On the face of it women have gone through incredible changes in the last 100 years, but it was with sad reflection the other day that I came to the conclusion that absolute parity between the sexes is proving impossible to achieve.
At the start of the feminist movement women fought for an equal contract; the Suffragettes campaigned for the woman’s vote and following on from this, feminists fought for female education, fair equal wages, maternity leave and equal rights within marriage.
Although wholly successful some social inequalities have taken longer to disperse. It took until 1965 for married women in France to be allowed the right to work without their husband’s permission and rape within marriage only became a crime in the UK in 1991. Sadly, marital rape has still not been achieved in many parts of the world. In fact, the challenges that the female western population is left to face are dramatically insignificant compared to those of the women in the developing world whose lives remain blighted by tyrannical administrations and standard misogyny.
In the western world, we still haven’t reached equal numbers of women in Parliament and women are still marginally poorer than men[i], but we cannot deny that the advances made by women are strides in the right direction.
But what about the reality of what we have achieved?
Yes, we can choose whether to have children thanks to contraception and abortion laws. Yes, we are allowed ambition and to decide a career path thanks to the advances in education and, yes, we can demand the same pay as our male colleagues when we get there.
But has all of this given us our freedom or have we imprisoned ourselves within ‘too high’ walls of expectations?
How many of us are now, as a result, finding ourselves doing a double shift of work and home?
Most of my friends claim to have ‘modern’ husbands and partners. They will quite happily cook for the ladies, pop to the shops and even show the vacuum cleaner around the house. But my research has strongly suggested that most of us ladies still feel responsible for the keeping of the ‘home’, even when we work full time.
I should make it quite clear at this point, before the torrent of abuse comes pouring my way, that I am not blaming men for this. It’s something that women seem to take upon themselves.
In 2013, the very glamourous Joan Collins was quoted to have said;
“We should celebrate being women and having the opportunities to do things that our mothers and grandmothers were not allowed to do.
They were expected to stay at home and do the cooking and the cleaning.
Though now of course, we are expected to do the cooking and the cleaning and the working.”
And it seems that there is truth within her quip. But maybe we only have ourselves to blame.
‘’He just doesn’t clean right’’ was a cry that I heard several times during my research for this article.
‘’He doesn’t get into the corners like I do’’.
‘’He makes such a mess when he cooks’’.
The complaints were quite endless…
It made me wonder if part of the problem is that generally women’s standards of cleanliness around the home is higher than that of their male counterparts.
I think this might well be true within my relationship. I know I drive my husband mad ‘cleaning the family out of the house’’ every time we go away. My argument is that I like to come home to a clean house. His argument is that we aren’t even going to be here. And I can kind of see his point.
I suppose I could be labelled a ‘neat freak’. But then so is my husband to a degree; his beloved car is spotless and when my husband and I lived separately he kept his flat lovely and tidy. Everything matched and everything had a place. But clean? Well in his eyes it was, but I couldn’t help but spy the dust gathering on the skirting boards; the grease on the hob and the dirty water marks in the sink. He just didn’t see it. And that’s the problem around our home now. He would do it, but he doesn’t see it and when I point it out, it just doesn’t matter to him that much, he thinks I’m being pedantic, so why should he do it. And that is why I do it. Because to me, it is important.
It’s not just the physical housekeeping work that women take upon themselves neither. As my friend pointed out, we ladies do all the emotional stuff too.
‘’My husband never remembers birthdays or takes it upon himself to send a card’’ she said.
And she’s right, how many of us work a shift, sort the house out, finally sit down and then start writing a ‘to do list’ for the next day? Things to remember. Cause if we don’t remember then no-one else will.
But the real question isn’t why do our men not do all this; no, the real question is why do we do this?
Would it really be so bad if the skirting boards gathered dust? Would Great Aunt Florence never speak to us again if we forgot to send a card? Would the kids really suffer if they had pizza now and then instead of a carefully balanced nutritious meal? I doubt it. Our worlds would carry on. Our friends would still love us and our families wouldn’t die of shame.
If I’m honest I do my double shift because I feel as if I should. My mother did it. My sister does it. If I don’t, I am failing as a mother and as a wife. The majority of the women I know all take control of their homes to some degree or another. Their husbands help and are happy to do so, but overall, the home is their domain and their charge. Being a housekeeper and being a mother is part of their role and any failures are construed as weak.
Well ladies, we are not weak. We are working ladies whose only culpability is that we try too hard to make everything perfect. Maybe the next step forward in our equality battle should involve looking at ourselves and making changes, instead of looking at the men and expecting them to change?
[i] Gender and poverty in Britain: changes and continuities between 1999 and 2012