leave was over, I felt that Andrey should take over some of these duties. He refused. He insisted that since I already had published a paper when I was an undergrad, and since he still didn’t have his research results for his PhD, that he had to stay focused on his work. I wasn’t strong enough to resist.

We signed up for government child care — private care didn’t exist — but we were on the waiting list for a couple of years. Almost no one in Russia — certainly not graduate students — could afford a private babysitter. I couldn’t really work on my PhD research because between caring for the house and the baby, I never had big chunks of time. The best I could do was to start preparing for my qualifying exams.

Allow me to digress from my main story for a moment to mention my gray notebook. This notebook was our baby diary. Initially I recorded important baby data — like the first time Alexey smiled. But later, as soon as Alexey turned one year old, he became very eloquent; and this notebook became my son’s quote book.

One day Andrey and I went out and my mom babysat Alexey, who was two years old. When we returned, my mother recited the following quote from Alexey:

When will Daddy be back from the university and Mommy from the store?

I don’t really remember the long hours in stores or the cooking and cleaning. I remember the quote.



  1. Hillary:

    That breaks my heart.

  2. Emily:

    I hope you are not still married to this man.

  3. Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog » Blog Archive » Mom, Thank You Very Much:

    […] was limited to exactly three years. My son Alexey was born right after I started it, and I was distracted from my research for quite some time. At that time, my mom, who lived with us, reached her retirement age of 55. Her retirement would […]

  4. Jane:

    When one places career above family on a scale of values, one should not be surprised if one ends up alone, bitter, and in the company of a dog.

  5. Tanya Khovanova:

    This came in by email:

    Dear Tanya Khovanova,

    I hear you, but let’s see. Andrey didn’t want household chores, ok.
    But who does? YOU didn’t want them either, and your deepest wish
    was not to share the chores but to use low-paid (female)
    professionals to do the work you considered most unpleasant. How is
    that fair? They were YOUR kids, your responsability, after all.

    Nowadays, university students have sex & abort like crazy,
    eventually they won’t have children at all, fertility among this
    category being well below replacement level. They want ‘freedom’,
    ‘choice’, whatever.

    To make up for this irresponsability, we’ve got to recruit students
    from all over the world, because the local talent pool is
    shrinking, and somebody still has to do the work, the show must go
    on, the economy can’t stop.

    As for men, many do jobs they hate, so they have money to support
    their wife & kids. Not long ago, they were the ones going to war
    and dying by the tens of millions when the other sex stayed
    comfortably at home. Their life expectancy is shorter, and the
    first victims of male violence are other men.

    The lazy sex came up with all these nice things that you are
    enjoying right now. You would never have had the kind of (easy)
    life you are having now if we had relied on your kind. I mean, we
    would not even exist at all (a good or bad thing, depends who you

    In the household I grew up in, the mother was very bitter for
    having to take care of children she wanted, and the father was very
    bitter for having to do a job he hated in order to support kids he
    didn’t want. The atmosphere was pleasant as you can imagine, both
    fell into drugs to cope with depression. She was hooked on
    antidrepressants, he was a chain smoker. Great, isn’t it? Do you
    envy the mother, the father? Or their kids?

    You are not special, your kind is not, your country is not, humans
    are not, this planet is not, this universe is not special. Remember

    Best regards,

  6. Carnival of Mathematics 69 « JD2718:

    […] Khovanova about externally imposed social differences between male and female mathematicians and this post about the unfairness of the sexual division of labor. And returning to the half+7 rule, this cartoon from…. wait for it…. xkcd. (this is […]

  7. Thalinda:

    My mom used to have the same problem with my dad, she was the one doing all the work and she was really bitter too… But in my relationship is different because I am lazy, I don’t have children, I only have a rabbit but my boyfriend does the cleaning and takes care of the house, takes the trash out and does the laundry. I think this is because I taught him too, because when he tried to help I didn’t say “I’ll do it”, like my mom used to say to my dad. I think is all about asking. and every time he does something like that just say something nice, like “good job”.

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