Gentlemen, your attention please. My new public programme will now show you how to dust, shop, cook and clean up after yourselfby Andrew Martin / February 24, 2010 / Leave a comment
In this 40th anniversary of the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, Martin Amis has been pronouncing on the “battle of the sexes.” His peace plan is that men and women should do “50-50 in the home.” Asked whether he himself does his equal share, he replied, “Well, I do a lot of driving.” But driving, I fear, does not take place in the home.
The men of Britain are like my teenage sons: they have been leaving their clothes in a wet ball on the bathroom floor for far too long. They are now definitely taking the mickey. After researching her book, Hard Labour: The Sociology of Parenthood (2004), Caroline Gatrell concluded that “women bore the brunt of domestic work, no matter how much paid work they undertook,” and that men did no more housework today than they did 20 years ago. Men do more childcare, because they like doing that, and it gives them a chance to pass on the tribal lore from father to son: “You must never do any dusting,” or “If you wee on the toilet seat, don’t clean it up.”
If I ruled the world, I would create a public programme to educate men in housework. But my campaign would be inspired by my own father who, as a widower, had no choice about doing housework. He taught me that it is not unmanly to know that if you’re washing dishes by hand, the water should be as hot as you can stand, and changed regularly. He was not a feminist. Indeed, he taught me it was more effeminate to be dependent on a woman in the home than to do the work oneself.
Accordingly, the tone of the leaflets I would distribute at football matches, in working men’s clubs and betting shops would be terse and manly. Under the bracing strapline “Get It Together, for F***’s Sake,” each leaflet would address a different area of housework. There would be “Vacuuming for Beginners,” which would start:
“There is almost certainly a vacuum cleaner in your home. It may well be in the cupboard under the stairs…”
The reader would then be told how to distinguish between an upright vacuum (it stands upright) and a cylinder vacuum (it is cylindrical). The exciting point would be made that the more vacuuming you do, the less dusting you will have to do subsequently, since you can dust bookshelves, radiators and table tops with the brush attachment of the vacuum cleaner.
Another leaflet would be called, “An Introduction to Food Shopping (Including Where to Put the Things You Have Bought).” This would feature a list of questions such as: “Given that three onions bought pre-packed in a string bag will be twice as expensive as three onions bought loose, why would you buy the ones in the string bag?” (It’s actually a trick question in that the correct answer is: “You would not.”)
Men’s housework counsellors would address males at schools, colleges, in the workplace—and their “issues” would be workshopped. The question would be bluntly put: “You are willing to clean shoes but not to do the laundry. Why?” “You are willing to polish the car, but not the banister. Why?”
Teams of demonstrators would be sent around the country. At half time in football games, a man would carry an iron and an ironing board into the centre circle and demonstrate the ironing of a shirt. This could be a suitable role for David Beckham after he has retired. He would repeat the basic mantra that the parts of the shirt you iron last are the parts most likely to be crumpled in the process of ironing—that is, the front and the back, and men would think: “If he can remember that, so can I.”
Over the closing credits of television programmes featuring celebrity chefs, broadcasters would show footage of the chef clearing up. He would be at liberty to carry on swearing or peddling homespun cockney wisdom, or whatever his particular shtick might be, but he would have to wash up and then put things away in the right places where other people can find them.
Men would prove their eligibility for marriage by taking courses such as “Grade One Hygiene For Men,” the passing of which would result in the award of a certificate stating that the holder knows the difference between cleaning and disinfecting, and that there’s no point doing the latter unless you’ve done the former.
The certificate will attest that whilst the holder has never actually cleaned a toilet or a bath himself—that’s Grade Two—he has paid close attention as a woman does so, and he appreciates the necessity of performing the task himself at some point in the future. (If he’s got nothing else on.) Here, as with the whole programme, the aim would be to convey the message that if you don’t do housework, you’re going to spend your life arguing about it with women.
So why not just do some?