Let's not kid ourselves that there's anything romantic about housework

Enjoying a spot of baking doesn't mean women want to go back to the 1950s.

Enjoying a spot of baking doesn't mean women want to go back to the 1950s. Photo: Stocksy

It's seems feminism has got it wrong. Again.

While we've been banging on about education, earning our own money and fighting for equality in the workplace, it turns out the real power and soul satisfaction comes from doing unpaid, undervalued, monotonous, and laborious domestic work.

Silly us.

"[People] see the domestic space as one area of women's power," Professor Maggie Andrews, cultural historian from the University of Worchester, recently said at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales.

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"Certain elements of the domestic have become much sexier, much more popular, an escape from the horrors of society."

Of course, Professor Andrews has evidence to back up her claims about the joys and benefits of housework. She cites the popularity of TV shows such as Great British Bake Off and female celebrity chefs such as Rachel Khoo.

Well, that settles it. Our desire to watch someone whip up a raspberry millefeuille on a reality TV show is proof that all women really want is to go back to the 1950s.

But I can't help but notice that Maggie Andrews is a professor who works at a university. And her public profile is significant enough that she's invited to speak at one of the world's great literary festivals.

Like many conservative women who try to encourage other women to go back to the kitchen by sexing up traditional gender roles, Professor Andrews personally has no interest in doing the same. If domestic work and forfeiting your financial independence and social status is so great, Maggie, then why aren't you doing it?

Having developed her ideas about domestic work from the telly and celebrity chefs, Professor Andrews doesn't really understand that making organic relish in twee little bottles or Kondo-ing your underwear draw isn't housework. It's a leisure activity for the privileged.

Most women don't get to choose between paid work and domestic work. They have to do both. And they don't have the time, the money or the energy to devote to the joys of making food porn.

Those of us who aren't ensconced in university departments of cultural studies know that, for many women, domestic work is doing a full day in paid work or caring for children, and then spending an additional 25 hours a week washing dirty clothes, cooking two meals each night (one for the kids and another for their husband because he's training for a marathon and won't eat carbs — or cook for himself), cleaning the vomit and crayon off the walls, ironing for the entire family, shopping for the family, planning the school lunches, booking medical appointments, completing school forms, helping with homework or reading to toddlers, getting up in the night when one of the kids wets the bed, changing the sheets, and then washing the sheets so there is a spare set for the next day.

Ah yes, but that's their choice, I hear you say. But it's not. There is a difference between having alternatives and having choices. There's no element of choice in domestic work. It simply has to be done. And since many men refuse to take equal responsibility for it, the burden falls to women.

What those who romanticise domestic work fail to understand is that power or satisfaction rarely comes from things you HAVE to do.

This is why most men I know who cook claim to love it. Meanwhile, most women I know who cook loathe it. Almost universally, these men only cook when they want to and are often showered with praise for their efforts. By contrast the women who hate cooking have to do it every single day otherwise their family will starve.

A woman might be bone tired from working all day, she might have been up all night with sick children, she might have the flu, she might have gastro, or she might just prefer to spend one night in 15 years doing something different. But that's too bad because mouths need to be fed, dishes need to be washed, clothes need to laundered.

Where Andrews has a point, is her observation that some women are rejecting the workforce in favour of staying at home. But it's not because we can't wait to get home to scrub our toilets or that we're hardwired for menial tasks or that we were conned by Second Wave feminists into abandoning our natural habitats and joining the workforce.

It's because we're exhausted by the second shift of domestic labour and wonder why we're killing ourselves raising children/running households and participating in a workplace that remains hostile to women.

Some women — those who are lucky enough to be able to afford to — are opting out of the workforce because they are fed up with working all day to earn less than their male colleagues, getting harassed, getting overlooked for promotions, being discriminated against and judged for being "working mothers", and then coming home to do most of the domestic work and child care.

Claiming that domestic work is a source of power for women is at best a symptom of unexamined privilege. At worst it is a cynical attempt to manipulate women into accepting their inequality.

If domestic work is so powerful, enjoyable and sexy, why aren't the blokes lining up to do it?

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of Thirty-Something and Over It: What happens when you wake up and don't want to go to work. Ever again.