Lucy Mangan

"The domestic gender war isn't over"

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Housework is the bane of my life. I hate everything about it. I wish I could be one of those people who takes pride in having a sparkling home that is ready for guests at a moment’s notice but I’m not. I resent every single loathsome minute I have to spend on it. How fortunate I am, then, to be married and have someone at my side to share this soul-destroying load with me in equal measure.

I jest of course. About the marital division of labour, obviously, not my intense undying hatred of said labour. I am not alone. Figures just released by the Institute of Public Policy Research show that eight out of 10 married women still do more housework that their husbands. Last year, researchers from Oxford University estimated that it would take another 40 years for us to achieve Hoovering parity with our other halves. Which is faster than we’re going to achieve pay equality, of course, but as bright sides go it’s… well, not, particularly.

Why this disparity? Partly, I think, it is simply that – generally speaking – women have higher standards of hygiene. One of my earliest memories is of my mother rolling up her sleeves and James Herrioting her forearm down the lavatory. “Your father’s a very good man,” she once told me as she tried to dislocate her shoulder to attack the U-bend. “But there isn’t a man alive who can clean a toilet properly.”

Thirty years, numerous lavatories and several men of my own on, this seems to me to be the truest thing ever spoken. Most men think loos are self-cleaning. Or maybe replaced anew overnight by porcelain fairies, I don’t know. I remember one boyfriend looking first puzzled as I donned the Marigolds then utterly horrified as it became clear what I was going to do. “You’re not?” he gasped, stricken. “Yes,” I muttered. “Yes, I am. I am literally going to clear your shit up. Or at least, off.” We broke up soon after that. Maybe for him the magic was gone.

Most men think loos are self-cleaning. Or maybe replaced anew overnight by porcelain fairies

I really don’t know how you get around that. Hardcore moralists or romantics would argue that if your partner really loved you he would step up and share 50/50 in whatever was necessary to make you happy. Pragmatists would say ‘good luck with that’. Human nature being what it is, the person who cares more about an issue is going to spend more time on it while the other stares in baffled exasperation.

You can get a cleaner, of course, and I confess that last year, while I was pregnant, I finally gave in and did so, despite it being in flagrant contravention of my family’s entire philosophy which is that you clear your own mess up, you don’t palm it off on some other bugger (my family, it probably hardly needs pointing out at this stage, is northern).

But this is not an answer to the problem, it is an avoidance of it. Having a cleaner just enables you to avoid conflict with your partner and to avoid raising the awkward and complicated question of how it is that after decades of feminism and extensive anti-sexism legislation it is still perfectly possible and acceptable to come home to a world in which one half of it feels entitled to put his (mucky) feet up on the coffee table, while someone else runs the vacuum under them?

Having a cleaner also raises further questions. Is it right to outsource all the jobs you don’t want to do just because you can afford it? Is it the same as getting a takeaway when you can’t be bothered to cook? Or is there an ethical dimension that says you shouldn’t be employing someone who is (probably) less socioeconomically privileged than you simply to clear up your mess? And if you do, shouldn’t you be paying her holiday pay, sick pay and providing something in the way of pension contributions rather than widening that privilege gap yet further?

I avoided the last problem by hiring cleaners employed by a firm that provides them with all those things but the rest still stand. And if the gender war on the domestic front is not yet won, what hope do we have in the wider world? I do not have time to answer. We have people coming round and a house covered in cat hair. I must get to work.

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Main picture credit: Rex Features

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