“Unless you empower women to feel that they can be in relationships where they feel they have the right to expect their partner to do 50 per cent of the heavy lifting we are never going to really make progress.”
That’s Cheryl Giovannoni, head of Girls’ Day School Trust, on the stark statistics that prove just how much women have been disproportionately hit by the economic impact of pandemic. Research shows that 46 per cent of women made redundant during Covid said a lack of childcare played a role in them losing their jobs, while 72 per cent said they have been able to work fewer hours because of childcare issues.
Perhaps we had been labouring under the false impression that the split of household chores was improving, but the coronavirus crisis has removed any doubt that women still carry the bulk of responsibilities. How is it that with everyone working from home during Lockdown Part I it was women who were lumbered with most of the childcare, and as a consequence, have lost their jobs?
The problem is, says Giovannoni, that women’s jobs are often thought of as ‘just the second-degree career” of the relationship. She’s right. I have many female friends who are wildly more successful than their partners and yet still their jobs take a backseat. I know of a PhD professor whose husband needs reminding to pick their toddler up from nursery and a sales director who is the only one that cleans the house.
Giovannoni has called for girls to be taught from an early age to expect – I’d say demand – that their future partners share the running of a household equally. It’s true that men are doing more around the house than they used to, but it’s probably not as much as you think. In the UK in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics, women did around 60% more cooking, childcare and housework. That’s 26 hours a week, compared to a bloke’s 16 hours.
And it’s not just the basic jobs like cooking, cleaning and childcare, it’s the invisible mental load. Who keeps track of family birthdays? Who arranges the annual summer holiday? Who makes dentist and GP appointments? Probably the woman.
It’s this ‘worry work’ that takes a toll. The juggling of two people’s to-do lists, the having to check and double check that something’s been done, and when it’s been done, probably having to re-do it properly. It’s exhausting and things needs to change. Boys and girls need to be given the same messaging from the get-go about how a home should be run. Men need to step up and share the burden, but perhaps women too need to take a step back and just let the men figure it out.
Tonight, I’m going to ignore the washing up, leave the sofa cushions in disarray and tomorrow morning I might not make the bed.