June 23, 2023

Book Review: Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

By Megan Hanafee-Major

Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed when they look at all the tasks that need to get done just to keep yourself and your family functioning? How many honey-do lists have sparked sheer panic? Are you tired of “nagging” your family for help around the house only to end up doing everything yourself anyway? It may sound like I am trying to sell something to you, but I promise that my love and appreciation for Fair Play is not based on commission. I genuinely think this book is such a great resource, so much so that I recommend it in therapy more than nearly any other book.

Here’s some context:

The Fair Play system was created by Eve Rodsky and is discussed in her book, Fair Play, as well as podcast, various articles, website, and documentary film. Throughout Fair Play, an emphasis on an equitable division of labor (physical and emotional) lays the foundation for a card-based “game” to help people and their partners approach the work in their homes.

Rodsky writes that she noticed a theme in her life and the lives of many of her female friends: taking on more than a “fair” share of domestic labor, childcare, and other household tasks.

On top of this, many of the women in her life noted that when their male partners did take over tasks, the women would receive endless texts, calls, questions, and pleas for help from their partners or even worse, realize the task was done so poorly that the wives were required to redo everything afterward to clean up their husbands messes (sometimes literally). Not only was this a waste of time, but all parties involved grew frustrated and resentful. The load of managing everyday duties began to take over so much of their lives that these women reported being unable to do things that made them happy and gave their lives purpose and excitement.

The creation of fair play

Rodsky felt inspired to talk to more people – lots more. She asked people she knew, people on special media, and people she didn’t know through various internet platforms about how things get done in their homes. She found that the troubles her inner circle reported were echoed in families all over. In response to this widespread issue, Rodsky used her skills as a lawyer specializing in organization management to create a systemic way to approach and redistribute inequitable home labor.

The result of her inquiry-turned-passion is a whole new way to think and talk about division of labor wrapped up in the guise of a card game! She created 100 task cards ranging from “doing the dishes” to “throwing the kids’ birthday party” which you and your partner can discuss, trade, discard, or divide as you see fit. Moving through the deck can not only provide context to talk about who will take responsibility for each card/task but Rodsky helped us out with breaking down each card/task into all the steps (mental and physical) necessary to complete it.

Is this book for me?

My family doesn’t look like a “conventional” family, will Fair Play work for us?

Although it is clear that Rodsky’s target audience is women with husbands and children, this method can absolutely be tailored to any household. Couples with no children, groups of roommates, blended families, single parents, parents who want to figure out the best way to divvy up chores for their children, and just about anyone else can use this method to assist in the unpleasant job of keeping house. While Rodsky acknowledges this, she primarily directs her writing to wives and mothers who are managing their household while either working outside or inside the home while their husbands work outside the home. This is not only because this is her own experience, but because most of the research on this topic uses this family framework.

My depression makes cleaning really difficult, I don’t think I can handle 50% of the chores on top of my job.

Of course, there is no such thing as exactly even distribution. This is influenced by countless things ranging from individual skill sets to physical and mental health. It is known that managing mental health concerns like depression or ADHD can complicate, or even make tasks like cleaning and personal hygiene nearly impossible. There is also evidence that individuals who take on an inequitable amount of labor demonstrate more symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns, and even more physical health concerns. All in all, this book may be for you if you notice that your mental well-being, or your partner’s, impacts the way that household tasks are completed (or not).

My partner and I are really progressive, we don’t want to fall into gendered stereotypes, will the Fair Play system support our values?

Many people hold subconscious ideas connecting household tasks with gender, even if they outwardly profess otherwise. This is not only common in heterosexual marriages but is also present in other partnerships, relationships, and marriages. In order to examine our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about division of labor, we need to honestly examine not only the values that we verbally attest, but our inward thoughts and the ideals that our actions demonstrate. Think about tasks, chores, or responsibilities that (even if done poorly) will get a man praised for being, “such a great dad/husband/partner/boyfriend,” but when completed by a woman, are seen as her doing her job or acting within her role.

This seems like a lot of work and life is already really busy, will it be worth it?

Recent research shows that for many men, they are no happier sharing the work than when their female partner takes on all the tasks. Women, though, report being significantly more satisfied when even a few tasks are shared. Data from the National Survey of Families and Households shows that, “Working women continue to do the bulk of the cooking and cleaning, around 28 hours a week, while husbands of working women contribute about 16 hours a week on chores.”

How can this method work for me?

Rodsky breaks down what can seem like a daunting topic into bite-sized action steps. Since she frames Fair Play like a game, the book walks us through each stage like an instruction manual. She guides us through her four rules:

  1. All time is created equal
  2. Reclaim your right to be interesting
  3. Start where you are now
  4. Establish your values and standards

Then she provides the cards of the game and directions on how to use them. Rodsky defines and describes each of the 100 cards so each family can determine which cards are “in play” or applicable to them. For example, 40 cards are specific to caring for children, so if you don’t have kids, these cards will likely not be relevant to your life. Then she guides you through discussing which cards are non-negotiable, which are valued by each player, and what small steps make up each task. She instructs you how to strategically “deal” all the cards in your deck so that each partner feels that their share is equitable or “fair” given their time and other constraints, as well as personal strengths and priorities.

Rodsky recognizes that there is trial and error in any system. So once you set a plan in place, she suggests you try it for a week then “re-deal.” This includes discussing how the week of implementing your cards went, giving each other feedback (and compliments), reassigning tasks if needed, and getting rid of cards if they prove unnecessary for your family.

The book concludes with reminders that the, “cards in your hand,” or the tasks that you are responsible for, are not set in stone. In fact, Rodsky suggests that you re-deal often as life changes. She spends time discussing FAQs and troubleshooting tips for common problems while playing.

Great, I’m sold! What’s next?

The framework that Fair Play offers on a common topic of conflict can benefit nearly any couple or family who wants to lighten their individual load, create equitable workloads, reframe household work as a partnership, increase time for your passions, and implement structure for an area of life that can feel overwhelming and chaotic. If, like many couples, division of labor is a point of contention in your home, the Fair Play method might be helpful for you. Talk to your therapist about the stress household chores bring to your life and relationship, and discuss if engaging with a tool like Fair Play could help. Your therapist would love to support you as you walk through the process of “playing” for the best division of labor for your family.

Written By

Megan Hanafee-Major

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