Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Battle of the Brooms: Housework

Housework is still an issue that looms large. Recent news stories about housework have included:

It's still a topical issue, this deciding who does what. Interestingly, an internet search revealed a lot more articles in the Daily Mail about this than anywhere else, suggesting that the writers of this particular rag believe the issue to be a particularly pertinent issue for their readers. So is housework The Elephant in the Room? Or is it just something that reactionary newspapers like to write stories about every time they get hold of another bit of research that they can pull out of context?

Where are we now?

So here we are girlies. Here is the wealthy western world we have more or less equal opportunities, we are thoroughly enfranchised, with access to education, the pill, abortion, maternity leave. The glass ceiling may still be there, but it's definitely cracking. Really, it's not that bad.There are still things to be done, but we're doing OK.

But what about the housework? Women now work the same hours as men but invariably end up doing a lot more housework. Figures from the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank in March this year suggested that eight out of 10 married women do more household chores, while just one in 10 married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife.

Now one thing I do think is that if he works full time and she stays at home or work part time, then yes she should be doing most of the housework. That is logical. Likewise if she works full time and he works part time or not at all, she should be able to come home to dinner and a clean house. Stands to reason. The trouble is, that while in the past he went out to work and earned the money while she stayed in and cooked and cleaned, now they both go out and earn the money, and in their spare time, she runs around frantically trying to do the cooking and cleaning. What's going wrong? Why are our men sitting idly by as we spend our evenings skivvying? Here are some reasons for this:

1950s-style drawing of a woman slumped down with a mop and bucket1. They see housework as 'women's work'
While there may be a few dinosaurs left out there who take this view, they are dying out fast now. It's now normal for men to cook and change nappies and I think they expect to be doing at least some of this stuff. The men I know don't expect women to do the housework as a matter of course, as they would have done a couple of generations ago.

2. We see it as 'women's work'
I think there are far more women who think this than men. We've done a far better job at winning over the men than the women. A lot of women still see it as an innate part of their femininity to cook and clean for a man. If you are both happy for you to stay at home and do this, then fair enough. But if he expects you to bring home some of the bread, then he should be helping to bake it.

3. We like cooking and cleaning
Our innate nestmaking instincts drive us to it. We like doing it, and we like the feeling of satisfaction we get when it's done. There is something in this. I do love cooking. I don't always count it as housework. The pollmakers do.

4.  Men don't care about the cooking and cleaning as much as women do
Maybe guys just aren't that bothered about whether the house is cleaned top to bottom and they have a cordon bleu meal every night. They either don't care about living surrounded by dirt, or else they just have a higher dirt threshold than their women, which means that we always get to it first. He would rather have a sandwich and ignore the dirty sink, while she will come in after a long day and rush around cooking and cleaning but feel satisfied that at the end of it they can both settle down to eat a nice dinner in a clean house.

In reality you can't separate these out. We're not that simple. We're a big mess of motivations, instincts and cultural practices. We don't make sense (people, not just women). We're full of contradictions, and I'm sure housework will continue to be an elephantine presence for generations to come. Anyway,  must go cook dinner. 

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