Shopping, laundry, cooking, picking up the kids: many people say the list sitting on the table or on the phone is contributing to a “mental load”.
It’s a concept that appeared in the 1980s and has recently moved to the personal sphere to signify the burden a person carries for the rest of the household.
Coline Charpentier is a professor of history and geography in Seine-Saint-Denis in France and has been a feminist activist for more than 15 years.
She began to delve into this concept after sharing a post on Instagram about the mental burden she and her friends often complained about.
A little more than a year later, her Instagram account, T’as pensé à has reached over 110,000 subscribers.
Charpentier’s book on the subject explains the concept and offers practical solutions for managing the burden, especially for couples.
One way of defining "mental load" is the unequal pressure of multitasking in the household. The UN estimated in 2016 for instance that women carried out at least two and a half times more household and care work than men.
Here is are the highlights of her interview with Euronews, edited for length:
What is "mental load"?
The mental load is thinking instead of doing. More and more men are taking on domestic chores but they don’t anticipate [that responsibility].
I think that's the crux of the matter. It's about anticipating [domestic chores].
Does mental load only affect women?
Mental load is a problem for the entire household. Men also share some mental load as well. [I don't think some] people suffer from it.
But why is it always presented as a women's issue? In France, during the 19th century, women were taught to manage the household because authorities were afraid of the working masses.
They wanted women to manage homes [as to] prevent men from going to the bar or, worse, from being unionists. So, they created schooling for household management. This remained an [option] until the 1980s.
So it was the state's intention that women should run the household... but despite available resources... things haven't changed.
Is this a new concept?
We have been talking about mental load without naming it as such since the 1970s.
Back then it was called women's "double burden". We are now almost 50 years into the debate and things haven't changed.
How does the mental load affect society?
We could change a lot of things in society if we shared this burden equally.
It would give women the bandwidth to invest in what they want. And even if they didn't want to get involved, which is okay, they would have time for themselves to be happy.
In my book, I often mention the idea of time earned. It's unbelievable. When you have free time, we could change the world.
I sincerely think about the strength and time of all these women who are used to juggling home and work.
If a small share of their time was more balanced, it would make it possible for them to do more volunteer work and change society.
Could you give an example of a concrete solution to better share the mental load in a household?
In my opinion, there are three steps to change an unbalanced situation.
One: look at the women around you and see if you are among those who are burdened by this.
Two: [As someone's partner] believe the person who tells you that she carries a "mental load". We have to stop minimising the issue of the mental load: enough is enough.
And three, find cooperative solutions. Here’s one of the dozens I have in mind: having a Sunday night meeting.
It allows us to anticipate the needs of the family, to anticipate what is going to happen, and it allows the person who [has a bigger mental load] to not always to be the one organising the meeting.