I love how the grass looks when I’ve just mown it. Mowing is a pink job in our house. Putting out the bins is a blue job, as is going to the tip, cleaning the car (properly, wax, wheel trim and everything) and tickle games with the children. Weekend and holiday children duties are shared, cooking, cleaning, washing mostly pink, ironing equally disliked so split.
DIY is a tougher one. Traditionally it’s been a reluctantly blue job, with a joint preference to get someone in if we can possibly justify it, which is unfortunately not often enough. I have to admit to maybe, perhaps, in the past having played ‘a girl’ about it to avoid having to do it. I may even have gone so far as to either try to be coquettish about skirting it or make such a fuss about it my husband is bound to take the job on just to stop me blowing a gasket.
It’s a bit pathetic really, to be so useless at it. My mum is out there doing courses in plumbing, plastering and welding, doing better at them than the young guns and capably taking on all the DIY in her house that Dad would never let her anywhere near when he was alive. And here I am, nearly 40 and barely able to use an electric screwdriver, let alone a drill. What excuse do I have?
None I can feel proud of. Female emancipation was about equal rights to participate in society, about wanting gender not to matter – women can do anything just as well as men (physical strength allowing). So is it right to play a ‘girl’ card to get out of something I don’t want to do while at the same time expecting my husband to take equal share in the traditionally pink jobs? No, of course it’s not. Hiding behind the stereotypical female and male roles is definitely not cricket, on either side.
Which is why there is currently a deconstructed chest of drawers waiting for another coat of paint in our spare room. And our son’s freshly repainted and decorated room saw me try my hand at filling and sanding more than a nail hole for the first time, plus doing everything on the job, except the shelves – I couldn’t bear my drilling to leave wonky shelves I’d have to look at every day. I’m determined that I tackle these jobs myself now that I can’t use excuses of other pressing weekend jobs and short, exhausted evenings as easily as I did when I was working.
Hang on, wait a minute. How does this fit with women’s lib. Now not only am I chief of the typically female domains of cooking, cleaning, childcare, I’m now taking on the blue jobs too. Is this where the suffragettes thought their efforts would get us?
Well, maybe yes actually. Because 10 years ago, my husband and I entered our marriage on the understanding that we were, and are, equal. We are equally capable of fulfilling all but the child-bearing and breast-feeding roles in our partnership. Our intelligence, opinions and skills are equally valuable. In theory we could each support our family financially or domestically.
Right now, we have a pretty traditional set up, with me at home, not working, and him working his butt off, out of the house from 6.15am until at least 8.30/9pm every day. But that’s a choice we’ve made together, for now, and we know it will shift again as the kids get older, I get back into work mode (of some sort) and my husband has enough of City life.
Underneath it all, I think it’s a lot to do with expectation. He doesn’t expect me to be at home with the kids or do all the jobs I do at home just because I’m a woman. I don’t expect him to be the breadwinner or do his jobs because he’s a man (heavy physical lifting excepted). But each of us know we have our individual strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, attitudes to work, career, money, ambition. I can’t pretend we don’t have moments when a whiff of expectation causes defensive hackles to rise and cross words to be spoken, but it feels like we’ve found a way to muddle through that we are mostly, most of the time, happy with.
And to me, that is a brand of female emancipation. It might still result in traditional blue and pink domestic roles, and yes, cultural norms, pressures and assumptions no doubt play a significant part in why that happens. But I for one feel there is a choice in how we organise our domestic life as equal individuals, as an equal partnership. That’s got to be progress hasn’t it?