As I write, we are in the middle of a domestic crisis. This morning I went downstairs to the kitchen to find a pool of creamy gunk oozing from the bottom of the fridge freezer. Opening the lower door confirmed my fears – sodden and dripping packets of chicken, pizza, chips, peas … the fridge freezer had packed in. The gunk was still dripping from an upturned tub of vanilla ice cream.
Husband had already been downstairs to the kitchen. He’d made coffee, opened the fridge, closed the fridge, stood right over the pool of melted ice cream… and noticed nothing. I wasn’t surprised.
Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour is devoting much time this week to Chore Wars – an exploration of who does what in the home – and has commissioned research confirming that, although women’s lives have changed substantially outside the home, inside it, they are still responsible for the bulk of the housework. As presenter Jane Garvey puts it, “Women are no longer trapped in the home. They can go out to work, then come home and start the housework.”
This is a row we’ve all been sleeping on for years. In 1963 Betty Freidan identified unpaid labour at home as “the problem that has no name”. Well, I’ve got a few names for it, actually, none of them printable.
I am pretty darned certain that I do the lioness’s share of our housework, but to check, I tried the Chore Calculator on the Woman’s Hour website, with husband’s input to make sure I wasn’t misrepresenting his efforts.
Turns out I do 24 hours of chores a week while he does 10, and we each do 10 hours of child care. I also do more hours of paid work than he does so, clearly, this is an unfair situation.
Yet the quiz also calculated that we were both happy with the level of chores we do. Because the truth is, we each select and carry out the chores that we actually want to do. I like cooking and most cleaning. I actively enjoy decorating. I hate seeing dirt. My husband, as we have established, does not even notice a large pool of melted ice cream on the kitchen floor. But then again, I don’t notice when the car’s tyres need changing or when its MoT and tax are due, or when our son needs money on his school catering card. The bin and recycling area is a strange and grubby foreign land to me. I don’t change the cat litter. The cat rarely comes to me for food.
Sometimes I wonder what greatness I might achieve if I didn’t spend 24 hours a week on chores, but someone has to take charge of the cleaning, cooking and shopping, or how’s the rest of the world to function? It’s vital work, especially the shopping. That pastel blue retro-chic Smeg fridge freezer won’t buy itself.