As I write, the film ‘Suffragette’ (ow.ly/UhknN) has been released, another reminder of the colossal struggle faced by women a century ago as they tried to secure basic rights for women. Since then we’ve had a series of named eras marking out the continued struggle and today we are living in the Fourth Wave of Feminism. Thank God these women had and have the courage to drive for social change.
However, what my own research has shown is that the result of this struggle is the creation of another layer of subconscious expectation that crashes into the reality of modern day domestic inequality. It creates really horrible, painful conflict that is difficult to identify, and therefore difficult to talk about and address. And, in many ways, it has become taboo.
So, what am I talking about? What is this taboo or silent crisis?
Today, it’s expected that women must strive for the top – to ‘make it’ in their careers given all the risks, sacrifices and efforts to achieve equality that have gone before and the contemporary focus including specific initiatives with some employers – women’s networks, balanced recruitment policies and so on. So, push forward and don’t complain. Be grateful for this idyllic landscape, the land of opportunity, that’s been created for you. But whatever you do, don’t mention domestic challenges – what more do you want for God’s sake? Work is not the place to talk about, think about or be distracted by domestic logistics or issues. Be committed.
So, women’s take on the implication of what they should be grateful for, is that they must pretend it’s all ok, whilst inside experiencing stress, panic, worry, exhaustion, frantic planning and praying. Every day is a military operation just to get to work and, God forbid one of the children get ill or have an accident or that there’s a traffic jam or public transport delay or cancellation on the way home to pick them up from nursery or school
So, it’s clearly not OK because these arrangements, these duties and responsibilities, sit with Mummy while her other half breezes along all day at work – because he’s not Daddy, apparently, till he gets home.
The toughest negotiation of women’s lives is the negotiation for equality of domestic responsibility with her partner – one which will seem impossible to contemplate for those entrenched in a division of roles that has left her without any sense of bargaining power.
My tip for women entering relationships – tough as it may sound – is don’t let your romantic or loving gestures become your long term ball-and-chain by letting them become habits. Establish equality in domestic roles from the start, down to the level of sharing out the continuous, must-do tasks like buying food, cooking, cleaning, washing, or he will take the conventional male, ad hoc ‘at-some-point’ tasks -like decorating and cleaning the car. The old gender division will leave him free to pursue his career interests and you wondering what happened to yours.