This week I read a book by a French cartoonist called The Mental Load. It’s both a feminist education and the story of the artist’s own journey toward feminism, beginning with the mental load of managing a household and covering topics such as cutting a woman’s perineum during childbirth without her consent and the inevitable consequences of being one of very few women in an office otherwise dominated by men. I rather sped through the little book; I had seen some of the strips before, passed around on Facebook and Tumblr by friends and acquaintances similarly tasked with the mental load of their homes, and I appreciated each chapter for the same reason that I liked that first strip: artist and author Emma hits on universal truth, for a woman.
My day to day life on the internet as a woman is like this. My friends pass around articles (whether serious or satirical), comic strips, and other easily digestible tidbits that just barely scrape the surface of the deep-seated rage we feel in our own womanhood. Reductress headlines like “Woman Who Never Leaves Her House Plans to Cancel an Outing Three Weeks From Now” are accompanied with endless comments and reacts of “I feel so called out by this” and “SAME.” And this little comic strip about the mental load is so universally understood that I have seen it in every single online community in which I participate. Here’s a headline from Reductress recently: I Don’t Want Children Because I am Perfectly Fulfilled Raising My Boyfriend.
The premise is simple: women are, by and large, the project managers of their homes. They are the ones keeping track of appointments and chore wheels, pantry contents and laundry schedules. They know where to find every piece of information that they, their partners, or their progeny are going to need on any given day. The problem, of course, is that in many industries, Project Manager is a full-time job, and these women are often also the primary caregivers of children and pets, cooks, and maids. Often, given the current economy, these women also maintain their own wage-earning positions, both part and full time.
I’m the last person to suggest that this is the case in EVERY household; not only do I believe that many of those stereotypes are impossible to apply to queer homes, but I know and acknowledge that partnerships between a neurodivergent partner and a neurotypical partner, for example, also buck this apparent trend. But the prevalence of The Mental Load comic strip on my Facebook feed suggests that this is a conversation that might be worth having.
And this was the first thing I thought of, beginning Red Clocks for the New and Noteworthy book club this month. There is a scene in the first thirty pages in which a dismissive husband, the breadwinner, punitively counts the number of stray pubic hairs he found on the toilet while relieving himself (hairs, it seems, that can only have come from the person who lifts the toilet lid to use it). “I know you have stuff to do,” he says. “But it’s like a bus station in there.”
This is one of the most brilliant moments of stage-setting in a novel that I’ve seen so far this year. In an instant, this minor detail illuminated for me EXACTLY the kind of near-future novel I was reading, and left me simultaneously furious and hungry for more. This was just the beginning of Leni Zumas’ firecracker of a novel. Won’t you join me for the rest? If you’re not angry yet, maybe you’ll learn why you should be.
The New and Noteworthy book club meets at BookPeople on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 PM. This month, we’re reading the aforementioned Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, available at a 10% discount from BookPeople for club members. We meet on Thursday, June 28th this month on the third floor. Get angry. Come join us.