“You can judge a good woman by how many well-dressed children she has and the contentment of her husband.”
That was the motto to which the Ladies’ Homemaker Monthly, a popular US magazine, and its readers, once subscribed. Over Christmas I saw this saying quoted (ironically) on a card and while it immediately struck me as outdated, it did make me wonder to what extent its legacy still lingers? Not simply regarding the grooming of one’s children and a husband’s happiness, but of a woman’s role as a homemaker as a mark of her worth.
Time and time again we are reminded that work is not evenly split on the home front. In Australia it’s estimated that women do 2 extra hours of domestic work a day than men do. As Claire Esmond wrote on Women’s Agenda yesterday, if the split between paid and unpaid work in your household is uneven it’s worth trying to rectify.
Part of this might involve having a conversation with the other people in your house to ensure the duties are spread more fairly. But I suspect another equally important component of levelling the playing field at home for women is getting comfortable with something (or many things) less than perfect.
Last year I laughed and nodded in furious agreement when I read these words of advice from QBE LMI chief executive Jenny Boddington. “I hear lots of women who say “Oh my husband doesn’t do the laundry the same way I do.” Grey underwear is a good price to pay for freedom from the laundry! Beans on toast is still food. Life doesn’t need to be perfect.”
She was talking about the juggle between home and work and specifically about the unrealistic standards many women strive to. Of course there are always exceptions but how many working men do you know who worry about the tidiness of their homes, the state of their laundry, their children’s grooming or the nutritional quality of the family meals? Not simply as logistical necessities but as achievements or reflections of themselves? I don’t know many men inclined to think that way but I do know many women, myself included, who fall into that trap.
There is a degree of concern on the domestic front that is very useful in all of these regards, to ensure a house is liveable, clothes are cleaned and there is food to eat. But there is a big difference between done and done perfectly. What is it that makes us women fixate on the latter more than men do?
I would say it’s because it wasn’t all that long ago that a woman’s worth was entirely tied up in her homemaking ability. As the Ladies’ Homemaker Monthly said women were judged by their husband’s happiness and their children’s clothes.
To an extent that type of thinking now seems a wholly antiquated relic from the 1950s; in 2015 being a wife is no longer the pinnacle of a woman’s achievements. But the legacy of a woman’s worth being so enmeshed with her ability to meet the needs of others and her ability to cook, clean and run a household perfectly, persists.
Intellectually we all know the ability to cook or clean does not capture a woman’s true worth but subconsciously how many of us believe that it does? I wonder how the division of domestic duties might unfold if women did lower the bar and went for ‘done’ more often than ‘done perfectly’? I’m giving it a whirl in my house this year and will report back. What do you think?