Tim Lott: How trying too hard to be 'good' can end up hurting everyone else

Friday 13 September 2013 04:58

Picture this scenario. A woman goes out to work at a high-pressure job all day, while the man stays at home with a pre-school child. He goes to the park, does some cleaning (not too much - they have a cleaner), orders the shopping online, and has lunch with another parent. The day is boring, he has low status, but it is undemanding and sometimes fun.

His partner, a high-flying executive, has been up at six so that she can see her child before work. She managed to grab a sandwich for lunch at her desk, but otherwise has had hardly a moment to herself.

When she gets home that evening at 6.30, she is bushed. Her partner hands her a nappy and tells her to do a change. Then he tells her to make the child supper, give him or her a bath and put the baby to bed.

After that, she can help him make some dinner for them both and do the washing up afterwards. She refuses.

What would be most people's reaction to this scenario? I suggest that they would probably think that the man was a sexist and the woman well within her rights to refuse.

However, reverse the genders and how does it look then? I would say that it still looks like the man is being sexist. So deep does the ideology run that woman with kid at home = bored/put upon/oppressed, that the more modern middle-class reality, taking into account paid help, labour saving devices and so on, counts for little in the face of it.

I am not making the point that women have it "easy". They don't. In lower-income families, and with more children, the one stuck at home - almost invariably the woman - undoubtedly has it hardest. And women are still under-represented in the workplace, and underpaid when they get there.

But the fact that the Priory Clinic is now identifying a new breed of put-upon men who are cracking up under the strain of trying to be both worker bees and good Queen bees suggests to me that a double standard is operating.

And I know a good few men who fall into this category - like the previous generation of women were pressured to be Superwoman, now they have to be Superman. Irrespective of the objective workloads, it has become a given that if a man doesn't do exactly half of everything when he gets home from work and at weekends, he is a dinosaur and a loafer.

In reality, as in race, true equality means being blind to biological differences. This means sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Child-rearing in middle-class homes is much easier than it used to be, and paid work in the professional class is probably harder. Until this new reality is recognised, a lot more men are going to be checking into the Priory - because like the put-upon housewives who once preceded them, they are trying too hard to be "good" and ending up hurting themselves - and everyone else in the family - in the process.

Tim Lott, a father-of-three, is an award-winning novelist and broadcaster whose latest book, "The Love Secrets of Don Juan", is about a divorced ad executive struggling to be a good father

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