Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip appeared on BBC One’s The One Show on Monday night, in a concerted effort to show the world that they are a nice, normal couple. As with every element of May’s public persona, the appearance was carefully crafted to promote an image of the PM as a “safe pair of hands”. Look, the interview was intended to say: we’re cosy! We’re chatty! We’re the sort of deeply boring but reliable couple you’d ask to feed your cat while you were on holiday! And hey – based on that logic, why not entrust Theresa with Brexit?
There were a couple of noteworthy revelations amid the show’s buttoned-up dullness. The first: Theresa May wants to bring back fox hunting. The second: she apparently believes in the gendered division of household labour.
In what was probably the oddest moment of a uniquely tedious interview, May earnestly informed The One Show hosts Matt Baker and Alex Jones that there are “boy jobs and girl jobs” when it comes to chores. Her husband nodded along, eagerly citing the fact that he takes out the bins as an illustration of how “I do the traditional boy jobs, by and large”.
Of course, the Mays are far from alone in seeing housework through a gendered lens. Research published in 2013 showed that UK women spend five hours more than men a week on unpaid labour within the home, with 60% of women reporting feeling that they do “more than their fair share” of household chores.
But aside from the whole bin thing, the PM and her husband failed to elaborate on what exactly constitutes a “boy job” and a “girl job” in 2017. Should men also be in charge of doing the washing up? Do women belong in the kitchen? And who exactly should be called upon to change a lightbulb?
To try and shed some light on the matter, we consulted an eclectic range of experts from fields including ancient history and personal hygiene to settle the matter once and for all. Here’s what they had to say.*
Taking out the bins: BOY JOB
Theresa and Philip May say that taking out the bins is a boys’ job – and according to dermatologist Minnie Pellis, they’re absolutely right. This is because men’s dermis (the second-to-top layer of skin) contains special proteins called cepitoblivions, which make them impervious to that icky, shuddery feeling women experience when splashed with bin juice, or when we accidentally touch a floppy old bit of banana peel.
“Men – sorry, boys – literally can’t feel ‘grossed out’ by the feeling of cold, sticky, wet substances on their skin,” explains Pellis. “As a result, it absolutely makes sense for them to be in charge of taking out the rubbish at the end of the night.”
Washing up: BOY JOB
In an interview with US Vogue earlier this year, the Prime Minister revealed that another one of her husband’s household chores is stacking the dishwasher. This tallies with the verdict of scientists we consulted, who agreed that men are fundamentally more suited than women to doing the dishes.
“If you look at the skeletons of ancient homo sapiens, it’s very clear that men’s hands have evolved to be bigger than the average female’s,” says Dr Sebastian Palms, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Exeter. “This makes them better at handling large pieces of kitchen equipment, such as plates and pans.”
According to experts, men are also more likely to enjoy polishing silver cutlery, thanks to a deep-rooted and primal obsession with swords, spears and other such weapons.
“In today’s society, cleaning butter smears off an antique French pastry knife is probably the closest most men are going to get to killing a mountain lion with a flint-headed spear,” says Brenda Axton, the Natural History Museum’s prehistoric weapons specialist. “Why not let them have their fun?”
Cooking: GIRL JOB
Theresa May has spoken about her love of cooking in the past, suggesting she might consider it a “girl job”. In this, the PM shares common ground with several furious men’s rights activists we found on the internet, all of whom agree that women belong in the kitchen.
This is generally fine by us, because we really like our kitchens. Our kitchens have pot plants, a plentiful and varied supply of herbal teas and – duh – our fridges, which we keep well-stocked with fresh vegetables, prosecco and Rolo yoghurts.
Plus, it’s 2017, so being in the kitchen doesn’t actually stop us doing stuff.
Telling a woman to get back in the kitchen is a weird insult to lob on Twitter. We can still tweet from kitchens. We have wifi & data plans.— Living Marble (@living_marble) April 14, 2016
But are Theresa May and the MRAs correct? Is cooking really a “girl’s job”?
“Oh, absolutely,” says culinary psychologist Professor Winona Greenleaf. “With the help of the right recipes and a good podcast or playlist on in the background, cooking can be both fun and relaxing.”
But what about men?
“What about them?” says Professor Greenleaf. “They notoriously hate both fun and relaxation. Besides, everyone knows men can’t cook.”
The following male chefs were not immediately available for comment: Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, Heston Blumenthal, Rick Stein, Marco Pierre White, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Guy Fieri.
Changing lightbulbs: BOY JOB
According to a survey published in 2014, changing lightbulbs is one of the few household chores that men handle more often than women. But why should such a relatively hassle-free task be so gendered? We spoke to Elaina Edison-Stanmore, great-great-great-granddaughter of the product’s 19th century inventor, Thomas Edison.
“What a lot of people don’t realise about my great-great-great-grandfather is that he was a child of his time, in that he was both a virulent misogynist and a wizard,” reveals Edison-Stanmore, who is also chairperson of the Thomas Edison Historical Society.
“He didn’t want women to get their hands on his beloved invention – literally. So he cast a spell, cursing every woman to be plagued by a fear of electrocution and burning their fingers on a still-hot bulb.
“You’ll find that even today, most women will do almost anything to get out of changing a 60-watter – including living by candlelight and claiming they ‘just like the atmosphere’.”
Laundry: GIRL JOB
In order to find out why more women do laundry than men, we sought out the insight of personal hygiene specialist Reseda Riekes, who explains that “what we have here is a basic self-perpetuating cycle”.
Like a white person who unhelpfully claims that they “don’t see colour”, many men simply don’t see the food stains, sweat patches and creases in their clothes.
“This ‘dirt-blindness’ often seems to go hand-in-hand with an inability to recognise the smell of body odour and damp,” says Riekes, “although research is still pending into why this might be.”
Women, in contrast, do notice these things – and if they live with a male partner, they’d rather just shove his grotty clothes into the washing machine than go out in public with someone who’s been wearing the same Radiohead t-shirt for 13 days in a row.
Consequently, a large minority of married men believe that fresh clothes simply ‘appear’ on the chair in their bedroom. When asked if he believes laundry is a “boy job” or a “girl job”, 39-year-old engineer Paul Runcorn replied: “Nice try, feminazi. It’s no one’s job. It just happens.”
Professor Angela Demeter, head of the Centre for Mythology Studies at King’s College London, describes the legend of the “laundry fairy” as a “classic example of how new folklore can take hold in modern times”.
Important notice: all of the experts cited in the above article are fictional. There is no such thing as a boy job and a girl job when it comes to household chores. If you really want to know how to divide up the housework, try asking the question “Is this fair?” rather than “What gender am I?”
Images: Rex Features, iStock