A popular squabble in my household stems from the fact that I bear the bulk of the mental load. My spouse—who’s a very involved and participatory partner—is still the guy that will make a plan to go to the playground with our kid, but won’t always remember to pack the sunscreen or a snack. (He’s working on it!)
If I go, I’ve packed for every potential scenario. This anecdote isn’t meant to shame him; it’s more meant to illuminate a distinction about the way we—and most of my generation—were raised. Women were taught to take on invisible labor; men were not.
Dr. Robyn Miller, an expert on how to navigate and share the mental load, credits baby boomers with championing their daughters while keeping things status quo with their sons. “Growing up in the 80s and 90s, girls were taught that they can ‘do anything,’” she says. “There were stickers and posters advertising that slogan. They were encouraged to take any subject in school and enter whatever university program they desired, too.” As a result, the number of women graduating from college is higher than ever. In Miller’s field—medicine—there are more women graduating from medical school than men in many countries and that has been true for the last decade.
But while girls were encouraged to plan and imagine a life and career for themselves beyond the domestic sphere, the way boys were raised and the messages they were told didn’t change. “Boys grew up observing their fathers going to work and their mothers—who were likely also working—still being the ones who would be able to answer all the questions of ‘Where is my…?’ and ‘What’s for dinner?’ and ‘What’s the plan for this?’” Miller explains.