Thursday, March 22, 2007

This Woman's Work

"A baby is born. A child develops a high fever. The boiler breaks down. A parent suffers a stroke. These are the everyday events that throw a working woman's delicate balance between work and family into chaos."

- Cherie Booth, QC

Stop the presses! Despite more and more women working a 45 hour week, it seems that women are still picking up the slack at home. Although the relatively recent introduction of two weeks statutory paternity leave has both allowed and encouraged men to become more involved in the life of their offspring, it seems that this does not extend to staying at home with a sick child, or sharing the 15 hours of housework a week that piles up when two people move in together.

I believe passionately that the patriarchal attitudes still dominating society hurt men as well as women, although I've always been uncomfortable with the heavy emphasis on that which is so often used to 'justify' women's lib, as if equal rights weren't enough by themselves. Two centuries ago, Mary Wollstonecraft argued that when a woman takes on the sole care of running a house, it infantilises men who bounce from mother to wife with no real change in responsibility.

God knows, I don't like housework. But I see the value in it, in the ability to fend for oneself. My father told me once, in what I now suspect was an effort to get me to tidy my room on occasion, that after his first marriage he was determined to go it alone. He wanted to know that he could do domestic all by himself, that he could iron and cook and clean and decorate. And he did. When I was growing up, my mother was in and out of hospital with end-stage renal failure and its attending complications. It wasn't unusual for Dad to do the lion's share of housework in favour of Mum having a rest, or rearranging his working life to get the place in order, or look after two worried and confused little girls. It also wasn't unusual for my mother's friends to arrive unannounced with a lasagne or offers of help with the hoovering. It bothered me even then, because my father is a wonderful cook and this assumption that somehow he needed a surrogate housekeeper seemed to me to devalue everything he was doing for us. Housework as women’s work is an attitude that patronises everyone.

I wonder if the men involved in Fathers4Justice would be willing to sacrifice their careers, or at least their chances of promotion, and accept the ensuing lower income and longer hours that go hand in hand with those ‘equal parenting rights’ they claim to want. I wonder how many of them would have taken even the two weeks they are now legally allowed to spend with their newborn children.

We need to stop phrasing this argument as being about women – we should focus on the husbands, partners and fathers who are failing to uphold their end of the bargain.

2 Comments:

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Lola said...

By my calculations you owe me about 1500 hours of housework. Does that mean lesbians are even worse than men?

 
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