There’s no match for cleaning, guys
An Ireland rugby fixture leads Sarah Carey to reflect on men’s loose grasp of housework
“Are you watching the match?” the cheery butcher inquires, clearly expecting a positive response.
Momentarily I’m confused. I had been trying to figure out a menu that didn’t require using a hob all week, since yet again a tradesman has let me down. Casting aside thoughts of lamb and pork chops, I do a mental checklist. It’s Saturday so it can’t be Champions League. It’s only March so GAA hasn’t excited the population. A crucial Premiership or FA Cup tie? A European or World Cup qualifier? I have a brainwave. “Oh the rugby! We’re playing France!”, delighted with myself for remembering. The delight is short-lived as I realise the implications of yet another Six Nations weekend. That’s three matches that have to be watched, three second-hand commentaries to bore me, and nine hours when my husband’s attention will be on George Hook instead of setting up the composting bin.
My eyes betray dismay. The jovial meat man declares to another customer, a weathered-looking farmer, “Ah sure, the women aren’t interested, are they?” I resist the temptation to spit out what I’m thinking: “the women” don’t have time to be interested.
If it were a case of “the match”, it wouldn’t be so bad. But thanks to the marketing achievements of Sky, there’s an important match several nights of the week. And even if it’s not today’s big match, there will be some other “must” on the sporting calendar to distract the boyfriends, husbands and fathers from their domestic obligations. We go from Six Nations straight into Cheltenham, and there was simply no escape last week from the compulsory celebratory air around this formerly three-, now four-day event. That’s four days of running to the bookies instead of running the child’s bath, and four days of “just checking the results on Aertel” instead of checking that the meat isn’t burning while I’m upstairs with the Jif, sorry, Cif.
I grow increasingly agitated by the mandatory passive-participation in sport now required of the middle-class, middle-aged man. Somewhere and somehow, around 1996 I think, watching “the match” got written into the domestic contract as a non-negotiable item for men. Sport has a noble air that excuses it from the weekend flurry of catching up on housework. Once this nobility was attached to actually playing sport, and not hanging out in the pub watching it and then staying in the pub discussing it while women are racing through the ironing. Just when we were assured that men were sharing the burden of home maintenance, watching sport became the latest weapon in their arsenal to avoid housework.
That stockpile had included some admirable passive-aggressive techniques. Man-wishing-to-avoid-household-task could start off with postponing the job so long that the woman just ended up doing it herself. This seemed easier than nagging. If you keep up the nagging then you realise you’ve become a nag and are turning into your mother, so you just go ahead and do it. Of course, then you’ve become a martyr, in which case you’ve also turned into your mother.
If postponement becomes unavoidable, men proceed to doing the job so badly, you have to do it again anyway.
And now we have the use of sport and its double effect on the non-performance of housework. Since “the match” is on telly, this prevents men doing chores. In addition, they would much rather you refrained from doing it in their presence. Vacuuming is a particular source of irritation during the match.
At this point they can employ two strategies. They could just complain. But the smarter route is to urge you to relax and sit down. How can one relax knowing that the organic fruits have to be stewed for the infant’s weaning programme? You could not stew the fruit and give the child a jar instead, but this would make you a bad mother and faced with the choice of being a bad wife or a bad mother, the latter is the one to avoid.
Alternatively, you could just leave the house and engage in an alleged recreational activity, such as having hot wax poured over sensitive areas of your body and superfluous hair mercilessly stripped from your skin. On your return you find that no progress has been made on the work but there is an expectation of gratitude as he’s been minding the children. Fortunately this never involved leaving the TV room, and so you are left with only one course of action. Encourage him to watch the match in the pub so you can get on with it in peace.
He heads guilt-free to the pub and pretend that the work never happens at all. This act of delusion is revealed when the housework row takes place every few months and men can claim they do half because they don’t know that 90% of it exists.
You’ve conspired in helping them believe this. Now, not only are you doing most of the work, you are not entitled to any acknowledgement, never mind gratitude, for doing it at all. In our so-called post-feminist world, housework is not simply without status, but fast becoming a guilty secret.
The glass ceiling appears like a minor skirmish compared to the fight for shared cleaning, on which we have lost rather than gained territory. Any hope of a comeback seems dim as long as Sky Sports’ army of professional sportsmen dominate men’s spare time.
As for women’s spare time, it has yet to come into existence.