Saturday, 19 February 2011

Trapped between Chauvinism and Feminism... and the dirty dishes.

This morning, as is the role of an English conversation tutor in Spain, I spent an hour chatting over coffee to a lovely Spanish lady and earned more money per hour than I could have believed possible for doing what I love most. However, today’s lesson left quite an impression on me. This mother of two small girls works a full time job 7.30 – 15.00 in an office of 40 employees in which she is the only woman. She then comes home to pick up her children from school and set about running her own resale business which she set up after getting married, and for which she sometimes works till 1am packing the goods to be posted to her clients. Add to this the fact that her husband, who, to his credit, holds down a full time job, does not involve himself in the feminine household activities: cleaning, cooking, washing... As the man of the house he reserves his energy for fixing anything that breaks, changing light bulbs, etc.

The idea of feminism was surely emancipation for women, yet the reality is sometimes not so clear. In a conference at the EU in Brussels last year, a survey informed us that the life-expectancy of women – traditionally far higher than that of a man – has been falling in recent years as the strain of working full time alongside giving birth, breast-feeding and bringing up children starts to take its toll on women’s health.

Amazingly, my time spent working with the European Union actually swayed me further away from feminism! I attended various lectures on the importance for children of having parents who invest in them, not to mention a Swedish study showing that the majority of working mothers end up with jobs in childcare anyway! It seems sad that the value of being a mother, or investing in family, has diminished so much. Perhaps staying at home and looking after young children full time is not everyone’s cup of tea, or always financially viable, but the benefit children receive is undeniable. Speaking of cups of tea, perhaps there are advantages to spending one's days taking children to the park or meeting up with other mums in coffee shops...Ha.

But of course, as equal opportunities open up for women in the workplace, it seems only fair that men are equally given the opportunity to participate in housework. Women of the 21st Century have moved on, but in many households they are waiting for men to catch up.

One of the problems in Spain is that people live with their parents until well into their 30s, as was the case with my student’s husband, whose mother still sorted his dirty washing until he married. Today’s University system in Britain does more than just educate women. It provides men with a vast practical education on the necessities of housework and cleanliness, which is hard to achieve while still under the mother’s wing at home. This is one of the main benefits of finding a man with a degree. My boyfriend is already becoming a very good cook. The fact that his mum still irons his boxers when he visits home is a minor detail which I am afraid he will have to learn to live without if we reach that stage in the relationship. ;-)


  1. Can't persuade Ruth to iron my boxers either although she did offer once but I looked the gift horse in the mouth with a sceptical comment and the creases stayed. However it has been shown in experiments that women are more dexterously skilled than men so they are better at sowing and I would have thought ironing too. So strictly on the grounds of an efficient division of labour within a relationship, I think anything involving dexterous ability - well, let's include all manual labour to make this truly comprehensive - should fall within the female realm. Ironing, dishwashing, cleaning, mending etc.... Now, what are men good at? Well, I would say any creative, planning and thinking activities. Like keeping up to date with what is happening in the world (watching TV news or reading paper), offering strategic planning advice ('Just seen the weather forecast so I think the thicker blue shirt will need ironing for tomorrow') and planning menus for the coming week. Of course a bit of cooking comes into it. Only men can BBQ. Grilling their favourite steak on a Saturday night too. Which strikes me as pretty 50/50. And in the summer there is the lawn to mow. Phew! How do we men get it all done?

  2. I hear what you are saying, it is hard for men to find time for all the deep thinking they are required to do... yet, I think there must be a reason why it is called MANual labour...