You should’ve asked: how many women have heard their partner say this, surprised to see them incessantly deal with loads of household chores on a normal family day? The underlying meaning is, roughly, “if you are overloaded it’s pointless complaining about it. You just need to ask me to help you and I will”.

In the best-case scenario, such a behaviour is naive, while in the worst-case scenario it is utter unawareness, because it means that only women are aware (apparently, according to such standpoint, out of their primordial instinct to take care of others) of the needs that must be met, on a daily basis, in order to run the home. Such a concept, defined “mental load”, was cleverly illustrated by French comic artist Emma, author of the brilliant graphic novel You should’ve asked.

The comic strip went viral in May 2017 and eventually was made into a book (published in Italy by Laterza and released in February, with a foreword by Michela Murgia) that includes other stories by Emma recounting the daily life of women.

Mental overload is the phenomenon that explains why women, in a couple and when it comes to running the family and home, end up thinking about every painstaking detail: whether there is something that must absolutely be bought, whether the laundry basket is full and someone needs to do the washing, whether there is an important birthday coming up or whether the kids’ classroom is raising funds for a school project. It’s all about managing, planning and thinking ahead, on top of what they are already doing outside the home.

And while women are thinking and remembering, men are quite happy with executing, albeit with the best intentions. The roles are well defined – actually, deeply rooted – and not because of a choice the couple made wittingly. Rather, such a definition is the result of previous, patriarchal structures. But the author (as well as the thousands of women who bought the book, making it hugely successful) believes it is high time for men to start thinking a little more autonomously, for it is not enough to speedily execute the expected tasks: they need to take part more proactively and share the mental load.

That’s the only way for women to break free from this mnemonic and intellectual strain that steals precious time and resources they could use to take care of themselves and of their psycho-physical health. And for leisure, too.

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