Monday, 19 January 2009

Female-Male Household Chore Balance

I have mentioned before in passing how the song 'If I Was a Boy' by Beyonce which seems to have been on the radio for months is so unpleasant. All women pop artists seem to record at least one song about being cheated on and sometimes one about the experience making her stronger. I accept that for securing a female audience for their tracks this is a sensible thing to do. However, the impression it gives is that there are no decent men at all in the USA, that every man that even someone as independent as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna or Christina Aguillera is ever going to meet is going to cheat on them, be lazy and probably steal from them.

Beyonce's is probably the worst in which she envisages herself being a man for a day and she portrays the life of a slob not bothering with his appearance, doing bad things he knows he will get away with and being inconsiderate to his girlfriend. The man portrayed has no redeeming features and because she speaks about it generically, not referrring to a particular man it is seen as an admonishment to men in general. She gives not chance for the man, 'because you're just a boy, you don't understand' and never will. It is interesting that the word 'boy' is used especially from a black US artist. Perhaps she has no knowledge of its history. You can photographs from the 1950s of black men with placards saying 'I am not a boy, I am a man', because 'boy' was used to denigrate black men in segregated America to make them seem inferior or at least juvenile. You still hear South Africans (and not just white ones) refer to their 'garden boy' or 'the boy who fixed the car' to refer to black men in menial jobs even this long after apartheid finished. I know that like the word 'nigger' in US culture, boy has to some extent been recaptured as a kind of knock-about phrase, see 'Boyz N The 'Hood' (1991), 'Bad Boys' (1995) and 'Bad Boys 2' (2003) for a young man. However, with one swoop Beyonce has almost reinstated it as a derogatory term.

That is sorted then, why not just go off and become a lesbian because clearly no man stands a chance with you Beyonce. Probably more accurately no woman would either, as a lot of what she is talking about is selfishness. There is a sense that if a partner is not in 100% agreement with what the princess wants then he is not listening properly. Has Beyonce (or her song writer - BC Jean, aged 21) ever actually been in a relationship? If they try to run them like this then they are doomed to failure. All relationships are about balance, however, by bringing up daughters to think they are princesses the balance is being shattered. A princess feels she deserves to have absolutely everything she wishes. Some find men who will comply, but the women in such situations become insatiable and a lot of the bad debt in the UK is caused by unsustainable demands in the average household because no-one is willing to say 'let's stop and think if we can afford it' or even 'no'. This is the crux of the matter. On Beyonce's basis any man saying 'no' is simply not listening. What is neglected entirely, is that as adults we can listen and yet still disagree with someone. I accept that people say 'no' sometimes on an irrational basis, but then if you think that you open up dialogue. The female attitude that every request/demand must be complied with or it simply proves that the message has not been heard is very unhealthy and helps wreck relationships. Relationships that succeed are a fine balance that needs constant work from both parties. If one side keeps simply demanding and will not accept any other opinion then it is as much fun as being on a see-saw with one side concreted to the ground.

Relationships are supposed to be about fun are they not? They may be hard work at times, but that hard work is put in so that you can get some fun out of it. If the man is simply fuelling a consumer furnace (or conversely the woman is simply fuelling an eating, sleeping one; I am not saying all men are blameless) then there will never be fun and you might as well not bother. Of course in our societies people may be dependent on others economically and so have fewer options, but basically if you are not having fun with your relationship, why bother? I will be interested to see what the forthcoming movie 'Revolutionary Road' about a couple in small town USA (played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio) triggers off on this issue.

Women, you have to accept that a man you enter into a relationship is a man, he is an adult and so can make choices. These choices may differ from yours but that does not make him necessarily selfish or deaf to what you are saying. Presenting the options is the basis for discussion, and dialogue and debate are the only ways modern day human interaction can prosper whether it is within your family or at work or on the road or in the supermarket or wherever. The problem is, that in contrast to my generation, people are not taught that 'you can't always get all you want', if you admit that these days you are seen somehow as a fool or weak, but it is in fact an eternal truth of humanity and a lot of dissatisfaction arises from not recognising it. Treat your man like a man and talk with him rather than at him. Most men struggle to give their partners everything they want but at times they cannot or disagree that it is the right thing. A different opinion is not a crime (of course US culture's attitude tends to view that differently too, which may be a root cause of a lot of this).

Now, there is one issue on which men do fall down and that is domestic chores. A lot of the statistics come from the USA but it does seem that in the past thirty years the amount of housework done by men has risen by only 15% and time spent with children has trebled. However, men still totally underperform in the household chores. Though women now make up 46% of the workforce in the UK (and about 53% of the total population, though they are far more numerous among the over-65s) they do an average of 3 hours housework per day compared to 1 hour 40 minutes by men. This does not include shopping and childcare. In Spain in 2005, the government introduced a law to compel men to do 50% of the chores in the house. In that country women do up to five times as much housework as men who in turn only spend 13 minutes per day with their children. Men with younger wives and from better educated and better paid jobs are far more likely to do housework than men from lesser paid jobs. When the man earns far more of the income than the woman he is also less likely to work in the home. To some extent this all cuts back to the long hours and low pay that many people are expected to tolerate, especially in the UK. However, it also returns us to the 1970s perspective that running a house is a job for which people should be paid by the state, especially if child rearing is involved. The internet age has helped and being able to order groceries online and shop 24 hours per day in superstores has brought some flexibility. Interestingly men reduce the amount of housework they do when they marry their partner (presumably they feel they have caught her and no longer need to impress her) and after children are born because additional work derived from child rearing is seen as purely the woman's job. Given the rise in women doing 'do-it-yourself' activities such as fixing and installing things, roles that were previously seen as exclusively male, the overall balance of what goes on in the house seems to be tipping even further back towards the women.

Now, many women make the mistake of setting up home with a man who has come straight from his parental home (36% of boys and 23% of girls do no housework while growing up which is a neglectful attitude from parents). It is far better to pick a man who has lived alone for a while. Of course if he lives in utter squalor then pass him by. However, most young men who live alone get themselves together sufficiently to vacuum clean, wash dishes and wash clothing not least so that their property is not a health hazard. Men who rent property have it checked, depending on the landlord/lady, once every 1-6 months so cannot let it get too bad or they will be evicted, something they usually try to avoid. Having found a man you want to live with, talk to him about domestic chores before you start living together. You may be in love with each other but you are also becoming housemates. This may be why better educated men do more housework as they have usually lived away from home (though this is declining in the UK) while at university and been compelled to do chores, often as part of a rota. Another good source of men who can do chores are the armed forces.

Too many women do not talk through these things when the moving in together is being discussed and instead somehow expect the man to know who is to do what. Of course, despite what women think, men are not mindreaders (nor are women) and then she gets frustrated. Do not accuse him of 'not listening' when in fact you have never raised the issue. Talking about washing and cleaning is not sexy, but it helps a relationship run more smoothly. Both US and UK researchers have concluded that women who see their man doing more housework feel they are being treated more fairly and are more likely to engage in sexual activity with that man. How hard is housework? It is boring yes, so put your ipod on or iron in front of your favourite DVD, then it is little different to if you were simply watching TV or listening to music. Also think it is liable to win you more sex too. For some light physical activity you get quite a lot of reward.

Successful, enduring, fun relationships often are founded upon hammering out quite mundane and tedious issues. There is no point starting assuming that the man is incapable of understanding what is needed, you might as well give up right away. Beyonce, labelling men as irredeemable every morning on my radio is not helping gender relationships. Let us have a hit song about a man and woman discussing what has to be done and then getting it on because they feel there is a balance, and above all discussion, not simply dictation, in their relationship. Let us have less 'If I Were A Boy' and more of McFadden & Whitehead's 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now' (1979): 'There's been so many things that have held us down/ But now it looks like things are finally comin' around/ I know we've got a long, long way to go/ And where we'll end up, I don't know/ But we won't let nothin' hold us back/ We're puttin' ourselves together, We're polishin' up our act, yeah./'

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