Leading Article: How the sexes can reach equilibrium

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The Independent Online
IT IS commonly assumed that women's attitudes have changed dramatically in recent years, and that problems between the sexes reflect a failure of men to modernise themselves. As evidence, the image is evoked of the working woman who successfully combines career with home duties. In contrast, men are portrayed as barely domesticated and out-of-date, stuck in old patterns of full-time work and idle leisure. In this picture of society, men play the role of guilty parties, anachronistic in their attitudes, inflexible in their ways. Life would be fine if only men could be more like women.

A survey published today by Mintel seems only to confirm the case against men. The price of paid employment for women has, it appears, been drudgery rather than glamour as they find themselves saddled not only with a job but also with almost all the domestic chores. Meanwhile, men do little housework and enjoy more of the leisure.

But reality is surely different. Men are not acting as shamefully as appears to be the case and women have not changed as much as they might like to think. It may be that both sexes have to change considerably if they are to be happy in the modern world.

Traditionally, women gave their all as wives and mothers. The nature of family life did not lend itself to a distinction between work and leisure. As women have participated in the workplace, they have continued to give their all to a combination of job and home. Yet they need time for recreation: women who combine work with raising families may say they are fulfilled, but they also, understandably, complain of exhaustion.

Men are far more culturally attuned to the distinction between work and leisure, and to home as a place of rest rather than work. They are also more concerned to appease the demands of employers, since male self-esteem is so tied to careers. As a result, men in full-time jobs are working longer and longer hours, while also wisely taking time for leisure.

Seen in this light, the difficulties created when both spouses work are not solely attributable to men. They are more linked to the endurance of traditional attitudes that both women and men retain in a changed world. The answer seems to lie in part-time work for both sexes, with women as well as men understanding that home is for both work and leisure. As yet, only the most fortunate couples have reached this happy state of equilibrium.

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