Terms I Hate: “The Honey Do List”

There are so many terms in our society that people don’t even think about before they say them. They’re colloquial, and their literal meanings are often very different than what the terms have come to mean. As a teacher, I have a plethora of these phrases that I outline for my students at the beginning of the year. They cannot say something is “gay” or “retarded” unless they are referring to a sexual preference or a specific disability, for example. As a wife, I have even more terms like this that I absolutely hate, and since we have bought a house and we listen to people talk to us about our gendered homeownership roles, the list is growing.

First up is “the honey do list.” I first heard this term just before we bought the house, when we were watching Friday Night Lights. Coach Taylor runs into a former player at the hardware store, and he says, “Do you have a honey do list, too?” or something to that effect. The second time I heard the term was just the other day. We had a guy come in from a sump pump company to assess our need for a backup system because of our finished basement. Tim and the man were standing at the door as he was getting ready to leave, and I was within earshot of them but out of sight. The man, trying to make conversation (and probably a sale), said to Tim, “How’s it going with the house? Do you have a honey do list about a mile long?” Tim, because he is awesome, replied, “My wife and I have been working on a lot of projects together, yea.”

The term “honey do list” might seem like a cute way to talk about all of the projects to do around the house. However, it’s connotation is that it’s something that the wife wants that the husband has to do. Not only that, but the implication there is that it’s a list of things the wife can’t do, so it’s hubby to the hardware store and to the rescue.

One could argue that a honey do list could be made for either partner in a heterosexual couple, but I’ve never heard it used that way, have you?

Like many things that relate to couples, the “honey do list” implies heterosexuality. Or, at least, it implies that one partner demands and the other partner does, regardless of gender. In this way, the “honey do list” brings up a lot of issues about power within relationships. When one person holds the power – or power tools, in this case – there are some terrible assumptions made, both by society and within a partnership. To assume that I need my husband to operate the man-tools in the house is downright sexist. To assume that I cannot learn to operate the man-tools in the house is downright rude.

Tim and I both have a list of projects to complete for the house about a mile long. Sometimes I’ll consult him on a project (like building this table) to see if he’ll help (I’m thinking I’ll need another pair of hands on that one), or if he even wants it done. On others, (like hanging pictures on the wall) I’ll just do it and expect him to compliment me on my awesome skillz. He, also, has a ton of projects that he does not need my permission to complete. Granted, the projects we each come up with for our lists are a bit gendered; mine tend to do with crafts and decor and his tend to do with the hardware store in some capacity. This just represents our interests, not necessarily our abilities. I, for example, have absolutely no interest in re-caulking the bathroom and he has no interest in making coasters out of maps of places we’ve been. However, we are both involved in the home and the house projects, and we certainly don’t tell each other what needs to get done and expect it to happen, as the “honey do list” would imply. We are equal partners who are equally invested in this house, thank you very much.

Photo Credit: russteaches

9 thoughts on “Terms I Hate: “The Honey Do List”

  1. Yes, this! I remember first hearing the term “honey do list” when I was 10 or 11. Initially my confusion with the term had to do with how I was hearing it. Rather than “honey do” I was hearing “honeydew” (as in, the melon.) I thought my aunt called it that because my uncle really like melons (turns out he really doesn’t.)

    Once I realized what it actually meant (when I was about 13) I decided I didn’t like it. After all, in my family it’s my mom who tackles a lot of those projects initially after talking to my dad about what she’s going to do.

    • Ashley on


      I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates this term! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Greg on

    At first I was encouraged that an attractive female that didn’t need to endear herself to the men’s rights wingnuts to curry favor with the opposite sex would hate the words “honey do list.”

    THEN I read the rationale, and saw that you were dismissing it because you felt the term implied women were too incompetent to do the things that typically wind up on said lists. That’s where you lost me. I regard general feminism as a good thing, but ultra-feminism is awful. Only the kind of feminism bordering on female supremacy could be insulted by honey-do lists, because such lists are commonly known as lists of demands from wives to husbands. It’s a list which men the world over grumble impotently to each other about, scared to challenge a woman’s authority to dictate when and how household tasks should get done. It’s clearly a tool which allows a woman to exercise power over a man. And yet you can decry it as something that’s OPPRESSING *YOU.* I’m sorry but that’s insanity.

    I’m all for gender equality. I feel rage at the idea of women being paid less or discriminated against when they can do a job as well as a man can. But ultra-feminism can lead ladies to become so hyper-focused on ONLY women’s perspective that they can’t see how men might think of things. I know not all wives are Honey-Do List Nazis (i.e. they understand it’s bad form to press the issue after a 70 or 80 hour workweek) but you have to concede that these things give women far more power than they take from them.

    • It’s great that you consider yourself a feminist 🙂 And I don’t mean that sarcastically, it’s honestly wonderful to hear that.

      Respectfully, I don’t consider the author’s hatred of the “honey do list” as ultra-feminism. Personally, I define ultra-feminism as the type with the rationale that women are better than men and should be treated accordingly. But your complaint is that the “honey do list” actually gives the power to the women, and that therefore, we shouldn’t be upset by it. But that isn’t gender inequality – that’s, as you said, power to the women.

      Beyond that, the “honey do list” carries with it a tone of exasperation – “Oh, the honey’s been after me to do this, I guess I gotta, isn’t she so sweet?”. It’s another relic of a time past, and it’s something we’re honestly trying to move on from. We aren’t trying to have control over our husbands – we don’t want them to cuckold to us – we want them to treat us as equals. It’s an example of the typical shrew wife stereotype, and, as any stereotype, that’s not something that really should be celebrated, or even tolerated.

      Obviously, it’s not nearly the worst roadblock to feminism today – in my opinion, it’s barely even on the radar. But it’s something, like the usage of “slut”, the dumb blonde stereotypes, and other generalizations, that is a symptom – and, I’d hesitantly say a cause – of a not-yet-equal society.

      And I’d prefer not to tackle your second comment, except to say that I hadn’t even looked at the author’s picture before reading the article, and doing so after your first sentence did not change my overall reading of it in the slightest. Please remember that your 50% of experience encompasses only the small slice of society that your life fits into. And it might have been a typo, but you mention that generally, less-attractive women are more likely to complain about how WOMEN treat MEN – in MY experience, I have seen this not at all. In fact, I have never, ever seen a woman complain about the treatment of men – the only issue this can cover is abuse (when a woman abuses a man and gets off, simply because she is a woman – this is a feminist issue as well; we want to see her convicted).

      Okay, I guess I am tackling it. I do not believe that people have pro- or anti-feminist ideas just to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex, and I do not think that appearance plays as big a part of it as you seem to believe. If a woman has to act meninist (and God, I hate that word) to get a man, she is not getting the right man.

      In all, it is a question of basic human empathy, and that’s something you learn or are born with, not something you pretend to have to get a date.

  3. Greg on

    And BTW I genuinely don’t mean anything mean-spirited by that opening line about the attractiveness vs. interest in men’s rights. I’ll admit that like a lot of men, I’m more preoccupied with looks than I want to be, and I often feel extreme guilt about it. But scientists aren’t shy about sharing stats that show that men gravitate to looks and women gravitate to status and wealth. My comment is about 50% informed by those studies and 50% by personal observation that the VERY few women who complain about how women treat men seem to be the ones who are less conventionally good-looking and (call me a cynic) seem to be arguing for men’s rights as a way to ingratiate themselves to men who might not be attracted to them otherwise.

    I consider myself someone who’s actually way too nice in day to day life, and typically would feel like it’s awful to say these things, but the truth about people is that they rarely rock boats that are keeping them afloat. People, male or female, won’t challenge the status quo of dating if it’s working for them. Few women will care about the plight of men who have to go through hell to impress them unless few guys seem to be willing to. The same goes for men… few and far between are the men arguing pro-feminist ideas for any reason other than to win over a woman.

    It’s the same as the rich rarely caring about the poor, etc… the beautiful and sought-after rarely care about the homely or the shy. I’m more arguing the harsh reality that a lot of us–men AND women–are shallow (myself included in a lot of ways) than trying to claim any high ground on this point. I would love to say I’m above such things, and one day hope I honestly can.

  4. I think the phrase “honey-do” invites all kind of projections. The language is probably more offensive than the reality has to be.
    Some hear “honey-do” as a demand.
    Some hear “honey-do (because I cannot do)”.
    Some hear “honey-do” as a whiny plea.
    Some hear “honey-do (even though I know I’ll end up doing it myself)”.

    I’ve recently been endeared to the honey-do list. By my husband. We use it as a tool for clear communication.

    I think the honey-do list has gotten a bad rap. Sure, it’s been skewed and abused over the years, but there are some wonderful things about it. I think back in the day when gender-roles reigned supreme, the list was made for a man by a woman because the woman usually spent more time at home. She was the one who noticed the things that needed to be done. Women didn’t make lists to stroke a man’s ego or out of desperation because they were incapable of doing the things on the list…they just had a bunch of other work to do. And it was work of a more routine nature. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. are all cyclical, everyday activities that need to happen consistently for a home to function smoothly. But that hornet’s nest also needs to be dealt with, and it sure would help if you, husband, could take care of that while I cook us some dinner.

    I grew up in a Southern home thoroughly saturated with ridiculous gender roles. My parents (and grandparents) never used honey-do lists because their tasks were so implied. Women cooked and cleaned. Men took care of cars, household repairs, and most yard work. As for honey-do lists, I knew what they were, I just didn’t think much about them.

    I’m pretty sure the exact moment my husband fell in love with me was the first time he saw we use a reciprocating saw. Our relationship blossomed over collaborative projects with heavy gender-role associations…building shelves, serving as florists for a mutual friend’s wedding, installing hardwood floors, baking together.

    Because we are of a different generation than my parents, when my husband and I got married, there were no gender-implied chores. It made household upkeep somewhat ambiguous. (Is he doing laundry this time, or am I? Do we just do our own? He loaded the dishwasher yesterday…does he like loading the dishwasher, or should we switch off?) Most of the time simple, direct communication works, but when we are planning out the week or preparing for company, we bust out the honey-do lists.

    He and I both really like having our own lists so we don’t have to stress out about the stuff on the other person’s list. It’s also a nice way to recognize and be thankful for what the other person is accomplishing. Yes, the phrase “honey-do” is loaded, but the honey-do list can be a beautiful, useful thing when it goes both ways and helps a couple communicate clearly.

  5. This must be a white privilege woman problem. Always made about insignificant shit while us minorities have more important things to rant about. One of the man reason I can’t stand white feminists. You are white. Stop being pissed off and offended by inconsequential things that are not rude, are not sexist, and are not offensive.

  6. dannie on

    When I first ask my husband to fix something that was broken around the house, he acted like it something that only bothered me. So after a while I quit asking him to fix things around the house. Then our marriage died and I moved to my own bedroom because financially we can not make it alone. Then I made a honey do list just to prepare the house for sale. Lo and behold he completely finished the chores on the list without complaining. Now when i open the cupboard door that no longer falls on me, I smile and think of him in good terms. He fixed the door that would not lock and now i feel safe again in our house. I think he is my hero. He mowed the yard and watered all my plants that he complains about. I think maybe he does like me. Our marriage is starting to see new growth because of one accomplished honey do list. Instead of a handy man becoming my hero my husband is starting to act like my hero. It makes me like doing his laundry, cooking his favorite meals and trying to look nice for him.

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