Gender equality at work? We need it at home first | Women's Agenda

Gender equality at work? We need it at home first

When some men discover my husband cooks dinner and cleans the house, they aren’t always all that happy about it.

“Are you sucking up to get something?” they’ll ask, before checking how far things go at home. “Do you wear an apron?” And a final, “Don’t tell my wife about that, or she’ll expect the same from me.”

Truth is, a lot of them are quite happy in their man’s world. I know women who report their husbands as saying things like, “Make sure the house is clean when I get home” or “What’s for dinner?” or “You want me to babysit the kids?” showing that many men still believe the house and kids are the woman’s domain.

The figures back this up: research released last month by the Australian Institute of Family Studies showed that regardless of whether women stay home, work part-time or full-time, they still take on a significantly greater load of housework and childcare than men.

This is the case for a friend of mine. She and her husband both work full-time and while he’ll happily play with the kids, at home it’s all on her shoulders. “If I ask him to do some washing, he’ll throw everything in together and ruin my clothes,” she says. “And if he does the supermarket shopping, he’ll ignore the list and instead buy chocolate, milk and donuts.” Eventually it becomes easier to do everything herself.

Wouldn’t it be great to have all your cooking, cleaning and washing done for you? But come on guys, if you can put together an entire surround sound system, surely you can separate some clothes. To me, acts like this are disrespectful to the women in their lives.

It isn’t all about the blokes’ attitudes, however. Women react to my helpful husband by telling me how wonderful he is and how “lucky” I am. Some have said I’m not experiencing the toughness of working motherhood in its entirety (as though it’s a competition). They are implying I’m not on equal footing with them because I don’t do “everything” around the house. Acquaintances will even query how much I trust my husband with our baby while I’m working or out alone. “Good luck with that,” one said sarcastically.

My husband takes offence to this, and so do I. The feminist in me believes the generations before us fought for women to be able to do anything – not to have to do everything.

But I believe women still don’t expect enough of their men on the domestic front. It’s an ingrained association between our level of busyness and self-worth; we feel less guilt if we’re looking after everyone else and creating a martyrdom of our lives. And so we allow ourselves to be treated like inferiors with, and by, our loved ones.

It’s such a contrast to the modern image. I believe that in order for the wider world to further progress gender equality we need to first change what happens behind closed doors.

Don’t get me wrong, things aren’t perfect in my home; like everyone else we experience a constant balancing act between family, work and home life. But don’t you think it’s worth the effort to show your partner some respect? Wouldn’t it be good to challenge the attitudes of men and women so they can model equality to their children in the one place they have control over it? Isn’t it just a basic concept of sharing?

And don’t you think it’s difficult to expect equality in the big, wide world when you don’t get that treatment in the comfort of your own home?

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