Some men do plenty more than their share
Friday 29 May 1998
SOPHY ROBINSON'S complaint about men not doing their share of the domestic load ended with "He should be doing more to help you - show me a man who shouldn't."
OK, I will. Sophy, a mother of three children under ten, gave up her seat on the board of a communications company to work freelance from home; her husband works very full-time in the City. Guess who ended up running the house. In our house, it's the other way round. Sarah, my partner, works full- time as a librarian.
Last autumn, I gave up a salaried job in PR in the voluntary sector to look after our baby son and the house, while trying to build a freelance career. We use a child-minder two days a week, (yes, I collect) and Sarah works from home one day a week. Nevertheless, I end up doing most of the domestic chores - for example, all the cleaning, most of the washing, all the cooking, etc.
I'm not claiming sainthood, and the only prize we'd win would be a wooden spoon from the environmental health department. But we've made a conscious choice that we want one parent with Theo the majority of the time, and we accept the hassle and financial impact this involves.
Sarah says this isn't a gender issue. "It is about a partner who is at home and a partner who works outside the home. The partner at work finds it hard to be fully involved. I really see myself in this as the man."
If I was working outside the home twelve hours a day, it would definitely affect what I did in the home. As I have to look at the kitchen floor in daylight, I am more prompted to do something about it.
"What about the joy of looking after the children?" Sarah asks. Lots of it is tedious, but I do get uninterrupted playing time with Theo.
Sarah misses him dreadfully and resents the idea that time with Theo is purely a chore. At least, she says, as a breast-feeding mum, she gets given the baby and a cup of tea as soon as she steps through the door.
The man doesn't have that.
"Write about how difficult it is to come home from work, by Thursday so tired you feel your legs have been cut off," she says.
We both know that I could meet Sarah with a rolling pin and a list of chores, but that wouldn't do either of us any good. Sarah has plenty more to say. "I'm sick of reading articles in The Independent by women complaining how hard it is, when they have nannies and cleaners. Ordering the servants around is such hard work!"
What about housework and gender roles in those households where they can't afford to shove the work on to an employee? Too much of the writing by men is about how tough it is. (I use the hoover and deserve the Nobel Prize, etc). I don't agree that, in the round, men have it harder. A career woman who gave up a well-paid job for erratic freelancing and house-care would find it as tough as I did, and she might feel as alienated from the support groups that exist.
Some of the childcare infrastructure can't quite cope with men attending weaning clinics, drop-ins, etc. To be quite honest, I'm too busy on "Theo days" to worry about whether National Childbirth Trust teas will welcome me, or find it odd that I'm there.
Sarah gets evil looks from other women when I take the baby off to change a nappy. I also know couples 20 years ahead of us where the woman spent the first two years telling the man "No, you don't do it like that, let me do it..." and now complains that the man won't do anything unprompted.
Everything Sophy said in the article about negotiating is important. I hate to think how much negotiating we have had to do recently!
Her action plan is fine, as far as it stands. But why assume it is always the man who is not doing their share?
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