Fair Play with Eve Rodsky
You know all the work it takes to stay on top of laundry, not let the insurance policy lapse, and keep track of school meetings and doctor’s appointments? All that often-invisible labor was exhausting Eve Rodsky. So she did something about it—for her family, and for all of us.
That something is a brand-new book: Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much To Do and More Life to Live. It’s also a game you can play with your partner, a way for moms to stop being the “she-fault” parent, and—if Eve has her way—a tool for changing the dynamic of practically any relationship.
We were doing everything so fairly. He helped me secure my dream job in philanthropy. I marked up his operating agreements, because I’m a lawyer by trade, as he grew a new business. We took turns doing the dishes. We took turns making each other dinner. Well, cut to two kids later. And I find myself literally sobbing on the side of the road over a text my husband sent me, and that text said, “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.”—Eve Rodksy, author, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much To Do and More Life to Live | Photo © Avia Rosen 2019
We talk about:
- How Eve created the “Shit I Do” list—a massive, viral spreadsheet that made all her invisible labor extremely visible. “How can we value what we don’t see?”
- How that spreadsheet evolved into the Fair Play method (and what her husband thought when she showed it to him).
- What it was like to talk with and test Fair Play with 500 couples from across the country.
- Why the smallest details often cause the biggest fights—like the COO of a publicly traded company locked out of his house over a glue stick.
- Why a 50/50 split often isn’t the answer—but honest conversation is. “this is not about scorekeeping. It’s about ownership.”
Listen to an excerpt:
Plus: fish sticks and frozen veggies for dinner, the pros and cons of being a latchkey kid, and why ownership is such a crucial concept.
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Go to getharvest.com/strongfeelings to get 50% off your first month.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher: This episode is supported by Harvest—our favorite tool for tracking time and staying organized at work. Harvest makes it easy to see how you and your team are spending time, so you can monitor your project’s health, and your workloads. More than 50,000 businesses around the world trust Harvest, and maybe you should too. You can try it for free at getharvest.com/strongfeelings, and when you use that URL, you’re going to get half off your first month. That’s get harvest.com/strongfeelings. [Theme music fades in and plays for 11 seconds.]
SWB: Hey everyone, I’m Sara.
Katel LeDû: And I’m Katel.
SWB: And this is Strong Feelings, a podcast about work, friendship and feminism. And what happens when you bring them all together.
KL: Have you ever felt like if you don’t remind your partner that you’re out of bread, they won’t ever remember to pick some up? Or if you don’t tell them when the kids are due for a dentist appointment, they’d never get their teeth cleaned?
SWB: I mean, I don’t have kids. But.
KL: Well those kinds of day-to-day frustrations are what got today’s guests thinking that something had to change. Her name is Eve Rodsky and her new book is called Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much To Do and More Life to Live—and it’s not just a book, but it’s actually a game that you play with your partner.
SWB: We are going to let Eve tell you all about that, but first I want to talk about a concept that comes up a lot when we talk about domestic labor and that’s the concept of ownership—because it seems like so much of the frustration that people have at home and with their domestic workload is not just the task itself, but who is keeping track of when the task needs to be done, who plans it, who’s got to make the phone call, like the mental checklist—all of those end to end pieces of it. And that those are often the bigger frustration or the bigger amount of mental load.
SWB: It’s not just you know who’s cooking dinner that night. It’s also, well, did one person have to remind the other person that it’s their night? And who thought about what the meal would be in the first place and whether the ingredients were on hand, who made sure they were on the grocery list? And it just goes on and on. And I think that all those other parts in some ways just take a lot more energy than actually chopping and cooking.
KL: Yeah. I feel like I have a mental picture of our toilet paper inventory. I can picture it in our closet and I’m just like, “Ugh, why is this taking up space in my brain?” But I, I do love that Eve spends time talking about sort of that whole picture, not just discrete tasks.
SWB: Yeah. Actually Will is in charge of the toilet paper mental inventory at our home. But, but I feel you. [Laughter.] So something that this makes me think a lot about is how easy it is for us to like discount the work of ownership. And I think we maybe know that it’s often discounted by the people who aren’t doing the labor. Like the person who’s not thinking about how much toilet paper you have isn’t thinking about the fact that knowing how much toilet paper you have, is work. I think we kind of get that, but I think it’s also something, even when you’re the one doing that work, it’s easy for you to discount it too because it’s so invisible. And so we don’t necessarily talk enough about how if you’re the one who’s in charge of all of those things around dinner or if at work, you’re the one who has to think about everything that needs to happen to make sure that the project is completed, how much mental energy goes into that and that sense of responsibility, and just how much weight that means that you have to carry. And I think that when you’re not thinking about how much weight that is and how much it takes from you, it’s easy for you to kind of beat yourself up about it. Like, why am I feeling so stressed or so tired? I’m not really doing that much. It’s not this much work. You know? This should be easy because the actual tasks themselves are not that hard and that’s all you’re counting. And then you’re discounting all this other stuff that you’re doing and you end up just kind of like being down on yourself about it. And I think that that makes it even worse.
KL: Yeah. And that can make it extra hard to break the cycle of that because you have to change your behavior too. I feel like whether I’m assuming the labor because I’m in a situation where that’s expected, whether reasonably or unreasonably, or I’m taking on the labor because yes, I like ownership and I’m used to having control over a lot of stuff. I have to look at my approach and the role I play in that cycle. And I mentioned control because I think that’s a routinely negatively viewed trait, particularly in women—even though taking control fuels a lot of running of households everywhere. And personally I admit that it’s hard to let go of things. I definitely struggle with that. But I also know that the other person in my partnership can’t necessarily be successful if I don’t work towards that. Like, even if we set things up more equitably and we each take on ownership of certain labor, it won’t work if I’m also not willing to say I trust you and I like trust this process.
SWB: Mmmm. So why do you think it is that you’re so quick to take on ownership? Like do you have a sense of how or when you learned that, or became a person who sort of assumed that was their job?
KL: Hmm. Yeah. Well I do want to also mention that some of my desire for control stems from being super young when my father died because I think from that very early experience I had the sense of having zero control over anything, and I didn’t know what would happen next. And I spent a lot of time, you know, growing up worrying about sort of like capital T, the capital P plan. And I felt like I always had to have a plan. And I think additionally because my sister and I had only one parent, we had, we had to pitch in, you know, my sister and I took on responsibilities like cooking for ourselves and cleaning the house. And I was a little latchkey kid in elementary school and you know, so I knew I had jobs that had to get done. And I watched my mom navigate single Parenthood by just getting shit done all the time. And then when my mom got remarried when I was like 10, she just kept doing all the things and my mom and sister and I kept running the home. We were just so used to doing it all.
SWB: Did her husband notice that he wasn’t helping or notice how much your mom was owning? Or did you even really notice what that dynamic looked like? Or is it only looking back that you can see it that way?
KL: Yeah, I mean I think it didn’t seem like he noticed and I think I observed an imbalance, but I probably couldn’t have articulated it. I definitely noticed that my mom was exhausted all the time and she was doing all the domestic labor and holding the mental load of thinking about everything like that. We felt that, but I don’t know that I could have, you know, said it at that point.
SWB: Mmmhmmm. Or really quite understood why that was such a problem.
SWB: Yeah. I feel that. My dad was home a lot more than my mom, but he wasn’t really carrying the mental load. Like he liked to cook for example, but he liked to cook when he felt like it and he was a better cook than my mom. Honestly. She would say the same thing. When he felt like cooking, he definitely cooked interesting meals, but he wasn’t just gonna be responsible for it day in, day out, like thinking ahead. “Oh gosh, got defrost something,” you know? So I did grow up in a home though. There was a very strong sense of ownership culture. Sometimes I think to the extreme, and some of this is sort of generational. I’m an eighties baby, but my childhood was more similar to what I hear from a lot of Gen X folks.
SWB: I was left alone a lot. I had, you know, a latchkey—I had a house key really early. No one was taking me to activities, I had to get myself to school, kind of thing. You know, like “you better leave the house in time to catch the bus. And if you miss the bus, you’re gonna walk and figure it out!” “Figure it out” was the answer to a lot of things in my life. And I figured a lot of stuff out that way, which is great. But it meant a lot of responsibility. And definitely at my home, chores were very serious at a young age and it wasn’t like I was just helping with chores. It was like, you had to just own them and remember to do them, and nobody was going to remind you. And same with things like homework. Homework was very much something that I needed to be on top of without being reminded to sit down and do it. And I had to manage my time to make time to do it, and nobody was going to just sit at the kitchen table with me while I did. It doesn’t mean that nobody would give me help necessarily, but it was on me to be responsible for.
KL: Yeah. And I think like kids and young folks having chores and helping in the household is great, but taking the lead and having to rely on yourself for direction is a lot.
SWB: Yeah, it’s a really great thing to teach kids to have ownership of an end-to-end process or task. But I think that there’s also kind of developmentally appropriate limits to it. So I hear now about all these young adults who call their parents still for everything. And I don’t want to be like, “Oh, those damn kids”—I actually think the youth are great—but I think that there has been this generational shift for a lot of kids, sort of like millennial and then younger where…Sort of millennial and younger, especially amongst families that had more income than mine did. Where we heard this from Mary Pipher a few months ago when we talked to her, kids aren’t getting their driver’s licenses. They aren’t going out on their own. Because so much of their lives have been sort of more facilitated or run by parents than I ever experienced. To the point that now we’re starting to see things like 25-year-olds or 30-year-olds who are scared to make decisions on their own, like setting up a bank account or signing an apartment lease. And I’m not saying like don’t consult your parents for anything, but the idea that there’s so much freezing up and being unable to move forward without calling a parent—well into adulthood—that to me is very foreign. And so I do appreciate a lot of things that I learned as a kid. At the same time, I did say that the ownership culture could be a little extreme in my home.
KL: Yeah. So I mean when did it get really extreme?
SWB: So when I was a kid I was assigned a weekly dinner night, which on its face is not necessarily extreme. But, let me describe it though. So one night per week, every week I had to cook the full family meal, end to end. And not just the cooking, it was the whole ownership, right? So I had to decide what we were going to have for dinner. And there were rules to that, like you had to have a vegetable, had to be considered like a complete meal by the standards of my family at the time. And I had to make sure we had all the ingredients that we needed. So, which means, you were responsible for checking the pantry and the freezer and the cupboard, right? And figuring out what was available, and how do you actually make foods. There’s a lot of learning that went into that. And so if we didn’t have everything I needed, I would have had to plan in advance too, because we only did grocery shopping on the weekends. So that meant that several days in advance of my actual cooking night, I would’ve had to have known what I wanted to make and what we had and what we didn’t have. And then requested certain items in the grocery store. And also understanding that not everything you might want to make is going to be available because we were on a pretty strict budget, so there wasn’t a lot of stuff that we would just buy willy nilly. Right. So it’s more like certain types of staples. Oh yeah, sure we can buy it, we can pick up more of this or that but we’re not going to buy like, I don’t know…
KL: Some like fancy vegetable that you may or may not throw in the mix.
SWB: Right, exactly. Like we weren’t going to buy something that was going to be expensive that we weren’t going to use all of, that wasn’t going to go into two or three different meals. You know, there’s definitely a lot of give and take, and I had to be very deeply involved with that, and I wasn’t always good about remembering it so far in advance. Like I remember kind of getting in trouble for planning to cook burritos once and not remembering that we didn’t have any salsa—which was, I understand now, is just…it’s a very disappointing burrito [laughter]. But you know, I would really have to be organized and I would have to think ahead and I would have to really own that the process of cooking a dinner on a particular night actually starts a lot sooner. And then as I was cooking, I had to think about things like, well, if dinner’s going to get on the table about seven, when does each of these individual parts of the meal need start getting prepped? And how long does it take for things to cook? And you know, how do you make it all come together at the right time? And you know, that was a really good lesson. All of that was very helpful to learn. I don’t get stressed about putting a meal together for people now. I can do it, right? Do it all the time, enjoy it.
KL: You are extremely good at it.
SWB: However, I was eight years old when this started. I was eight. And I think about that now and I think about the eight-year-olds I know, And I’m like, “that’s really young!” They’re so young. And so I think about it and I think, “how the hell did I do this when I was eight?” And I mean when I really think back that very first year, I was in the third grade and I was not very good at it. And there were a lot of meals where I made frozen vegetables and like fish sticks or whatever. It was not like a culinary masterpiece [laughter]. But I really think that while I love the concept, I do think that that was a lot to put on an eight-year-old.
SWB: But something else as I’m thinking about it that I keep realizing is how much I learned another lesson kind of concurrently to this. And it wasn’t just about ownership of a task, it wasn’t just about sort of responsibility, but it was also about not needing anything. Like owning my own homework, okay, sure. But also I think I learned not to need help with things like homework, and not to need help with anything at all. Because in some ways, you know, I wasn’t going to get the help. And I think that not needing things became a way to manage disappointment because you don’t get disappointed if you just never need anything in the first place.
SWB: And if you learn to do that over and over and over again, sure, you learn to be independent in a lot of good ways, but you also learn like a type of independence that doesn’t necessarily serve you, and it doesn’t serve you in all scenarios, and it ends up teaching you to enable other people not to be responsible and then not to give you what you need. And that I think is something I’m just kind of really unpacking and kind of deciding to operate differently from.
KL: Yeah. I’m so glad you brought that up. I feel like that’s a really important piece of it and that stuff really impacts how you move through the world, especially when it happens as a kid.
SWB: Right? Yeah, like everything about how I interact in my domestic relationships now, and also other kinds of relationships, right? Like it kind of connects to work, too.
KL: Absolutely. And I mean, that’s exactly right. Eve’s focus is on the home, but the book also really made me think about how some of these same things apply to work. And you know, last week we talked about my upcoming sabbatical.
SWB: Mmmhmm. Yeah we did.
KL: And looking at that as an opportunity for creating ownership among the folks on my team and the really exciting piece of figuring out how to make it an ongoing ownership, not just, you know, like coverage while I’m gone, so that I can free up more of my time and make space for more strategic work next year. But because the team is totally remote and entirely part time, it can be really hard to feel like you own your role in that. And you know, everyone on the ABA team is extremely amazing and has their shit together and they step up all the time, but I need to do more to invite and enable that feeling of true ownership.
SWB: Yeah. And I don’t know if this is helpful, but I think one way to look at it is to be able to say, okay, letting go and truly handing off a piece of the work is actually a feminist practice. Like it’s part of a feminist leadership practice. Because if we believe that our role as leaders is fundamentally about giving power to the people we work with, then we need to allow them and encourage them to have more autonomy over their work, to be able to decide how they want to achieve a task, to have flexibility. And the only way they can really have those things is if they own tasks entirely or own pieces entirely, right? Because if they’re always reporting back to you and have to do things on your timetable and in your way, then they can never actually have that kind of autonomy over their lives. And so in order to get to a place where you know you’re not doing that kind of authoritarian, top-down thing—where there’s people in charge who decide everything, everyone else does their jobs and is not involved with the why—to get away from that you have to be able to say, “okay, I trust your expertise,” and then let go. And that’s really the only way that you can build an organization that doesn’t just recreate a patriarchal power structure.
KL: Yeah. Okay. So on that note, I think we should listen to Eve’s interview and maybe see if we can get her to write a Fair play for the office too.
SWB: Yes. [short transition music plays]
Interview: Eve Rodsky
SWB: Eve Rodsky is obsessed with domestic labor. You know, all the work it takes to stay on top of laundry, not let the insurance policy lapse, keep track of all those endless school meetings. When she started realizing just how much of that work fell to her alone, she decided to do something about it. The result is Fair Play, a new book that’s all about how couples can rebalance the invisible labor and mental load in their homes, and change their relationships along the way. Eve, welcome to Strong Feelings.
ER: I’m so happy to be here with you guys.
SWB: I want to start with something pretty exciting. Fair Play just came out. It’s Reese Witherspoon’s book Club pick for October. How are you feeling?
ER: I’m so excited. It has been an amazing response from men and women.
SWB: Yes, we definitely want to hear about that and we want to hear all about the book, but I’m wondering if you can start us a little bit earlier. Can you take us back to that moment when you first started adding up all the time you were spending on domestic labor: Where were you? What was happening in your life, and what did you realize?
ER: I’ll start with the fact that I’ve been thinking about these issues my entire life, for all 42 years on this earth. I’m a product of a single mother. And really early on I saw the struggle she had raising two kids on her own, and that meant helping her manage late utility bills, eviction notices. And from a really early age, I vowed that this would not be me, that I would have a true partner in life. And I did. I married that true partner. And we were doing everything so fairly. He helped me secure my dream job in philanthropy. I marked up his operating agreements, because I’m a lawyer by trade, as he grew a new business. We took turns doing the dishes. We took turns making each other dinner. Well, cut to two kids later. And I find myself literally sobbing on the side of the road over a text my husband sent me, and that text said, “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” And you can picture of the scene [SWB groans]: I had a breast pump in my passenger’s seat because I had a new baby at home. I have tons of returns from the gifts was just so generous and lovely that people gave me for the baby, but were the wrong size and I wanted to, you know, save money and get my receipts from them so they’re in the back seat. I have a client contract on my lap with a pen falling between my legs driving to pick up my two year old at his preschool transition program that never lasts long enough for the day and they expect someone to be there pretty much the whole time to transition your child.In the mix of all this chaos, I get that text and I start crying, thinking “I’m so overwhelmed. Obviously I can’t even manage a grocery list when I used to be able to manage a team of employees. And more importantly, when did I become the default, or as I call it in the book, the ”she-fault,” for literally every single household and domestic task for my family? That day I vowed that something had to change. Either it was going to be, I was going to leave my marriage for some dramatic affair with an NFL player, or I was going to get to work and try to find a solution for domestic rebalance that I knew so many of us needed and ultimately that became Fair Play. But it was a quest to get there for sure.
KL: So you did get to work. And as you were figuring all that stuff out, you made the “Shit I Do” list. We want to hear a little bit more about that. Tell us about that list and what went on it. How did you go about compiling it?
ER: Oh my gosh. It’s like the love of my life, that lis. The “shit I do” list started when I started reading articles on what was called the second shift, emotional labor, invisible work. It turns out that there has been scholarship on this for a hundred years, but what really resonated me was an article from 1987 titled “Invisible Work” by a sociologist named Arlene Kaplan Daniels. And why I liked that article so much was because I started thinking to myself, how can we value what we don’t see? And maybe because I’m an organizational management specialist and I’m really, really good at making lists, what if I make a list of everything that’s invisible in my household? And so I started with writing down everything I did for my family that took more than two minutes of my time. And I couldn’t quantify love, but I could quantify the half an hour it took me to go pick up flowers to bring them to my son’s recital. So I started writing those things down on a piece of paper. I soon transferred it to an Excel spreadsheet. And shortly after that it started going viral amongst communities of women. So much so that women I didn’t even know were sending me texts like “I didn’t see sunscreen on your ”shit I do“ list? And I would respond back saying, ”Oh no, no, it’s there. You just have to check item 17 under the medical and healthy living tab.“ And then another woman would say to me, ”well, I don’t see allowance here.“ And I say, ”yes, it’s there. It’s under the tab called family values and traditions,” because why else would you give allowance if it’s not setting some sort of family values. So that’s how granular the list became. And when I was done, there was over a thousand items of invisible work, over 98 tabs, on the most giant 1 million megabyte spreadsheet you could ever imagine. And that’s what I sent over to my husband. And when I sent it off to my husband and waited for his response, I didn’t even get the courtesy of a three-monkey trio as a response. I got the sad monkey, that sad little monkey with its eyes covered. [Laughter.] That’s all I got back. That was it. And that was the end of the conversation around making lists.
SWB: That sounds so deflating.
ER: It was super deflating. Very cathartic to be amongst groups of women talking about these issues. But in my house, my “shit I do” list unleashed, see no evil. But in other households it actually unleashed the shitstorm of women texting me saying, “seeing it all here, I don’t think I can stay in this marriage.” “I can’t do anything about it. This is going to be my life forever. People were very resigned to living like this, living with reminders, living with disproportionate amount of tasks on their plate. And so I said to myself, I could be resigned to the one monkey with its eyes covered, or I could get to work and I decided to get my ass in gear and get to work using my decade of experience as a mediator. And I created a system based on that experience that’s ultimately based on tried-and-true organizational management principles that have been working for 50-odd years in the workplace. And I’m seeing them working in the home.
SWB: And that’s basically what Fair Play is, right? Because they introduced it as a book, but it’s also a system, a process, even kind of a game for re-imagining labor. And so when can you explain what Fair Play is to our listeners who haven’t seen the book yet?
ER: Yes, you have to read the book to understand the context for how to play, but at its core, it’s a card game. The book comes with a hundred cards that you can get on my website, so you can actually play a game and the game has its own instruction manual. And what it is, it’s a hundred cards that represent every single thing you do—you and your partner will do—to raise family and run a home. If you don’t have kids, you play with 60 cards. If you have kids, the deck could be up to a hundred cards. And before you sit down to play, what you have to do is build your deck together. That’s a very important piece to it. And what I mean by that is have some really serious values conversation over things like garbage. And I don’t mean dragging the garbage liner to your husband’s side of the bed, which I used to do to remind him to take it out, or to put the bag back again. Because my husband would never put the bag back in and I just felt like I was going to die because he just wouldn’t put this bag back into the damn bin.
SWB: Oh, I know that exactly. [inaudible].
ER: It would just sit there and pile up and I’d be seething and panicking and asking, “when are you going to take the garbage out?” That was our pattern, our habit around garbage. When we sat down to start playing and we said, we’re going to have a values discussion over all these cards. One of them was garbage and I said to my husband, “I would like for you to own this card. I’d like for you to take it from start to finish.” That’s the premise. We can talk more about what that means later, but when I said to him, owning this card from start to finish, I’d like you to do that, but we need to have a standard. I’d like to talk about our values and this has been important to me because I grew up in a single-mom household. We had stuff lying everywhere. There was garbage all over the floor. I was always cleaning up after my mother. And it triggers me. It reminds me of my childhood. Whereas you lived in a fraternity and you tell me that you’re fine living and sleeping next to a hundred empty pizza boxes. So we have very different values over garbage. And so together we said, well, what’s reasonable? We care about having a tidy home. We want our kids to see that having a tidy home matters, and matters to me because of my childhood. And so my husband said to me, as long as you don’t drag liners into the bedroom or remind me a hundred times during the day, what if garbage goes out every night at seven and I put it in my calendar? And since then every single night garbage has gone out at seven. And that is the transformation. I don’t need to hear the big conversations people have around values and vows. I’m asking people to take a new vow, because that’s how I’ll know and see how things are really working in your household.
SWB: Do you find that as people are going through the Fair Play process and sort of testing out the system, are there places where they tend to hit snags, or where you and your husband hit snags?
ER: A great question. It was really important to me that this not be a memoir, that this actually be a system that works for couples across the country. And so I have more than 500 interviews from men and women of all walks of life and hundreds of beta testers from different socioeconomic, ethnicities, same sex couples testing the system. The reason that was important is because it got me into my favorite chapter in the book. And my favorite chapter in the book is called “The top 13 mistakes couples make and the Fair Play fix.” The main mistake I saw is what I call the mustard mistake and here’s what I mean by that. Somebody in your household knows that your second son, Johnny, likes French’s yellow mustard on his hot dog. You notice that because you see that protein is left on his plate, unless he’s dipping it in that mustard. I call that conception. Then somebody is required to write it down in some place, a list somewhere, along with other groceries. You’re going to survey a need for the house for the week. Mustard goes on that list. I call that planning. Then someone has to get their ass to the store to actually purchase the mustard. And that’s what I call execution. And that’s where men come in because it’s visible. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem to men because they’re getting yelled at all over this country. There’s a lot of fights in this country over condiments. That’s what I found out over 500 interviews. Men are getting yelled at because they’re bringing home this spicy Dijon instead of the French’s yellow. And women are saying to me all over the country, “I can’t even trust my husband to bring home the right type of mustard. How am I going to trust him with bigger things like our living will?” And so when you don’t break up the tasks and someone is actually getting context for what they do, just like we do in the workplace, I saw everything changing.
SWB: I love that so much.
KL: I know. And I think we both love that the book isn’t just about your experience. You’re taking a lot of inputs into consideration. And you mentioned that you interviewed 500 people. Can you tell us a little bit more about that research? Like who did you talk to and how diverse was that group of people?
ER: Yes. It was very intentional for me to mirror the US Census. So my first process, right, was getting all the invisible tasks visible. So that was a certain subset of just women. And then I went out and I said to myself, I want to make sure that my interview set looks like the US Census in terms of socioeconomic status and ethnicity, and again, to make sure that I have a good subset of same-sex couples. And so that is where the beauty of technology comes in. Through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, social media, grocery checkout lines, and taxi cabs, Uber drivers, in line at airports. I found interviews all over the place in person and online as how I got the first set of data about how people were doing things in their home. And that’s ultimately how I got people to agree to beta test the system when I wanted to make sure this was not just a me problem.
KL: Yeah, were things different for couples that weren’t straight, for example? Or were there other surprising themes that emerged?
ER: There are a lot of surprising things that emerged. The first surprising thing was that regardless of gender patterns, the smallest details were causing the biggest problems. So that was my number-one finding, was that I had men telling me that they were locked out of their home over glue sticks. I had a COO of a publicly traded company telling me that her greatest challenge is getting her husband to remember to take out the kitty litter, not running her publicly traded company. I have a man telling me that he is responsible for 50% of the labor in his household. He’s a shipping supervisor and I find out what he does is he cooks dinner. Doesn’t even plan the grocery list, but he cooks dinner. So that’s what I call the case of the over-reporter. There’s a lot of data that shows that men over-report their domestic responsibilities. So what was happening was it wasn’t about my blueberries or the glue sticks or the kitty litter. It was about values and expectations. And when values weren’t aligned in the house over how things were done and expectations weren’t being met, there was a lot of disappointment and people were communicating in very passive-aggressive ways. And that was the same whether it was a heterosexual couple or my same-sex male couples or my same-sex female couples. Everybody felt burdened by the small details of midlife.
SWB: Yeah. I’d love to talk a little bit more about that. Something that I really noted in the book was that there was this kind of recurrent theme of men sort of not noticing or not counting all of this stuff as work and kind of particularly like you said, the conception and the planning pieces of it, right?
KL: It’s like, if you tell them to pick up toothpaste, they’ll pick up toothpaste, but they don’t question. And I’m speaking very broadly here, obviously—my husband actually is very aware of toothpaste—but you know, they don’t question like, “Oh yeah, there’s always toothpaste in the bathroom. How is that there?” And I’m curious, you know, what did you hear from men when you were talking to them? Like, what were they thinking when it came to domestic labor?
ER: The number one thing men said to me was, besides that they hated nagging, was that they felt like they couldn’t get anything right. And it was actually beautiful. I interviewed Busy Phillips and her husband Mark recently for Harper’s Bazaar. And Mark spoke on the record and she talks candidly about him doing a lot more now than when they first had their kids. And I said to him, “Mark, what prevented you from stepping up to the plate?” And he said, “I don’t like not being good at things.” And I heard that all over the country where men felt not good at this stuff or they felt that they couldn’t get anything right and they weren’t getting any love when they went and tried to buy the right mustard. But when they came home with the wrong mustard, they were being criticized. And so that has to change. We know that men don’t behave that way in the workplace. And what I learned was that when you hand over the full mustard situation, when men own a card, it doesn’t have to be 50/50—50/50 is fundamentally the wrong equation. I say that over and over again, because this is not about scorekeeping. It’s about ownership. When men had the context for why they were doing something—and it wasn’t just “go pick me up flowers” or “go get the glue stick”—when they understood it was for an important homework project that their child was really excited to show them. Men were doing the conception and planning, like your husbands, but they didn’t see it. And whether that’s because of patriarchy or the way things are happening, there’s a lot of social and political reasons for why that’s the case. But we’ve been living in those social political reasons for a hundred years and we’ve been talking about the problem. So I would like to invite men to the table and come up with a solution. Let me just tell you one thing about some solutions that are on the table other than Fair Play right now. A big Guardian article just came out saying we should strike—walk out of the home. Another article that was just went viral on today.com said we should divorce. Another New York Times article said, “you should move to a foreign country where only your husband knows the language, but you don’t, so that he has to fill out school forms.”
SWB: Super-practical answer. [Laughter]
ER: But this is the funny thing: the women telling us to strike out there, when I look at their Instagram feeds, they’re hugging their husband and kissing him and saying he’s the best. What I found was that when you go straight to competition or confrontation, it’s not going to work out well and divorce is not a solution because it happened in my household, and my mother became a single mother who held all the cards. The solution is inviting men to the table with a language they can hear, and that’s really what Fair Play does. It gamifies and gives you communication tools so that we actually can really sit down and talk about our values and expectations. And that’s why it’s been a win-win for men, too, because they are reporting—and sending me amazing screenshots of themselves in grocery stores, by the way, with the right mustard—but my beta testers have reported feeling so much more engaged and happy in their home life. And that really is ultimately the goal.
SWB: I really appreciate you bringing up some of that because I do think there is a huge kind of broader cultural socioeconomic component to this that individual families can’t address things like the lack of parental leave in this country or all these other problems. But at the same time, you know, you are looking at it as like, well you only have one life. You’re in a partnership with somebody you presumably love. What are you going to do? And kind of being able to take that at face value and say, okay, well what am I going to do in this moment and in this life? But it does make me think of something. So all of this work sounds amazing, but was there ever a moment for you as you were going through this process where you were sort of like, “what have I done? Here’s another big list I’m making in another project. I have to manage it. Another thing that is part of my mental load!” Were you ever frustrated or feeling like identifying all of this work and getting your husband to engage in solving the problem—getting him to come to the table, as you said—was also your problem.
ER: Yes, and so many women said that to me. So many women said to me, “why is this my problem? Why doesn’t he come to me with a solution?” I’ll tell you what I found the three most toxic words in any relationship are “figure it out” and that’s what women started doing. They started saying to me, “I’m done. I’m done trying to bring him to the table. I’m done trying to talk about this. He’s just going to have to figure it out.” It is not helpful to say “figure it out,” because again, without any context, we’re leaving our spouses in a lurch. And so what I say to women is my favorite Nora Ephron quote, we shouldn’t be the victims of our own lives. We should be our heroines. And by that I mean one person, and this is what my train-the-trainer psychologists all over the country are saying, it takes just one person to be a game-changer. And yes, unfortunately that game-changer is usually women, because I’m asking women to read this book and to then play with their spouse, or their partner, or their same sex partner, or a man to read this book and play with his same-sex partner. But it takes one, it takes one game-changer. And actually it hasn’t always been women in my beta testers. I’ve had men say to me, “I can’t do this. I’m a stay at home dad, but I also work. But because I’m home, she thinks I should be doing everything in the house and she doesn’t value my time, either.” So it’s really about setting expectations that matter for your household. But unfortunately or fortunately it usually requires the person who is aggrieved, the woman in most cases, to step up and say, “I need to change this game for myself.” What’s so powerful about taking agency in our own lives is that I’m seeing and I believe that it will lead to systemic change. And I’ll give you an example: There’s a man who just read the book, and there’s a story in it called “the case of the man on the plane” and that story is about my side of the plane from a work trip and my cousin’s side of the plane. Another woman. We were going back to LA. And our side of the plane looks like a complete shitshow, because we have our grab-and-go chicken Caesar wraps, and gifts for the kids, and I’m on the phone trying to get a DirectTV satellite installed on my roof, trying to log into my laptop to confirm the appointment, while my cousin is trying to get her son to soccer because her au pair forgot to bring the soccer cleats and the shin guards. As we enter the plane, my cousin ends up leaving her laptop bag in the boarding area. We’re screaming at the flight attendants to let us off the plane.
ER: Everybody in the plane is saying to us, “ladies, get your shit together.” And that’s our side of the plane. And we noticed that at the same time a man walks on the plane, cool, calm and collected. He sits down in the other seat. We’re in like 20 C and D. he’s in like 20 F. He sits down across from us. He opens his laptop. He has no bags. A beautiful picture, screensaver of a cute brunette and kids fade away. He starts working on a PowerPoint presentation. He puts ear buds in. He finishes that presentation over the course of the six-hour trip to LA. He starts solving math puzzles, because we’re obsessed with him by this point, just staring at him. He takes a nap, he watches a movie, and by the end of the plane ride, my cousin looks at me and says, “I just wish I was that man on the plane.” And you think about the freedom, right? The beauty and the freedom to focus on one task at a time, and what that looks like. Well, the beauty of Fair Play is that I have men now who are those men on the plane calling me saying I’m man on the plane, and I like being man on the plane, but I don’t want my wife to feel like your side of the plane. And it’s so beautiful because these are men who are CEOs of companies with hundreds of thousands of employees. And if they can recognize that they are men on the plane, and the beauty of being able to focus on one task at a time, and then that all time is created equal, that women’s time should be valued as much as men’s time, then maybe they’ll pay women more in the workplace for the same amount of hours for the same jobs. Maybe they’ll start having better corporate policies for maternity leave. So I do truly believe that taking agency in your own home and by having men understand that they’re the man on the plane and empathy for women who are on our side of the plane, can change things more than just in our homes.
KL: I think we all know man on the plane. [Laughter].
SWB:I’ve sat next to that guy. He just seems so chill.
KL: I know. No bags. That’s the whole thing.
ER: Yeah. Where are your bags? Where are your gifts for your kids?
KL: Yeah, I know. What must that be like? But you mentioned beta testing and I’m really curious because you and your husband are from really highly educated backgrounds. You went to Harvard Law and are both in high-status careers. How did Fair Play work for beta testers from less financially stable or less privileged families? Did you need to rethink anything at any point?
ER: The first group of women and single mothers, let’s talk about them first, right? There is solution privilege here in that I’m asking you to play with a partner. So for people like my mother, or for the single women I spoke to, what they said to me, I had this one single woman say to me, “I don’t have a partner, but why this is validating to me, seeing all these cards, is because I wish I had these. I wish the court had these when I was negotiating my alimony. I wish the court cared that I was raising good human beings for the past 20 years. Instead of asking me what I financially contributed to my marriage. And when I said I didn’t financially contribute, shaming me with a letter telling me I had a duty to become self sufficient within six months.” What if we actually care about invisible work and we value it so much so that men want to do it too? That will seep into our policies. So that was one important piece of data. The other important piece of data was that in some of the communities that were more identified as working class, there are some cultural expectations in different communities about men and women’s work, and some of them are more traditional. And I’m not here to say that everybody’s cultural expectations have to be the same, but I am here to say that not one person should hold all the cards. And when I started telling couples, regardless of their socioeconomic status, that all time is created equal, that women’s time is as valuable as men’s time, and I had found that women and society value men’s time more. I didn’t find any man that didn’t feel that they wanted time to feel fair to their partner as well. So it’s about how you reframe and some more traditionalist marriages, men are not going to be holding as many cards is maybe in some other marriages. But again, that’s what the beauty of Fair Play is. It’s about building your deck so that it works for your family. And I talk about personality profiles in the book. Intentional traditionalist, for example, intentional traditionalist women say, I want to hold all the cards. They are my pride. I care about these cards. But still, they’re telling me that they want more, they want a little more time to discover who they are. They don’t want to feel lost in the cards. They want to feel appreciated for what they do. So this is about starting a conversation for what’s right for your family. And it did look different across the country. And that’s sort of why I found it very important for women to do a little work on themselves and to identify what type of personality profile that they’re living today.
SWB: Yeah, that’s really helpful. I do like this idea that it’s not 50/50 and I, what I really loved was this idea of the cards being something you own. Not that I’m still holding the card that says take out trash and I’m just reminding you, Hey, can you take out the trash later? But that you own the card and I’m not thinking about it. I’m not carrying it. I like that there’s like a tactileness of feeling like you’re carrying things.
KL: Yeah. And I also liked the fact that you really encourage trusting each other. I think that’s an important element of that.
ER: Well, thank you. I find that it’s all about trust and I think the beauty of trust and setting these conversations up front, and really sitting down to talk about garbage, is that it really allows you to talk about broader issues of the things you value. So it’s not about homework and “Oh my God, he’s in charge of homework this week and he didn’t sign the form from our kids.” Like that’s how most people are talking about the tasks in their home. Exasperations, complaints, resignation, stress. But when you actually start sit down and say, “why do we value homework? What does it mean to us?” I have people talking about homework all over the country and one couple said to me, they had a beautiful conversation around homework and the wife was able to say, I care about homework because I was the first in my family to go to go to college, and homework means everything to me because it got me out of my situation and education means the world to me. Her partner did not have the same view towards homework, but he cared about valuing authority. That matters to him. And so when he looked at homework as, “this is a teacher telling you something to do, and so you should respect authority and do it,” all of a sudden they both understood that homework was important, and then homework started getting done because when they each held the card and they redeal that card to each other based on who’s busiest, they both owned it with an expectation that they were going to do it with care and generosity and love. And so I hope we end up loving all the cards, including garbage, because there’s some really valuable insights. You’re gonna find that your partner by sitting down to talk about them.
SWB: I like that a lot and I definitely want to sit down with my husband and some of these cards. Before we go, I do want to ask you about something sort of unusual in your publishing process that I think is really interesting. Can we talk about Hello Sunshine, because that’s Reese Witherspoon’s media company and I know that you’ve been working with them sort of partnering with them to get this book out. And I’m curious because that’s so unusual in publishing. How did that come to be, and what does that mean for the book?
ER: It’s been a real amazing journey with Hello Sunshine because they exist to bring new voices, women’s voices, to the table that may not have been heard before. And what happened was actually Reese, a family friend, and she was one of my, “shit I do” sourcers. She added items to the “shit I do” spreadsheet. And when I was getting all the women to tell me what they do with their time, and from there the spreadsheet really resonated with her, and as she heard that I was testing the system, it was resonating with her. And so then I met the CEO of Hello Sunshine, Sarah Harden, and I asked her to be an early beta tester of Fair Play and when she saw it working in her home, she decided that she really wanted to partner with me as I went out to find a book agent and write the proposal. They’d been on this journey with me since I wrote the book proposal, when they read it and loved it, and then they helped me ever since then.
SWB: What does that mean for what’s next for Fair Play? So I know that Hello Sunshine has so many neat partnerships, like we’re really excited for Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere being turned into an HBO show. And I know that the company has been involved with so much interesting stuff. So do you know what this might mean for Fair Play?.
ER: As Sarah Harden—as I tell her every day—I believe. I believe in these messages so deeply to my core. I have a nice day job. I love my client practice. I love my life. But I’m on the road to do this because I believe it’s time for women to step into their true power. Not only do they need to step out in the visible shadows of the home, but we all need a cultural recognition that all time is created equal, and that’s what this book is based on.
KL: Well, we love that. We’re nodding along with that, Eve. Thanks so much for being on the show with us. Fair Play is available wherever you shop for books, so go out and get a copy. Eve, where can our listeners get those Fair Play cards?
ER: All you need is to have the book and just put your email into a little pop-up that comes up on fairplaylife.com.
SWB: Awesome. Thank you so much, Eve.
ER: Thank you guys so much. I really appreciate your questions. They’re very, very thoughtful.
SWB: Okay, Katel. It is almost time to wrap the episode, which means it is time for the Fuck Yeah of the Week. What do you have today?
KL: All right, well we are recording this just before we’re heading out to Austin, Texas for a workshop at Lead Dev conference. And I’m really excited because we’re going to see your friend Amanda, who I met in Portugal this summer, and I’m so excited because I’m like consider her one of my new friends now.
SWB: Yeah, she’s really great. She’s one of my best friends forever and ever and ever.
KL: It’s awesome. You’ve told me so much about her, and over the years I’ve heard you talk about her. So it was a) really cool to meet her and b) I feel like I’m taking advantage and I’m just gonna like make her my friend too.
SWB: Yes! I love it when my friends become friends with each other. And also since the last time I’ve been in Austin, Amanda has gotten a chicken coop and chickens in her backyard, and I’m so excited to hang with some chickens.
KL: I cannot wait. Definitely going to try to hold one of those chickens. But I will also say that you have a lot of really, really wonderful friends and I just think that says a lot about you as a person.
SWB: Aw. Thank you for that.
KL: So fuck yeah to new friends.
SWB: Fuck yeah. That’s it for us this week. Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn from editaud.io. Our theme music is Deprogrammed by Blowdryer. Check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thank you to Eve Rodsky for being our guest today, and thank you for listening. If you like our show, don’t forget to give us a rating or review wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. And get some Strong Feelings in your inbox. Head to strongfeelings.co and sign up for our newsletter. See you again next week. Bye! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and fades out]