Have you ever complained about sexism? Ever felt discriminated against because of your gender?
What are you doing about it?
You’re female, and it’s up to the rest of the world to change?
We’re living in a rapidly changing world, thank God. But while we’re well on the path to equality in some ways, us females are still struggling with a serious 24% pay gap, as well as on average doing three times more housework than our male partners. It’s all too easy to focus on the man-made hurdles constructed daily in front of us, cursing the penis-wielders of the world for adding to our burdens – both domestic and professional. But we’re smart enough to recognise both society as a whole and the micro-society we create at home is also our responsibility. Here’s some ways we can help ourselves to eradicate gender boundaries at home – now and for the future generations we’re raising, who see EVERYTHING…
(This is written from the point of view of a hetero woman who lives with a hetero man. I know this isn’t everyone. if it’s not you, feel free to tell me to piss off and do something else awesome.)
1. Find a way to allocate household tasks neutrally. By this, I mean get out of the ridiculous cycle of female as nagging foreman and male as reluctant (zero-hours, maximum overtime) worker. It’s absolutely unfair on both and results in the poor woman being blamed for jobs even EXISTING, while the poor man gets the blame for not doing things fast enough or daring to sit down at the weekend. Instead, use something like the excellent Chore Wars game or a simple spreadsheet to make the skeleton of the domestic setup visible to all – it’s not a special secret only available to those with magic vaginal spectacles. Some tasks are daily, some weekly or monthly and others seasonal or reactive – share your knowledge of what needs doing when and take responsibility for discussing them calmly. You’re both adults and the house belongs to you both. If you choose to treat your partner like a child, you are being patronising and often forcing them to behave like one.
2. Do your share of the heavy lifting. If we want to raise girls who don’t get treated like weak little pansies and boys who don’t get treated as nothing but brawn, we must counteract this idea that males are strong and females aren’t. By adulthood, men can be up to 50% stronger than women in terms of brute strength – but this isn’t all because they are made differently. If you practise something, you get better at it. If you get told something is your area of expertise, you claim it. However convenient it is to ask your partner/brother/father to move the furniture, or open that jar, or saw a piece of wood in half – DON’T. Revel in your physical strength and you might surprise yourself. Distribute physical tasks evenly and fairly at home. I have to admit I have a secret desire for sinewy forearms which is behind my penchant for carrying shopping home rather than taking the car, or apparently tireless enthusiasm for bouncing babies in the air…
3. Don’t shy away from dirty or messy tasks, either. Why should having a dangly set of genitalia mean you get stuck with exploding bin juice or cleaning out the garage? If you need to wear gloves, or a set of overalls – go for it. Demonstrate that you are prepared to get involved in pest control, tree surgery, or drain unblocking just as much as the next man. A shower’s a shower, ladies. There’s nothing like retrieving a swampy, four-week old, full-to-bursting bin bag from the back of the garage for appreciating how often the bins need putting out. This very much extends to dead animals on the lawn or outdoor poo, too.
4. Avoid separating domains into male/female at home. This means the traditional house vs garage/garden split needs to go (why should he get all the spiders?), as does a study being male and a kitchen being female. The loft can come into this, too. Otherwise, what are you telling your kids? Daddies work, Mummies cook. Daddies dig, Mummies hoover. It’s not the 1950s and you should both feel welcome in every part of your shared environment. If you’ve made corners of your home into no-go areas for your partner, I suggest you reconsider your relationship (not the kids, though, that’s just common sense. You have to have somewhere to keep the wine and sex toys).
5. Get the children of all genders involved in all chores and make sure you teach them how to do them as patiently as you can. It’s so easy to split along gender lines at home: “You go and help Daddy at the dump, me and Milly are going to make the beds” But let’s be fair to our children’s future spouses, too – and recognise they might change gender or surprise us with their sexual orientation one day. Everyone should learn how to air the washing, load the dishwasher, and sweep the floor. Everyone should learn how to paint the fence, fill the car up with oil, and drain the radiators. Making household chores a way of passing on your skills to your children is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and results in a balanced family life where everyone – no matter how small – makes a contribution to the huge task of maintaining a home. Two-year-olds can work a smartphone, and therefore a digital washing-machine. Don’t forget one of the biggest and most relentless jobs: planning, buying and cooking meals for everyone…
6. Don’t be afraid to ask. In the current climate of ‘mansplaining’ we’ve all become acutely tuned to the patronising tone that can creep in in male-female interactions. But this absolutely shouldn’t stop you asking the man you love – the one you trust with your secrets and your naked body and your Facebook password – for some advice, sometimes. And vice versa. I am 32 and I’m of a generation of women who haven’t been routinely schooled in car maintenance, plumbing or gardening. To find out how to do these things, I had to swallow my pride and ask (and feel like an idiot, sometimes). I have no doubt my partner feels the same when he has to consult me on how to make Yorkshire puddings rise. These types of knowledge domains have been gender-restricted for so long that if we really care about cross-pollinating them, we’re going to have to share our expertise with each other – gently, and encouragingly, and with appreciation of what courage it takes to ask. And if not, there’ s always Google.
7. Surprise your partner by doing ‘their’ chores once in a while. I know, this may seem contradictory – but once you’ve settled into domestic bliss with someone, household jobs do naturally fall one way or another, and if this is according to skill or enjoyment rather than who’s got a trouser-sausage, great. But try not to let any one task become the exclusive responsibility of one person. Is there anything more loving than finding that the bins have already been put out for you, or your laundry is folded and in your drawers already? I’ve never been so ashamed of myself as the day when I was giving my partner a stern talking-to about not emptying the dishwasher for a few days. His reply – that I had never, not once, mowed the lawn, weeded the flower beds, or changed the lightbulbs – absolutely floored me. It was true. I’d just thought of them as ‘his’ jobs. I still feel like I’m not as good as some of these things as he is (he’s slightly taller, for instance) but being female is not a good enough excuse to leave them all to him.
8. Don’t monopolise the caring. This is a tricky one. The words ‘wife’ and ‘ mother’ bring with them attendant emotional loads of care, of course. But equality means letting Daddy wipe away the tears sometimes, and get the penitent hugs afterwards, too. Caring can be anything from fetching endless drinks to asking how someone is (and listening to the answer), to letting them become independent from you – and there’s the rub. If we take on the lion’s share of the emotional work of the family, we can get stuck in an unhealthy cycle of allowing children or partner to be dependent on us because we want to feel needed. Traditionally, men have understood this better than women, and we need them to help us evaluate when to step back and when to intervene. Demonstrate, but don’t hog the caring. Let your partner look after you. Let your kids look after your partner. Don’t be the conduit through which it all must happen, like some sort of emotional lightning rod. There is nothing more adorable than listening to siblings getting each other a chaotic sort of breakfast, or grandpas splashily bathing newborns. They will do things differently to you, and you must guard against the control freak in you breaking free and managing them at all costs. Or maybe you’re the brisk, strict parent and Daddy is good at the sensitive stuff, in which case each according to his skills – don’t force gender boundaries in the way of the best parenting the two of you can muster.