Viral cartoon uses work terms to explain to men why their wives are unhappy

Panel from "You Should've Asked," courtesy of the artist, Emma.
Panel from "You Should've Asked," courtesy of the artist, Emma.

The French cartoonist Emma's essay in comic-strip form, "You Should've Asked," has become a worldwide sensation. She published it initially in French but, since being translated into English, it has appeared in The Guardian and elsewhere and has been shared almost 200,000 times on Facebook. In the comic, she uses the language of the workplace to address the subject of chores within relationships and to help explain to men why their wives are unhappy.

Emma begins by recounting the story of the time she came by a colleague's apartment for dinner and lounged, drinking wine, with her colleague's husband while her colleague tried to cook and take care of the kids at the same time.

Disaster struck. "What did you do?" asked the husband.

"What do you mean, 'What did I do?'" retorted the wife. "I did everything!"

"You should've asked! I would've helped!" he said.

Emma explains that this sort of misunderstanding is common. Many men conceive of chores as "helping around the house," whereas women simply think of them as more work and, often, as their primary responsibility, even when they too have full-time jobs.

Emma uses a workplace analogy to try to help men better understand the distinction and why it leads to so much stress.

"When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he's viewing her as the manager of the household chores," she writes. The woman is the "project leader" of the home, and the man is the "underling." He doesn't act of his own initiative.

The trouble, Emma writes, is that "the mental load" of household care falls on women, who must try to juggle it in addition to their jobs and other responsibilities: "It's permanent and exhausting work, and it's invisible."

It's also unpaid.

To help create a fairer situation, she advises that men consider stepping forward and women realize that they can step back. Some men could get promoted to manager at home, or at least they could embrace a power-sharing arrangement that takes some of the pressure off of women.

Emma also points out that men could feel more comfortable taking ownership starting when their children are born by pushing for sensible parental leave policies.