Here's a piece of statistical information that might, or might not, have you up in arms. According to the National Office for Statistics, the Average British Woman spends two hours and 30 minutes a day on housework, 90 minutes more than her male counterpart. The Average British Male, on the other hand, spends two hours and two minutes a day watching television, 23 minutes more than his female counterpart. That's 23 Average British Minutes, presumably, during which men are slumped on Average British Couches, peering Ricky Tomlinson-like over their large bellies at Top Gear, while the womenfolk are out in the kitchen heaving around great piles of dirty washing.
Are you up in arms? Am I? Not really. "But I love housework," I sometimes murmur in a wistful post-feminist way to my feminist (school of 65) mother. "That's because you don't have to do it," she snaps back. True, I'm partly winding her up. True, I don't have to do it - I can work instead and pay someone else. True, I love it on my own terms - as a blissful respite from the dreaded blank page, from the hellish clawing and scampering of the rat race, from my own coruscating ambition, from competition, failure, success, office politics and the general hell-ness of other people. One more hour, I tell myself as I sit at my lap-top, then I'll go and put that wash in the dryer.
My hour up, I ascend the stairs to a clear, bright space; the very heaven of the corner of my bathroom that is "the laundry". Oh, those clean white washes smelling of Comfort! The satisfaction of the folded knickers, the easy productivity of transfers from one plastic wash basket to another ... the tangled, used-up mess of cotton becoming an ordered, folded sweet smelling pile. (I see as I write that this is all about control). My latest wheeze is pressing the "audible signal" button on the dryer. Its Elysian trumpet calls me from my desk and I run up to iron sheets while they're still damp.
Ironing sheets? Am I crazy? Well, yes. Nor am I the Average British Female. I write. I work at home. Would I want to do the washing after a day teaching special-needs kids, or on the checkout?
So, back to the ironing of sheets. While ironing I am engaged in something physical (a left brain activity, I believe). I glance every now and then out of the window at the dreary, dank, winter green vegetation and my right brain (the creative part) coasts and I remember a Buddhist text I once read that said this is where you find true satisfaction in life; in the small moments of awareness, in the details. It's a kind of meditation.
But what about ironing the sheets when there is a man around not ironing the sheets? I recently began living with a man for the first time and, in the spirit of the decent new-man that he is, one day he hove the laundry basket on to his shoulder and stomped off to put a wash through. Oh no, was my first thought, he'll dye it all blue. Oh no, was my second thought, don't be such a sexist old bag. An hour later I was holding up my favourite white T-shirt. It wasn't just any old blue. It was a dirty, duck-egg, dish-rag blue. I realise that not all men do this, but nevertheless this is a true story. What to do?
I remember seeing a TV show as a child in which Jonathan Miller explained about a demonstrable biological difference in the brains of men and women, which makes women better at certain things; multi-tasking (writing and washing) or being a simultaneous translator. That small piece of information had a profound effect on me. I was proud! Never mind that the same biology arguably makes men better at single-tasking, I no longer felt shame. Enter post-feminism.
So, would it be terribly un-PC of me to say that I quite like the fact that many men don't really care much about washing and aren't very good at it and that's why they're interesting to us and that's why we do more of it and that's why they turn things blue?
Amy Jenkins created and wrote the TV series 'This Life'. Her latest novel is 'Funny Valentine', published by Hodder and StoughtonReuse content