In 2020, there are some who may say we no longer need feminism. After all, women have the vote, access to education and jobs. But, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality.
One of the most significant arenas in which inequality still persists is the home. Archetypal expectations for men and women differ, as the cultural pressures on men to act as breadwinners and women to act as homemakers prevail. Women - whether partners or mothers - are expected to carry out most of the housework and, when kids are involved, take on most of the burden of childcare. Even in households where men take a more active role, it is still often down to women to administrate and oversee chores - and they are often the ones responsible when things don't get done. This model fails to account for job roles and can pressure women into part-time or flexible roles. There's a reason we use the phrase "working mum" but not "working dad".
Perhaps the most troubling element of this pocket of inequality is the invisible insidiousness, from TV shows that poke fun at male characters in care-giving roles to the fact that children are three times more likely to interrupt mums working from home than dads.
However, the coronavirus pandemic may have changed this, as both men and women are having to work from home, the level of unpaid domestic labour performed by women has become more visible. Many men, like those mentioned in the article, have no choice but to step up to the plate when it comes to childcare and chores. Does this mean that we're primed for another step toward gender equality?
The optimist in me wants to say yes. More people are talking about this problem than ever before. Recognising an issue is the first step in solving it. Surely seeing how much extra work their female counterparts carry out, husbands, fathers, male coworkers, etc. will step up and share the burden.
But I think the pessimist in me probably wins out this time. The cultural paradigm that positions men as the "helper" in domestic labour, rather than as equally responsible to do their share, is going to be difficult to shift - childcare and chores are too often seen as having an "opt-out" for men.
In the worst case, the effects of lockdown could compound the problem. When companies are able to bring employees back to the office, they are likely to do this on a flexible, choice-based system. This may leave female employees, who are under pressure to look after children and perform household chores, continuing to work from home to balance these demands. Meanwhile, male workers - who are seen as less responsible for domestic labour - are happier to return to work, are seen in the office, and may even have a better chance for promotion.
Housework may not be a particularly exciting topic. But it is crucial that we keep it in mind and assess the roles we play. Otherwise, we will continue to prop up unfair and unhelpful gender norms. At this moment, we have a choice to either strive for progress or stick to the status quo - and it all starts with the laundry.
her husband went from the occasional “helper” around the house to being 100% in charge of everything