Author Eve Rodsky just wanted her husband to take out the trash without being asked. What she found was a gender imbalance that goes way deeper than who handles what — and a solution that's way simpler.

By Shalayne Pulia
Oct 11, 2019 @ 2:00 pm
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Eve Rodsky is on a mission to redefine the way we value time. With her new book Fair Play, which hit bookshelves earlier this week, she offers couples the chance to play a game meticulously designed to rebalance the domestic workload, and illuminate all of the “invisible work” women do every day. “Demanding time equality and time choice is a message the women’s movement missed, and it’s about time, pardon the pun, we have a cultural recognition that all time is created equal,” Rodsky says in the book.

But first she had to tally up just how unequally her time was being used, and that's where her now-famous "Shit I Do" list came about. "From grocery lists and Costco runs to replacing light bulbs and laundry detergent and making sure beds had clean sheets and bathrooms had at least one back-up roll of toilet paper, I began writing down every single thing I did all day with a quantifiable time component," she writes. Then she sent a text to friends to contribute to her "master list of all the shit we do behind the scenes that our spouses don't see, or aren't aware of."

That morphed into a shareable spreadsheet filled out by family friends (including Reese Witherspoon) with tab after tab of examples of the time-sucking work that women do to keep their families and lives functioning, which has now become a new system poised to bring the conversation about women’s equality home. Rodsky drew on her Harvard Law education, years in organizational management, seven years spent interviewing hundreds of couples, and her own experiences at home to write Fair Play. The book represents a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine, which has partnered with Rodsky to amplify her message to reach thousands of couples struggling to equally divide their time.

And the book isn't just a book, it's a game that basically boils down to making a deck of cards out of all the time-taking tasks you fit into your day, and dealing the cards out based on who does what within your relationship. Who's holding more? Who's holding too much? Which cards can be put down entirely, and which need to change hands so someone else carries more of the load? The end goal isn't just an idealized division of labor (though that itself is a feat worth celebrating for many couples), it's to help each individual claim what Rodsky calls their "unicorn time" — untouched hours they can use however they please, which can be more easily freed up when everyone's time is used and valued equally.

Below, Rodsky talks about how couples can troubleshoot their own time inequality, and get a head start on playing fair. 

When did you know that you had something special with your idea for Fair Play

It was a response to the “Shit I Do” spreadsheet. Women I didn't even know were texting me saying things like, "WTF, I can't believe how much I'm doing." And another woman texted me, "At this rate, I don't think I'm going to say my marriage." I realized that the “Shit I Do” spreadsheet unleashed a shit storm — a rant without a solution. And then I read 750 articles on this issue — a lot of them just rants without solutions. I think it was then that I realized that lists alone don't work, but systems do. I'm telling people to do things completely differently than they normally do it.

How did Reese Witherspoon and her Hello Sunshine media company get involved with this project?

Reese was a source of the “Shit I Do” spreadsheet. She’d never seen anything like it before. Just the magnitude of invisible work, you know. When I finally sent it off to my husband Seth, it was a 17,000-megabyte spreadsheet with 98 tabs and over 1,000 items of invisible work. Reese was organically interested in helping me with the spreadsheet as a family friend. And then I got to meet the CEO of Hello Sunshine, Sarah Harden, through Reese and she wanted to be an early beta tester for the game. She said to me, "You know, Hello Sunshine is a place that amplifies women's voices. We're going to help you amplify your ideas because we want to help share them in the world."

What are you hoping women, couples, and families take away from your book?

My core finding is that men, women, and society view men's time as finite like diamonds and women's time as infinite like sand. Look at equal pay. Women are not paid the same for the exact same work. I started interviewing women and men in the same jobs, from shipping supervisors to pediatricians to colorectal surgeons. I'd ask the men, "Why is your wife still the one getting the phone calls in the middle of the day from school if your kids are sick? Why is she still making the school lunches? Why is she registering the school forms?" They’d often say, "I don't have time. I’m just too busy.” And women were saying, "I find the time." Unless you're Albert Einstein and you can somehow mess with the space-time continuum, there really is no way to find time. [laughs] That's my core insight.

What’s your goal?

It's my biggest dream for society to become a place where time is measured in hours and not dollars, and where women's time is valued the same as men's.

What else surprised you about those interviews?

That women were some of the worst purveyors of what I call “toxic time messages.” It wasn't just men not valuing women's time, it was women not valuing their own time.

When I was going back to work after my second child was born, it didn't even occur to me to ask Seth to take the kids to school, wake up early, help with the morning routine, because I felt like I had to do it. He was making more money than me because I chose philanthropy and he chose business. I started my workday at 10 a.m. and I finished at 4 p.m. when I go pick up the kids. It never occurred to me that my time is just as valuable as his. And the other thing happening was that women said to me, "Well, the reason why I'm not working is because the nanny would cost as much as my time." I think the beauty of working seven years on this project and getting to talk to over 500 people that mirrored the US census in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography was that patterns started to become very prevalent, and they all centered on time.

How did you first explain that to your husband?

So the longer story from the “Drunk Man’s Jacket” section of Fair Play is that the night when my husband left a drunk man’s jacket and a beer bottle for me to pick up on the lawn, I peeled off the rubber gloves I put on to throw out the jacket and the beer bottle, and I dumped them at the bottom of the bed, said, "You're fucking welcome," and stormed off. That's how I was communicating, and a lot of women communicate that way. They’re afraid to have a conversation with their husband about these issues, but tell me they like to dump wet clothes on their husband’s pillow if he hasn't put them in the dryer. One woman told me she started an Instagram account called “The Shit My Husband Doesn't Pick Up.” All of this is a form of communication. What I am asking for is a conversation shift.

How did you change the conversation at home?

I started to say things to Seth like, "I love you and I just want to tell you why I said, ‘You're fucking welcome’ and stormed off that fateful drunk man’s jacket night. I felt really sad that you weren't valuing my time. I felt like I was worthless to you, that your time is worth so much more than mine." And my husband said, "I had no idea that you felt that way. That is really unfair." Things started to change when we had conversations like that.

You also say that Fair Play is not just a conversation shift between spouses, it's a conversation shift in general between everyone in your circle and all the women and men around you.

Absolutely. Today this awesome young woman said to me, "I'm so happy to have your book because last night my mother said to me, ‘I think it's really weird that you're not doing more things for your husband, that he's making you dinner.’” And she said, "I'm the fucking breadwinner. Why is it weird to my mother that my husband's making me dinner?" So, I do think changing conversation among women is really important. Say, “Your time is valuable. I see you. I support you.” And also say, “You have the power to be someone other than a parent and a worker and a partner. You’re allowed to be little bit of who you were before you had kids.”

Is there anything else that surprised you throughout this process?

What surprised me is that Fair Play started as a love letter to women, but it ended up becoming a love letter to men. Today I got a text from a CEO’s wife saying, "I'm sharing the above message I received from my husband. He was on a flight to Chicago this a.m., and I received this when he landed. Thank you, Eve." The text says, "Just landed, read the first 100 pages of Eve's book. Wish I had read it 10 years earlier. May have helped me be a better partner to you. I am sorry." That's the culture change I'm looking for because you know what? He employs people, and what if he actually believes his wife's time is finite like his? Maybe he'll start paying his women employees the same as the men. Then maybe there'll be better maternity and paternity leave policies. I believe when you take agency in your own home, the trickle effect out into culture and society can be huge.

What advice do you have for couples reading and playing Fair Play?

The only time I ever saw Fair Play not work is when couples were too angry. They were too far up their resent-o-meter to engage in a values conversation. They went straight to just throwing cards at each other. That's just another list. The Fair Play system is based on values. If you skip the values step, you're done. And what I mean by that is Seth and I had a 35-minute conversation about garbage because I was just stalking him and saying, "If you don't put the liner back in, when are you taking out the garbage?" And he's like, "This is insane. You're just all over me all day long. Like I just got to get away from you." So, I sat down with Seth and said, "Look, let me tell you why it matters to me. I grew up in a single mother household where we just had one of those Chinese takeout bags as a garbage. We would throw garbage into it and it started spilling out onto the floor. And anytime I tried to go get a glass of water at night, I'd have to turn on the light and watch hundreds of cockroaches scatter. Garbage is a trigger for me.” And Seth said, "Well I lived in a fraternity house with like 30 pizza boxes next to my bed. I don't really give a shit about garbage."

What happens when you have different standards like that?

We thought about what was reasonable. Seth said that it's not reasonable for me to walk around following him with a garbage liner. And I said that it's not reasonable to have the garbage flowing on our floor. And so, he said, "Okay, I'm willing to take this responsibility. What if garbage goes out every night, once a day at 7 p.m. as long as long as you never mentioned the word ‘garbage’ again?" And so, I say to people, "Yes, values conversations are hard, but Fair Play makes them fun. That’s why it's a card game." Cards work. I've been using cards in my mediation practice for decades. Trust the system. And start with values. That's my advice.

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