This piece was written by Kristina Brunelle, Head of Global Equity, Diversity, Including and Belonging and shared with RTI staff. The opinions expressed in this piece are her own.

*While this post was written from the perspective of a bi-racial, cisgender, heterosexual woman married to a cisgender man, the author would like to acknowledge everyone who identifies as being a woman.

About five years ago I quit my job. Not the one I collect a paycheck for, I quit cooking for my family.

“You what?!?” some may ask. Others may be wondering “How did you manage that?” While others may be skeptical — “How long did THAT last?”

Let me tell you WHY I quit. At the time, our children were 4.5 and 11. In addition to my job here at RTI, I was a room parent at their school, a youth group leader at our church, the “Cookie Mom” for my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, part of a neighborhood women’s group that planned events for our kids, and occasionally I consulted to outside organizations on how to develop great managers. But I was exhausted. All. The. Time. 

So, I said those magic words: “I quit, I can’t do this anymore.” And guess what happened? My husband took up the reins, not only of the cooking, but of the grocery shopping and the menu planning as well. And no, we don’t just eat burgers and pizza now. He makes beautiful, Instagram-worthy meals like Moroccan chicken, Thai curries, twice-baked potatoes, beautifully roasted vegetables, and crab cakes. And he loves it - he says he likes being able to do something creative each day. Our kids love it too and they don’t miss my cooking at all (and I’m no slouch cook). Judging purely from the aromas that emanate from our kitchen at dinnertime, you’d think we lived in a restaurant. It’s been 5+ years and he’s still at it, but most people I tell have a hard time believing it.

Other Examples of Confronting Gender Bias in Parenting and Domestic Tasks

This isn’t the first time this has happened either. When our son was small, my job required me to travel around the world, to Asia, Australia, China, Europe, and Latin America. Not places you could get to and be back the next day. Often on my travels people would ask me A) if I had any children and B) who was taking care of them while I was gone. When I responded with, “Yes, our son is x months/years old” and ‘his dad,’” invariably they would ask, “But who’s helping him?!?” as if such a thing was unfathomable, and that he should parent his child without any assistance. No one EVER asked him that question about me when he was traveling.

More recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a group of women at work and I shared that every Sunday I spend four hours out of the house with my best friend, catching up, talking about life, making plans for the future. They were shocked — I could see it in their faces, one woman’s jaw actually dropped. The idea of taking that much time away for oneself was inconceivable.

The Influence of Gender Bias in the Media and Dismantling the Idea of 'Women’s Work'

But why is that? Why is it so hard to believe that women shouldn’t have to do all the cooking, the cleaning, the childcare, the volunteering, the organizing, the everything? That we should be able to take time for ourselves to connect with a friend, read a book, watch TV, work out, be creative, dream?  Many people blame women themselves for “taking on too much” or “trying to have it all” but I don’t think it’s our fault. I think we’ve been brainwashed. We’ve been steeped in messaging that causes bias.

Decades of television and popular media have painted an incessant picture for us of “the perfect woman.” She’s capable in the kitchen, a tigress in the bedroom, flawlessly beautiful, manages all elements of the household, has a fabulous career, and makes it all look easy to the outside world. While inside she is exhausted, overwhelmed and/or depressed. I think it’s time we leave this outdated narrative behind.

Leading by Example – More Equal Parenting Responsibilities to Combat Gender Bias

As I think about my own household growing up, one thing that I particularly appreciate was the example my parents set in divvying up the household responsibilities. My mom didn’t do everything. My parents split the cooking, my mom did the gardening, my dad cleaned the house. My brother and I hung up, folded, and put away the clean laundry; emptied the dishwasher; made our school lunches, mowed the lawn; washed the car; emptied the wastebaskets; ironed (taught by our dad); and occasionally raked leaves and/or trimmed the hedges. In our house today, my husband does the cooking and gardening, I pay the bills and take care of the doctor’s appointments, while the kids do all the things my brother and I did (we started them with sorting clean laundry and emptying wastebaskets when they were each three years old).

Dismantling Systemic Gender Bias Placing Expectations on Women to Do and Be 'Everything'

But many parts of society are still holding on to an outdated idea of a married, stay-at-home mom who has all the time in the world to do EVERYTHING for her family. Last I checked, other than occasional re-runs on TV, we are no longer in the 1950’s — thank goodness. It’s 2022, but we haven’t made as much progress as one might expect. We still need to dismantle the systemic bias that contributes to women overworking themselves, whether they’re married, single, single moms, lesbian moms, transgender moms — society has a long way to go. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a realistic movie or show about a single or married woman who “had it all” and wasn’t pulling her hair out? And no, fictionalized fairytales don’t count.

Helping #BreakTheBias on International Women’s Day 2022

This month, on March 8, the world celebrates women of all types, sizes, shapes, ages, and their achievements as part of International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #BreakThe Bias and calls on us to:

“Imagine a gender equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Together we can forge women's equality.”

In honor of International Women’s Day 2022, I encourage us to rethink what is considered “women’s work” and instead establish a new set of social norms to ask, “what work needs to get done and who can/should do it?” On this vein we could take a lesson from LGBTQ couples, who enter relationships without the burden of gender norms dictating household roles and responsibilities. With this new mentality, women may feel empowered to quit a thing or two – and if my experience is any indication, everyone can end up happier.

Editor’s Note: As Head of Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Kristina Brunelle writes monthly messages for RTI staff, encouraging us to reflect on our lived experiences with structural and interpersonal bias, and how we can foster a culture of belonging at work and beyond. We invite the Insights audience to join us in the same spirit of reflection.

To learn more about the ways RTI is helping to dismantle gender bias in the work we do on a global scale, visit RTI’s Global Gender Center.