Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Domesticity - Democracy or Dictatorship?

Housework is hard work - not just because it can be quite difficult to keep going with the boring work of cleaning the bathtub till it really gleams (I have never quite reached this Nirvanic state).  Along with the dusting and the constant round of preparing delicious nutritious food (this bit of the job can be quite fun), I found an invisible yet ever-present element of the workload was the management of human resources. 

Partly this involved inducting the Piglet into an appropriate level of input for keeping our homely world reasonably clean and tidy, however there was also a surprising amount to be done in determining the input of the Good Fella. 
In the early days I attempted a democratic approach.  I would hold earnest discussions about what needed doing in the house and attempt to reach consensus, viewing this as the logical means to domestic harmony.  Unfortunately nobody actually wants to clean the toilet, so consensus on this issue is not possible. 
Next I moved to the classic boss's mistake.  I did everything myself.  However this made the repressed rage build up in me to such toxic levels that popular demand led to my scrapping this approach.  During this phase, I did achieve one other insight.  I am the boss.  I wasn't a downtrodden serf doing domestic drudgery, I was actually in charge and had chosen to do all the scrubbing alone.  The fact that the Good Fella didn't join in enthusiastically after a long day at a dull desk indicated not his lack of support but rather the high level of intelligence that had led me to select him from a pretty good field of candidates to be my partner. 
To be honest I have never been a big fan of democracy.  Surveys still seem to show that the majority of the population would bring back hanging if they could, and designate people like me immigrants who should be sent back where we came from (Scotland in my case).  In the home, therefore, I have decided to adopt a system of benign dictatorship.  Sometimes I would rather be telling a cabinet of ministers how to run the country, however telling the two other people in our house what their cleaning tasks are has its interesting moments, and informs my taste in handbags rather better than some other female dictators' - although my shoe collection is a bit below par compared to Ms. Markos's. 
Academic research has identified four kinds of dad: 
  • Disciplinarian Dad is the old-fashioned type.  He plays little part in his children's lives and no part in the housework. 
  • Entertainer Dad will look after the children so that Mum can get round and do all the housework. 
  • Really Useful Dad will spend a good proportion of time with children, and will also do household tasks and shopping although he needs a list setting out what to do/buy. 
  • Fully Involved Dad not only takes care of the children but plays a full role in domestic tasks, at least 50%. 
While teaching this typology to students on my Understanding Families module, I thought, Do I really want a Fella who will go through my cupboards and rearrange all the cooking pans the way he thinks they should be, maybe even have the temerity to argue with me about the best way to hang washing on the line?  I realised that the problem wasn't that the Good Fella won't join in with the domestic delights of dusting.  I'm not making good enough lists for him. 
Nowadays I view the housework less as an opportunity to engage in the age-old Battle of the Sexes (the day that fighting to do the housework becomes a video game is the day I become a post-feminist), and more as an opportunity to improve my assertiveness skills.  I don't mean by that being more bossy - I'm already officially Dr. Bossypants.   I mean accepting that I'm in charge and organising the distribution of housework tasks so that it works for me, not just making sure it supports the Piglet and Good Fella schedules. 

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