Seán Moncrieff: Men, the untidy truth is you’re not pulling your weight in the house
At the current rate of improvement it will take 75 years to achieve full equality
There are few men with their feet up expecting their dinner to be put in front of them every night, and even fewer women prepared to do that
Because of domestic circumstances (she’s three), I’m usually up at six in the morning. Because of other domestic circumstances (various ages) and changes in work hours, I’ve started to use this time to get dinner ready for that evening. I don’t do it every morning; maybe a couple of mornings a week. No Domestic God medals for me.
Yet the first week I started into this new routine, Herself was saying to me: “oh, you don’t have to do that. I can cook.”
Guilt. She reacted with guilt. Man attempts to do his fair(ish) share of housework. Woman feels bad about it: this, I suspect, is not an uncommon trope among heterosexual couples. Others include him being rubbish at certain domestic tasks, so she gets frustrated and takes over. Or woman not being able to relax (unlike man) by constantly planning and making lists. The vacuum cleaner is out on a Saturday morning. She can’t help herself, or wants to control the household. So, let her at it.
Be warned: this might cause rows. Because it’s bad news lads. It doesn’t matter how woke or engaged or committed you may regard yourself to be. The untidy truth is that you’re probably not pulling your weight in the house. This has been well studied in academia and elsewhere, and the headline news is that women still shoulder a large majority of the domestic and childcare work. Even if both parties are employed outside the home; even if she’s earning more than him.
Things aren’t as bad as they used to be. There are few men with their feet up expecting their dinner to be put in front of them every night; and even fewer women prepared to do that. Yet an Icelandic think tank called Mencare – that promotes equal involvement – reckons that at the current rate of improvement it will take 75 years to achieve full equality in the home.
The reasons why aren’t entirely clear, given there’s a culture of fatherhood and many men who genuinely want equal involvement. Or say they do. The indications are that they are unaware of the shortfall, and have yet to escape their life-long conditioning, both at home and at work: other studies claim that in the workplace, women are 50 per cent more likely to carry out tasks no one wants to do. Just as in that guilt reaction, there’s conditioning that women have to wriggle away from as well.
But rather than just assume that all men are sexist pigs pretending at feminism, it is illuminating to compare this with the experience of same-sex couples. In LGBT households, the chore sharing is far more equal: until children arrive. All too often, if one partner is better paid and has one of those total-dedication jobs where they don’t want to hear that your child is sick, then the other partner gradually takes on a greater share of the work at home. But a key difference here is that both partners generally recognise and accept this change. In straight couples, it can be less harmonious.
Now this is not to let me and my kind off the unpolished hook. Consciously or not, we muster a passive resistance to doing more work at home. And while the increased paternity/parental leave is a welcome step, it’s still just a step. One of the larger battles is that of the workplace culture: one where men are still (mostly) paid more than women, but in return for that, they have to pretend they don’t have kids at all.
Men have to switch between two identities, at work and at home, and for some this must be difficult to do. A woman in the workplace who has to occasionally go home because of a childcare emergency is (mostly) accepted but not promoted. A man who does this would, oddly, be regarded as unreliable. Now there’s an irony.