“Unpaid and unappreciated” is the ninth article in Julie Bindel’s online column for The Critic, “The feminist fix”, which explores feminism’s answer to today’s challenges. The eighth article, on feigned feminists who self-sabotage, can be read here.
Women are judged for having an untidy home; they are also judged for hiring a cleaner, however well they may pay and treat such employees. Men get away with saying that they must go home to “babysit” their own children, but women are considered to have committed a heinous crime if they take their eyes off their offspring for one minute, or dare to have a night out on the tiles while the father stays at home.
“My Nigel, he’s really good! He helps out loads with the kids and the housework.” What is wrong with this phrase? I mean, apart from living with a man called Nigel.
Jones forgot to reveal that he also benefited from a cleaner
Men have been extremely slow in changing their views and behaviour in relation to housework and childcare. As the feminist author Beatrix Campbell wrote in her 2014 book End of Equality, between the 1960s and the 2000s the amount of domestic work carried out by men in the home increased by approximately one minute per day, per year. In 1975, men did around 20 minutes of domestic chores per day; by 2004 this had increased to just 53 minutes.
Lockdown has made it worse. Recent research showed that 73 per cent of women who live with a male partner say they do all or most of the laundry, and that 70 per cent of women do all of the home-schooling. Many women said that they felt it important that their male partners worked “uninterrupted” during lockdown and admitted that they prioritised those needs above their own.
One of the greatest achievements of feminism has been to put the spotlight on male violence towards women and girls, and to introduce legislation to tackle it. The same cannot be said of women’s domestic servitude.
During lockdown last year in May, a row broke out on Twitter (where else?) between the Guardian columnist Owen Jones and various women.
Owen Jones said that “if someone can afford a cleaner, they should be paying them to stay at home and doing their own cleaning — they’ve certainly got the time to do it”. Jones ignored the fact that vast numbers of women working from home during lockdown would also be taking care of young children, with many acting as carers for elderly and disabled adults. It turned out that Jones, having lectured several women about cleaning, while advising them to get their male partners and older children to pull their weight (victim blaming, much?), forgot to reveal the fact that he also benefited from a cleaner.
Many hold men to different standards of cleanliness than women
Jones’s argument, with which I agree, was that middle class people should pay their cleaner to not work during lockdown. But it quickly descended into accusations of “rich women paying poor women to clean their homes”, which sounds very much like suggesting that women are responsible for cleaning their homes and not men. It also ignores the fact that many working class and low income women desperately need help with cleaning if they are working three jobs as well as cooking all the meals and ferrying kids around.
Many hold men to different standards of cleanliness in the home than we do women. Think about the last time you visited a male friend or relative whose place was in a mess. Then think about how you judged him (or not) and whether you commented on the state of the place, or simply told him off in the way that you might a child, and perhaps even helped do the dishes, feeling a bit sorry for him.
Then compare it with how you felt or even what you said out loud when visiting his female counterpart. Were you appalled? Did you wonder what on earth she did with her time? How could she live like that? Unless you are a paragon of virtue untouched by sexist stereotypes, which none of us are, I would wager that you judged her more harshly than you did him.
I have heard feminists say that one solution to the problem of men not pulling their weight is for women to do less housework and live in a pigsty. This is not the answer. Most women do not want to live like this, especially if they have young children or are caring for vulnerable adults. Generally, it is pretty gross to have a dirty kitchen and bathroom.
The feminist fix is straightforward.
Do not cook for him. Give him an ultimatum and mean it
Every time he drops his socks or undercrackers on the floor, take a photograph and upload it to his social media. Ditto when he leaves the toilet seat up and the cap off the toothpaste. If he leaves washing up, gather it in a (dirty) tea towel and dump it on the driving seat of his car. Tell his mates that he behaves and lives like an infant and can’t take responsibility for himself. If he presents himself as some kind of pro-feminist, antisexist man, expose him — and make sure people know that he is a massive hypocrite.
Do not cook for him. Give him an ultimatum and mean it. Tell him if this carries on, he can move out and live exactly as he likes. It is wholly irresponsible and immature for men to behave in this way in relation to women and their children. They are undeserving of the status of partner and father if they can’t perform basic tasks and expect women to run around them like an unpaid and unappreciated serving wench. This might sound harsh, but you will thank me in the long run.
This is war, sisters, and it is high time that the amnesty on male slobs comes to an end. Feminists have fought for centuries to end the oppression and subjugation of women, but there is no such thing as a liberated woman who cleans up after a bone-idle man.
Julie Bindel’s latest book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation (Constable, Robinson), was published on 2 September 2021.
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