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Lucy Mangan: “7 ways to address the sexist housework gap”

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Lucy Mangan
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Man and woman washing up together

I have compiled a list of hard-won nuggets of wisdom, amassed over the years, about shared housework…

“This!” I said, stabbing at my phone with a frantic finger and forcing my friend to put down her glass and pay attention. “This! This is what I’m talking about, see! This!”

‘This’ was a tweet from writer Robin Beth Schaer (@robinschaer) of such shimmering perfection that it deservedly went viral. It ran thus: “My friend and her husband lived in an apartment that had a soap dispenser installed on the edge of the kitchen sink. When they moved out after two years, he marvelled to her: ‘It’s amazing how that dispenser never ran out of soap in all this time.’ Women’s work is truly invisible.”

My friend, you see, is about to move in with her partner. Like me before my boyfriend-who-would-become-husband, she has never lived with a partner before. For her sake, and possibly yours too, I have compiled a list of hard-won nuggets of wisdom, amassed over the years, about shared housework.

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The common everyday phrase that signifies laziness in a relationship

Split chores equally from the beginning. 

This is virtually impossible because you will do things automatically – like refill soap dispensers – that he may literally never realised need doing. My friend once went on a month’s work secondment and came back to find all the plants were dead. “They must just have missed you,” said her boyfriend. “Did you water them?” she asked. “No,” he replied, clearly baffled by the notion. “That’s what they missed,” she said.

Show, don’t tell. 

Don’t announce that you have cleaned the loo and that it is his turn next time. If required, show him exactly what is entailed – that actual human hands have to grasp actual brushes and cleaning fluids and scrub actual stains off the actual bowl. There’s no magic involved. There’s no toilet fairy. And he will have to reproduce the operation exactly.

Ditto replacing toothpaste and bog roll. 

Not magic. Human labour. Foresight. Split foresight equally.

Understand that there is no lower limit to what you might have to legislate for. 

In the early days, I once opened my fridge to find my then-boyfriend had put leftover sausages on the shelf. Not in Tupperware. Not even on a plate. Just directly onto the shelf.

Happy couple doing housework together

Be aware that having to teach – all at once – the innumerable skills that should have been

A necessary acquisition over the years, just as they were for you, will drive you daily to Krakatoan heights of fury. You must decide whether it is worth the investment. You’re essentially training a child, which is hard and boring (and deeply unerotic – it’s hard to move from towel-stacking lessons to sexytimes. Plus, remember, you’re permanently furious). Once these skills are added on, will all be well? Or will you dump him anyway?

Learn to distinguish, early on and often, between genuine and learned helplessness. 

The first means ignorance, which can be dispelled. The second means he’s a waste of space and you should reclaim it for yourself.

Make yourself a reading nook or a raffia-weaving station. 

You’re going to have loads more time now, what with the shared cleaning… hopefully.

Once you have learned to communicate your needs regarding housework, apply these lessons to all other facets of your life together.

It is the key to happiness. Well, that and him knowing that it’s not one long, continuous bog roll or massive soap canister that’s seen you through the year. Gotta know that, too. 

Image: Getty

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Lucy Mangan

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