I had to blog about this as was really annoyed after I had watched the BBC4 programme on “Mothers”. This was part of a 3-programme series about women today and the impact of feminism – other two programmes entitled “Libbers” and “Activists”.  I was particularly interested in this programme as I had been interviewed about two years ago to see if I was “suitable” for taking part – caveat – no sour grapes though as after seeing the programme last night I am quite relieved that I wasn’t chosen!

On reflection, I think that the aim of the presenter/interviewer was to demonstrate that feminism had not really had much impact – or the intended impact – on women’s roles as mothers.  The upshot of looking at the lives of four or five families (a mix of non working and working mothers) was that women still shoulder the majority of domestic “chores” whether or not they work and that looking after children falls in the “domestic chores” category. Sadly, even the very articulate and intelligent woman who had chosen to give up work to look after her children still seemed to see looking after them as intricately connected to domestic mundaneness, even though she said ultimately she enjoyed it.  None of the women came across particularly well (except the one cited above). Most of them were portrayed as control freaks and either cringing and apologetic or workaholics. Worse still most of them seemed to regard the men in their lives with faint derision and scorn with patronising sideswipes about their inability to clear up.  The men came across as emasculated, out of touch, selfish and complacent.  I don’t think this was entirely the fault of the subjects. It was quite hard to take the analysis of feminism seriously when the interviewer was probing about which member of the relationship had made the decision to buy a certain type of washing powder. The subtext of the whole programme was that we had all failed but there was no sense of what success would look like.

I felt thoroughly depressed.

Admittedly I do have various rants about my partner’s inability to tidy up and I wouldn’t say we have a perfect relationship (who does!) or we have “got it right” but I did think it was really sad that there was no sense of balance in the programme.  Not one couple seemed completely comfortable with the division of tasks and most had some latent resentment (on the female side).

More worryingly, I think was the correlation of childrearing with toilet cleaning and laundry.  As I said above, even those interviewed who were very articulate about their choices around childcare couldn’t really disassociate the two. The corollary seemed to be  – care for one, care for all with “care” including cleaning the toilet.  Hmmm. And because of this there was a sense of alienating men or not enabling them to get involved in those activities (with the exception of the “house husband” but even in this relationship, it was extreme with the mother not knowing very little about her children’s domestic lives).  Some of the women seemed to imply that really they didn’t need their partners at all as they were quite capable, on an organisational level, of running their homes themselves. And for those things they couldn’t do – ie clean the gutters – they could just pay someone to do it. Is this feminism? I’m not convinced that this is the feminism I signed up to.

I find it hard to believe, or maybe I don’t want to, that this programme was representative of most couples bringing up children today.  I know that I have conversations with other mothers about the lists we make, the organisation we do, the fact that our partners don’t realise the effort we put in etc etc but I am minded that we are our own worse enemies and that by failing to make our partners realise how much we do we end up on a hamster wheel of doing more and more and more until we crack.  And I am sceptical too because when interviewed by the programme team I presented, I think and hope, a more balanced picture of task sharing, yet I did not see this represented. Whilst I associated with some of the mothers up to a point, I think the programme only showed extremes with some hidden agenda that feminism has failed us.

As a full time working mother, with a partner who also works, I know how hard it is to juggle and balance and negotiate and communicate on a daily basis. And sometimes the option to just do it yourself seems so much easier. But if we continue to do this and isolate our other halves – what examples do we give to our children? Particularly if we have girls? Just because we have children shouldn’t surely mean that we have to prove that we can do everything, including cleaning the kitchen sink? Why shouldn’t we admit we need help and actually – eeek- sometimes need men to help us? Just as men need women to help them.  We are just creating images to our children that women are task laden, put upon, workaholics who cannot articulate their needs and shoulder all the responsibilities, whereas men have “all the fun”, have the ability to disengage with domestic life, are not included and have a shadowy role.  If these are the models we portray then is it no wonder that girls are slaving away and achieving better grades at school (which is obviously good) but that boys are failing.

I don’t wish to be perceived as pro men and anti women, far from it, but I feel really saddened that as a woman we don’t question and challenge more, just seem to accept and resign ourselves to our lot.  Maybe we are all just too tired to do it and therefore, it is easier to just carry on and not think about it – as one mother commented in the programme.  And men are quite happy to perpetrate that as frankly, none of us actually relish the idea of cleaning the oven when we could be reading the newspaper, playing with our kids etc etc.

I’m trying to think of a positive way to end this but can’t really except I did come to the conclusion that more people should get cleaners. Sounds glib but I thought at least it was one way around the problem!  Then perhaps we might have a bit more energy to ask the difficult question – “please can you help me?”

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