Change may be coming, albeit slowly and unevenlyby Hephzibah Anderson / December 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
It’s more about managing my own expectations,” I recently overheard one woman sigh to another in a café. She was juggling a grizzly baby on her lap while trying to sip a cup of rapidly cooling tea. They hadn’t been talking about the mythic sleeping-through-the-night or the messy prank that is baby-led weaning, they’d been discussing housework. More specifically, their other halves’ participation—participation apparently being an overly generous description.
Most couples seem to muddle along, learning to tolerate if not love their partner’s domestic flaws and foibles. It’s the arrival of a genuinely helpless new being in their midst that tends to bring things to a head. Though nothing can adequately prepare first-time parents for an infant’s ability to consume entire days, nights and adult selves, on a smaller scale, the Sisyphean tasks of wiping, washing, folding and mopping are continually staggering. And while for male partners domestic drudgery may be a badge of enlightenment, for women, it’s like being dragged back into prehistory, or at least to our grandmothers’ era.
But the real reason why heterosexually-coupled women feel like they’re pulling more than their weight on the home front is simple: they overwhelmingly are. ONS data from 2016 showed that British men reported putting in an average of 16 hours a week of domestic toil, including childcare, which was up massively from the 1971 average of an hour and 20 minutes, but still falls woefully behind the 26 hours a week that British women spend labouring to keep things running smoothly. In America, men contribute seven hours a week to women’s 17, and in France it’s 10 hours to women’s 20. Pity our poor Portuguese sisters, whose 22 hours are supplemented by a measly 3.5 hours of male assistance.
No wonder my coupled new mum friends seemed just as haggard as solo-mother-by-choice me when our babies were born. I had a sense of what I was signing up for, not to mention the blessing of a hands-on mum of my own living five minutes away. My friends, meanwhile, were wasting precious energy feeling miffed when their partner headed off to the office every morning, leaving them with a wailing baby and a mountain of laundry.
In ascending to the ivory tower and bedding itself down in theory…