Yet another report shows that men are still doing far less housework than women. Outrageous, says Ann Treneman, until she realises she doesn't spend 68 minutes a day cooking, 25 minutes doing the washing, 46 minutes shopping and 70 minutes cleaning either.
My family has clean genes. My grandfather, for instance, was very big on sweeping the street. "No, not clean enough," he would say while inspecting the concrete as us kids lined up on the kerb with our brushes. My mother remembers this with actual affection as she wipes the kitchen counter for the 100th time that day. My sister's idea of a disaster is a dirty bowl left festering overnight in the sink.
So it really should not come as any surprise to discover that most women spend the most amazing amount of time slaving away in the home. But yesterday's report from the Office for National Statistics provided the usual shock to the system. I couldn't believe that every day we women spend an average of 68 minutes cooking, 86 minutes looking after children, 25 minutes doing the washing, 46 minutes shopping and 70 minutes cleaning.
After amazement came outrage because, of course, men do nothing like as much unpaid work. They spend a measly 28 minutes per day in the kitchen, 55 minutes looking after the kids, three minutes doing the washing, 26 minutes shopping and 43 minutes cleaning. "Typical!" I harrumph, sitting down to read the paper after "cooking" a breakfast of Fruit Loops (one minute to open the box, another minute to pour the milk).
This self-righteous glow lasted for a good period of time. It certainly lasted as the children made their own packed lunches and we all hunted through the overflowing laundry basket for those missing pink ballet tights. I was not at all surprised that they remained elusive: the house is a study in chaos.
It is at this point that the glow started to fade and was replaced by guilt. Seventy minutes of cleaning per day! I probably don't put in that much per week, much less per day. And who spends 68 minutes cooking, for goodness sake? And all along, there I was thinking that other people bought Marks & Spencer convenience foods as well.
The very first feminist book I read had huge chunks devoted to the "tyranny of housework". It explained how we women have reacted to the invention of labour-saving devices through the ages by setting higher and higher standards of cleanliness. The result is that we spend more and more time trying to erase less and less dirt.
I thought about my mother's gleaming house and realised that male hegemony was reflected in every shining counter. The last thing I'd do would be to repeat the pattern: the time had come to stop that endless cycle of vacuuming.
And I did. Cleaning was kept to a minimum. Ironing was declared the work of the devil. "You should be proud to be rumpled!" I exhorted the children. I took to collecting little sayings such as the (allegedly) Ethiopian proverb that says: "When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion". At some point even I realised that things couldn't go on like this, and I hired the first of many cleaners (they usually fire me). She comes once a week for three hours. The latest Mintel survey showed that our spending on domestic service has gone up a whopping 294 per cent in just 10 years, and so clearly, I'm showing much more restraint than most.
There is one area where I exceed the norm, however. Do women, even working women, really only spend 86 minutes a day looking after children, as the survey suggests? I spend hours and hours doing this. Of course, men only put in 55 minutes, I note. Something doesn't quite add up here, but at least I'm back to feeling amazed at how hard we women work in the home. I think I'll just put my feet up and ponder that a little longer.
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