The human society is made up of men and women who have been co-existing in different roles, most perennial being that of husband and wife. Traditionally, and it is still current in most of the societies, husband is the bread-winner and wife looks after the house. In certain societies, like in South Asian rural areas, women have accepted the additional role of associates with the male family members in the hard chores of farming which till the advent of mechanized farming involved tough manual labor. In spite of equal partnership, women folk were never perceived to be earning family members.
Daily Telegraph has recently initiated an interesting debate in its Family Section projecting varying points of view as to who does more productive work. The paper’s research population is western society where majority of women are as hard-working as the men, yet the debate goes on. In this paper yesterday, Mr Lyndon responded triumphantly to recent findings that if work and domestic chores are added together, men and women do roughly equal amounts of work. This, he was convinced, was the final straw for a feminism that claims that women work harder. He fervently hoped this would be an end to feminism’s “entire edifice of lies”.
It is not understood why people enter into this useless and endless debate and accuse each other of spreading lies. The writer claims that the Feminists have spread the untruth that women have jobs and have to run the house, too. According to Lyndon, this double-shift lie derives from the “feminist creed that men are lazy, snobbish, barbaric and incapable of switching on the vacuum cleaner without breaking it”. Jenni Murray and her truth-twisting collaborators will be forced to acknowledge their errors. The reason is a report from Dr Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics, who by adding domestic work, childcare, voluntary work and paid employment together, has concluded that men and women do the same amount of what she calls “productive” work – an average of eight hours. Unfortunately, her report does not explain what “productive” is.
There is no doubt that men can cook. They clear up – in our household much more efficiently than women. They now do jobs that, when I was young, they were much less enthusiastic about, such as cleaning the bathroom. Many would not be ashamed to answer the door in a pinny, holding a feather duster. But there is another kind of domestic work that doesn’t look nearly as productive. Lying awake in bed at night worrying about how you will entertain the children for yet another day of the summer holidays: is that productive? What about breaking off at the office to scribble a note to yourself to organize a costume for your child’s school play? Or fretting about when you’ll fit in uniform-buying before the start of term? Or nagging your eight-year-old to change into something respectable for tea with your elderly aunt?
The paper claims that women are forever texting the babysitter, ringing up their child’s friends’ mothers to organize play dates, arranging music lessons and then coordinating husbands to provide the lift, filling in the forms for field trips and booking dental appointments, taking the kids to the doctor, sending notes in to school and keeping control of the laundry. This is engine-room work. It often doesn’t result in anything tangible, but without mothers taking on these responsibilities, the whole ramshackle jalopy of family life would grind to a halt. I’m not suggesting men never do these jobs. Some exceptional men, especially where they have sole charge of children, do all of them. But they remain the exception rather than the rule. What matters isn’t so much whether chores are shared equally, as whether partners feel the arrangement is equitable – whether the sacrifices and compromises are worth it, because reciprocated by love, or a successful family life, or a better household income. And here we get into muddy waters.
Catherine Hakim, like Neil Lyndon, has form in attacking feminists, although not because feminists are “pernicious and poisonous”, but from the loftier position of female choice. A group of privileged women, she claims, has denied choice to “ordinary” women by insisting that all women want to work. It is true that many women decide to soft-pedal on their careers to concentrate more on mothering. Where families are affluent, privileged women may choose not to work at all. But it remains the case that women are consistently paid less than men, and couples may decide that a male career is a better bet.
So it’s complicated. As a feminist, I can honestly say that I have never thought of men as lazy, snobbish, barbaric and hazardous with a vacuum cleaner. I dare say there is the odd man out there who would fit Lyndon’s description, but I don’t know any. I adore men and depend in all sorts of ways on one of them in particular. That is not to say I don’t think things could be improved. Catherine Hakim’s report notes that, in Germany, household income is aggregated between couples and then split equally for tax purposes. This seems an excellent way of recognizing the importance of domestic work. It would also be gender-neutral and, my guess is, encourage men to do even more than they’re doing now. [Courtesy: Daily Telegraph]