At a party a few weeks ago, I witnessed a blood-boiling example of inequality. Through the entire three courses of dinner – for which the women had put together salads and baked desserts, organized decorations and gifts for the birthday boy – the majority of the men remained glued to their seats as the women milled amongst them, collecting plates, serving food and effectively waited on them, hand and foot.
According to Oliver Burkeman’s article in The Guardian, Dirty Secret: Why is there still a housework gender gap? I am fortunate to be in a minority of women who has a husband more anal than I am about germs. Not that either of us cares that much, but we all know that there’s a fine line between pretending not to care and hoarding empty “Pods” bags under the bed.
According to recent statistics in the UK, Burkeman says, ‘the “housework gap” largely stopped narrowing in the 1980s. Men, it seems, conceded that they should be doing more than before – but then, having half-heartedly vacuumed the living room and passed a dampened cloth over the dining table, concluded that it was time for a nice sit-down.’
I can believe it.
For it appears that some men, (and middle-aged men seem to be among the biggest culprits), believe that they are the character of Don Draper in Mad Men, still living in the fifties, at a time when housework was the responsibility of their wives because they didn’t work in a professional capacity – even though, (seventy years on), women now work full-time, as well as doing sixty percent more housework than they do. Yes, I did say sixty percent. And that gender imbalance is behind Tanya Plibersek’s commitment to a new survey into the value of unpaid and domestic work, to gauge the true value of gender inequity in this sensitive area.
As Tanya has stated, ‘Women, for the most part, do not begrudge unpaid work because of the “joy in caring for those you love” but it leads to lower pay at work, more time off and a tendency to work part-time, all of which add to the gender pay gap.’
Please understand that I employ the verb ‘waiting’ with tongue firmly in cheek because what in fact my band of friends and I were really doing was coming to the aid of a sister – even if that’s how it felt. While most men managed to prise their privileged asses off their chairs to refill their glasses and collect their food, and one, (upon receiving the look from his wife), scuttled to the kitchen to carve the meat, (hunted and gathered by my friend from the butcher that afternoon), the male contribution overall was disconcertingly negligible.
Well… my husband’s argument is that it takes time for a culture to change – although he has been known to employ that excuse a little too often for my liking. I noticed his look of discomfort when I ribbed the group of men (stuck to their chairs around the table) about the blatant lack of equality as I piled their plates together, noisily, in the face of such blatant injustice. ‘You just sit there,’ I said sarcastically. A couple of them had the sense to look away, while the rest happily passed me their plates.
This is not unusual, nor as Burkeman points out, is it entirely the fault of the men. While many men are happy to get into the kitchen to cook, the concept of clearing up afterwards needs some further education. His suggestion, that perhaps we women need to step back, (even if men make a pig’s ear out of a simple task), makes sense. If we don’t, we are guilty of empowering their housework privilege; enabling their ineffectiveness to do simple domestic chores.
When I rewash those Bolognese-encrusted fry pans, am I feeding my husband’s genuine belief (I fear) that if he does a job badly enough, he won’t be asked to do it again? Surely, in a modern society where the majority of women work outside of the home as well, these chores should be divided?
‘But you do it so much better than me,’ he argues if I ask him to do something out of his comfort zone, such as clean the bathroom. And we all know how much easier it is to cave in when three sets of eye rolls are lobbed in your direction at the suggestion of help to clear the dinner table.
I’m fortunate, I suppose, that my husband does such a better job than me at putting the bins out on the street of a Tuesday night.
But what are men role-modeling to our sons with their half-assed approach to housework? In a modern world, and one in which we continue to fight for equality, what does it say to our boys when their fathers don’t clear the plates or load the dishwasher? What is the message from mothers to daughters when they assume control in the kitchen?
It’s time for a change. No-one’s arguing that it isn’t easier for us to do these chores ourselves. Have you ever watched a man put on a doona cover? Managing household chores avoids arguments, shoddy workmanship and the likelihood of a deadly bacteria cultivating on our bench tops, and yet, that’s not the point. It’s simply not the right thing to do.