/ 11 March 2012

Forty years of feminism — but women still do most housework

Brace yourself for the most maritally divisive piece of news you’ll hear all week: married women do more housework than their husbands. Analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank shows that eight out of 10 married women do more household chores, while just one in 10 married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife.

Just over one in 10 women — 13% — say their husbands do more housework than they do, while only 3% of married women do fewer than three hours a week, with almost half doing 13 hours or more.

In short, the gender imbalance is alive and thriving in the British household, according to the IPPR, which says its research shows that, for real equality, society needs to see men to pick up the vacuum cleaner and do their fair share.

Patterns of housework have changed only slightly. More than eight out of 10 women born in 1958 said they do more laundry and ironing than their partner, while seven out of 10 women born in 1970 agreed.

“The revolution in gender roles is unfinished business,” said Nick Pearce, director of IPPR. “Women still shoulder the overwhelming burden of household tasks, particularly after they have had children. When they earn more, their bargaining power with their partners increases, so closing the gender pay gap would help. Universal childcare, rather than tax relief for nannies or cleaners, is also the best way forward for a family-friendly, more equal Britain.

“On most key issues, the route to modern feminist goals must pass through fathers. Men should work more flexibly, take greater responsibility for caring for their children and their homes, and have the right to reserved parental leave,” says the IPPR.

Last month David Cameron said that tax relief for people paying domestic staff, what critics call the “butler tax break”, was “an interesting idea I want to look at further”. The Swedish and Finnish governments allow people to deduct half the cost of household services such as cleaning, cooking, lawn-mowing and babysitting from their tax bills. It is said to have created more than 5 000 jobs in Sweden.

But the IPPR says that just entrenches gender injustice and only universal childcare can help beleaguered parents from being forced into traditional “breadwinner and homemaker” roles.

‘I wish I’d kept up with the housework’
“Whenever we ask women about the most stressful thing in their lives, housework is at the top,” said Siobhan Freegard of Netmums. “Nobody lies on their deathbed thinking, ‘I wish I’d kept up with the housework’, but it is a serious issue dividing couples and we have to ask why it comes back time and again. Are we really genetically programmed to be keeping the cave tidy while the man goes off to hunt? We’re educated women, does housework really matter? Why do we care about it so much? Is it natural instinct or the root of inequality? Our kids see us arguing about it all the time and what are we saying to them about equality for women?

“For a long time it has been unfashionable to say that some women want to stay at home, to the point where women are now asking what happened to choice? Well, choice is gone for most women now. If you can afford to outsource cleaning and childcare, then you can keep your career, but we find it hard to outsource those roles. Maybe we disempower men. Women just get so fed up having to nag to get their partner to wash up that they do it themselves. We see women discussing what tricks to use — withholding nookie is popular!”

Academic and blogger Shehnaz Suterwalla said: “We’ve come full circle from the beginnings of feminism in the 1970s, when women were rejecting the traditional homemaker role and moving out of the house. Now it’s a space they are reclaiming, as we can see from the proliferation of television programmes and books about home crafts and decorating.

“But if women are reclaiming that space, seeing it as something productive and useful, then it still remains a source of tension and frustration within their relationships if there isn’t a willingness from men to contribute.

“Things are changing for women but men have yet to catch up. For some, the home has become this constantly made-over, beautified status symbol. What it means for men within that kind of space is yet to be understood, but I’d think they’d feel quite intimidated,” she said.

But a straw poll on Netmums tended to veer towards “lazy” rather than “intimidated” to describe the men in their lives. While single mothers pointed out that they had no choice, a common thread was frustration.

“My partner works and pays all the bills. Sometimes I still feel it would be nice if he offered to at least do something but he doesn’t and never has and probably never will,” said Nikki Payne. “His opinion is he works, so why should he? I also work.

“I think if I worked full-time he would still do diddly squat and it would be left for me. I mean, I am talking about a bloke who can’t even change a loo roll.” – guardian.co.uk