But this does not mean women cannot hold male partners to account, said McClelland. “Lack of sensitivity to domestic task affordances is not a visual impairment; it’s not like, say, colour blindness,” he said. “In the absence of affordance perception, you can still reason your way to what is to be done.”

But Jill’s philosophical “tug” towards emptying the bin does not equate to a natural affinity for housework. McClelland said: “Social norms and individuals’ affordance landscapes are inextricably linked: social norms shape which affordances we perceive.”
Gendered affordance perception means a married, different-sex couple – Jack and Jill, for example – may differ in how they perceive their domestic environment: when Jill enters a messy kitchen, she sees jobs to be done, Sliwa said, while these perceptions do not present Jack with a corresponding task.
Now, philosophers believe they have found why women continue to shoulder a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare in the modern era – but men think they do half of the chores.
“We argue for the existence of gendered affordance perception,” said McClelland. “We suggest that disparities in domestic and caring labour come about not just as a result of deeply held beliefs, desires and feelings but also as a result of gendered differences at the level of perception: that two partners in the same domestic environment can experience very different affordance landscapes.”

A friend and her husband recently moved home. Clearing out their old bathroom together, her husband turned to her in astonishment: “Look at this, we’ve lived here for three years and this soap dispenser has never run out!” Of course, the dispenser had run out many times – it’s just that he has always unwittingly relied on her to fill it.
The hypothesis puts Jill in a catch-22 situation, argued Sliwa: “She ends up either expending effort on doing the task or expending effort on consciously ignoring it. Moreover, if Jill wants to delegate the task to Jack, this, too, requires effort on her part.”
He added: “Moreover, if Jack is aware of his affordance blind spots, he ought to take precautions … he can adopt the resolution to check for crumbs every time he waits for the kettle to boil.”
This means, however, individual efforts are not enough to change the status quo: society needs policy-level interventions such as longer parental leave.
Writing in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, philosophers Tom McClelland and Paulina Sliwa suggest the disparity is down to “affordance theory”: the idea we experience objects and situations as having actions implicitly attached.
“It is very plausible to expect that Jill will end up doing a greater share of those tasks,” said Sliwa. “Over the course of the day, such small differences quickly add up to significant disparities – and Jack will systematically overestimate his contribution to domestic work and systematically underestimate Jill’s contribution.”
The impact of such wide-scale intervention will have impacts outside the domestic sphere as well as within it. “Is a woman more likely to perceive mugs in the office kitchen as affording cleaning? Is a woman more likely to see a distressed colleague as affording aid?” asked McClelland. “If so, how might this contribute to inequitable distributions of labour in the workplace?”

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