Are you the sort of person who emails me every now and then saying ‘stick to filth, stop with the feminist rants’? Look away now.
Are you a guy who claims he is a feminist but makes self-deprecatory jokes about how if he did the washing up he’d only do it badly so there’s really no point? Are you the kind of person who says ‘ah, men are just useless at housework though, aren’t they?’ This one’s for you.
Chore wars: housework and feminism
First thing’s first: men are not shit at housework. When my partner forgets to do the washing up, or the washing, or the tidying or the bathroom or any one of the million things that humans need to do in order to keep a household in working order, I do not roll my eyes. I do not tut and say ‘oh, baby, you’re such a man.’ That would be sexist.
When I complain to a friend that I’m sick and fucking tired of picking socks off the floor and changing bedsheets and the fact that I am always – always – the one who spots that the fridge needs cleaning before it grows a new species, I do not expect my friend to roll her eyes either: sexist.
Housework is a feminist issue. As I feel compelled to point out, it’s not the most important one. But it matters. It matters, precisely because it doesn’t always feel like it matters.
‘Oh, it’s only the washing up.’
‘It’s just a bit of vacuuming.’
‘It takes two seconds, so why make such a fuss?’
Thing is, as many people have pointed out: it’s unpaid work, so it’s not ‘just’ anything. Sure, it only takes a few minutes to run round the house picking up clothes and chucking them in the washing machine. Half a minute to put the powder in, choose the right setting, and set it off. Only ten minutes at the end to take the washing out, hang it up, and fold away the stuff I’ve negligently left drying there since halfway through last week. But it’s ten minutes of my time, and my time is precious.
When all the household chores are added together, I spend roughly ten hours a week cooking, cleaning, tidying, sorting, and screaming silent screams into my pillow because holy Christ this is not what I want to do with my life. Then, when I have finished with the screaming and I get onto a bit of a moan, people (mostly men, but often women too) tell me that it isn’t important. That, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter that I’ve had to clean the hob again because ha ha jokes when it comes to housework men are just not programmed to notice what needs doing.
A rock, a dishcloth and a hard place
This rant’s been sitting in my drafts for a while, as I pluck up the courage to spew it onto the internet and have people go ‘oh GOTN you’re so clichéd with your old-fashioned caring about domestic labour’, but this week BBC Woman’s Hour launched the ‘chore wars’ calculator, so I thought it was a good opportunity to let rip. Chore Wars is a bit of a cutesy, not massively accurate way to calculate who does the most chores in the household, and whether the split is fair.
This is not a feminist issue just because traditionally housework was seen as a ‘woman’s domain’ – it’s an issue because polling shows that much of the unpaid household work still falls to women, even in households where the amount of paid work is relatively even. It’s also a big issue because of how we still talk, think and write about it. When it comes to household chores, my male partner has two options:
- help out, and receive praise for being an amazing human
- not help out, and get some mild tuts and eye-rolls and a pat on his simple, masculine head
Ah, shit – in these options I have automatically used the phrase ‘help out’, as if he is stepping down from on high to swoop in and help this damsel in marigolds rather than performing a task that, ethically, is his to own. God, I hate me. And I also hate the fact that even on International Women’s Day this year, in relation to a press release about the uneven split of unpaid domestic work, Reuters’ headline smugly pronounced that Norwegian men are ‘most helpful’ with housework. Helpful. Not ‘contributing a fairer share’, but ‘helpful’. Thanks.
Talking of thanks, where’s my fucking pat on the head? Whenever my partner manages to do one load of washing or tidy the lounge, I have been conditioned to actually tell him ‘thank you’, like he is a particularly well-trained puppy doing clever tricks for biscuits. I myself am perpetuating the myth that household tasks are mine to own and his to deign to help with, by rewarding him just for getting off his arse. He hasn’t been conditioned to praise me for scrubbing a frying pan because I’m a woman, so apparently it’s just my goddamn job.
When it comes to the housework I have two options as well, but mine aren’t quite as tempting: I get to choose between being a servant or a nag.
Housework and sex
This is a sex blog primarily, and that’s because the vast majority of things in my life are actually linked to sex in some way. I am a horny, angry, feisty slag, and even something as simple as housework is linked to sex in my mind. I don’t find it enjoyably filthy to sashay around the house, naked but for a small cotton apron, and bend over to scrub the floors while boys wank in a corner (although that might be hot in the right context), but I do draw a strong mental link between sex and housework.
Housework is not sexy. Standing up to my elbows in a sinkful of grease is not sexy. Selecting the right washing cycle to remove jizz from the bedsheets is not sexy. It’s not even sexy when I strip to my knickers and scrub round the edge of the bath.
And so, when I do all the housework, I have less sex. I’m not on ‘sex strike’ until a guy swoops in to do it – why would I deliberately forego something I love just because I’m angry? It’s not a conscious and deliberate choice, it’s a byproduct of emotional and physical exhaustion.
If I’ve spent all day doing housework I’ve had no time to think about what I might like to do to him. No time to walk, or cycle, or do sit ups, or any of the things I do that make me feel sexy in a sweaty/musky/messy way. No time to remember the filthy fuck we had last week that I haven’t got round to blogging yet. The mental narrative running through my head on a good day involves any number of ‘mmm’s, ‘unnngh’s and ‘oh God I want him to bend me over the coffee table’s. Post-housework, my brain says ‘fuck this shit forever’ and hides in a hermit cave of boiling, passive-aggressive rage.
Bottom line: if I’ve spent ages hoovering the living room, I’m unlikely to want to fuck on the carpet.
Is this blog post sexist?
This isn’t a blog post in which I berate the male half of the species for not picking up a fucking duster. There are millions of men who are not only capable of doing this stuff, but who just get the hell on with it each and every day. Men who – day in, day out – consider the housework to be part and parcel of their role as a significant half of an equal partnership. Or – if they are poly or living in a flatshare – a significant contributing member of a group. Or even just on their own.
These are the men who don’t refer to spending time with their children as ‘babysitting’, or who declare with puffed-up pride that they’re ‘treating’ their girlfriend by cooking dinner, thus taking away perhaps 10% of the unpaid work that she does without thanks every day.
On the other side, there are women who do nothing around the house and drive their partners up the wall. These people are – unless there are genuinely good reasons such as issues with illness or a drastically different split in out-of-home paid work – equally selfish of course. But when their partners complain they’re unlikely to be met by well-meaning friends who roll their eyes and tut ‘women, eh? What can you do?’
Feminist men do the cooking
I’m not writing this just because I hate housework – most of us hate housework: it’s a thankless, miserable task. This isn’t about individual items to tick off a household ‘to do’ list: it’s about hypocrisy.
Because I’ve met men who go on marches and pickets. Who sign petitions and have angry rants and show solidarity to women on all manner of feminist issues, then go home and expect to be worshipped as a God because they spent two hours cooking dinner on Sunday.
If this isn’t you: well done. If this is you, have a little think about why you’re willing to write off unpaid labour as ‘not really my problem/not my area of expertise/something that magically happens when I’m not looking.’
Then put down your ‘awesome feminist’ badge, and pick up a fucking dishcloth.
Questions and comments
I love a good ruck as much as the next opinionated blogger. But here are some questions/comments that I anticipate I might receive as a result of this post, and what my response will be if you give them to me.
I’m a man, and I do exactly half of the housework. I am OUTRAGED by your rant.
Well done. If you do exactly half of the housework and you never moan about it or expect unnecessary thanks, then you are good. But not ‘good’ in the sense that ‘you get to sit on a moral high horse and shout at women who are frustrated by the traditionally unequal split of household chores’, just ‘good’ in the sense that ‘you meet the minimum standards of human decency.’
I am a man, and I do more housework than my female partner. I am OUTRAGED by your rant.
When you complain about her general slovenliness, are you greeted by people saying ‘well, you have to expect it really – women are so shit at this’? I suspect not. But well done for doing loads of housework, and if you’re frustrated I suggest you send your partner a link to this blog.
In my relationship, we have come to the arrangement that one of us earns the money and the other keeps house.
Congratulations. If you have both agreed to this and find it fair, then good luck to you both.
There are certain household tasks that I cannot do because I have a medical condition/have to work much longer hours than my partner.
There are many reasons why household tasks might not be evenly split. That’s obviously not what I’m talking about here though.
Have you tried training/teaching your partner to do better?
He is not a fucking dog. He is an adult who knows how to do this shit. Besides, this rant does not just come because he – a flawed individual like the rest of us – pisses me off sometimes by failing to do his fair share. This rant has come because he is not the only one by a long shot, and because I hate other people’s ‘men are useless’ excuses for this crap even more than I hate scrubbing pans and folding laundry. For the record, though, my partner is much better than many other dudes I’ve known, and he does what decent humans do, which is recognise where he falls down and try to get better at doing stuff. Sadly he doesn’t have a blog in which he can rant about my failings, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I fail too, in equally important ways.
Isn’t it just that women have higher standards than men and men are more happy to live in filth?
This question is a BONUS one added after a Twitter comment. This one’s thrown at me a lot, so worth tackling. Different individuals have different tolerances for mess: this is normal because we are human. But, unless you are asserting that ‘men’ as a homogenous mass, are all happy to eat off food-soiled plates, wear clothes that have never been washed, allow their bathrooms to smell of piss and mould, and never eat food that has had more than a five-minute blast in the microwave, then this is a massive red herring. As a lazy, slobby, twat who is generally happy to have dirty clothes carpeting my bedroom, I can assure you it’s not about differing standards: it’s about the time spent on work, and who holds responsibility.
This isn’t like you, GOTN, to rant about what ‘all men’ are like.
I’m not. Not ‘all men’ are like this. There are men who do their fair share, who thank their partners for doing theirs, and who never refer to caring for their children as ‘babysitting’. I’m not saying ‘all men are shit at housework’, I am saying that if you are a man and you are shit at housework then that’s a fucking problem. Moreover if you let a female partner do most of the household chores, you sure as shit don’t get to call yourself a feminist.