Women's Guilt and Other Rashes
May kicked my arse with jobs and commitments and then I became ill and so did my son and all bets were off. My house was like it had been ransacked and found wanting, and I kept putting off the deep clean it needed.
In despair, I went onto a Facebook group called Mum’s Who Clean and asked how can I summon the energy to clean after being ill and having recently had an iron transfusion which was yet to start firing me up.
Their answer was to hire a cleaner to help me get back on top of the routine. It was all the advice I needed and that night I hired a cleaner to come and spend a solid four hours in my home and sorting my shit out.
I said to my husband the next morning I was getting a cleaner and he asked, ‘Why?’
Oh lord, please pray for me before I lose my shit at him.
My answer– ‘So you don’t have to clean it on the weekend.’
He nodded cheerfully and off he went to work.
The cleaner was marvellous and she had me sorted and organised and I wished I could afford to have her work every week but I cannot right now so I came to peace with it and waved her goodbye, putting extra money in her hand for having to deal with my son’s bathroom.
I thought about the Facebook group – Mums Who Clean. Is there a Facebook group for Dads Who Clean?
There isn’t one but there are these groups if you are wanting something fresh and exciting.
What a time to be alive.
Today I stumbled across an article on The Wife Guy today in the Washington Post.
The Wife Guy is the man who thinks that it’s okay for him to do less than the woman in the relationship because he called her his hero in public. Beto O’Rouke is a Wife Guy. Most politicians are Wife Guys. "My wife is my hero" is one way of saying "I've knowledgeably perpetuated the 65/35% discrepancy in household labor," aka "You're my hero, I have reconciled myself to valuing your labour less."
You know those type of men. The men who say my wife is my hero. But don’t use her name in the article or post. The men who think that saying this is enough to make up for the fact they don’t think about what they need at the shops and when the children have camp.
Years ago, a very sexist man who I took to task over his behaviour took Dave out for a drink because he said he wanted to talk to him about “Your wife.”
Dave corrected him – ‘You mean Kate?’
The man acquiesced and Dave said, ‘Well if you wanted to talk about Kate, then why am I here, why aren’t you asking her about your issues?’
So ended the lesson for him and the friendship, thank fuck.
I have never been and will not be a wife. It is a weird word to me. Both patriarchal and proprietary. I will always prefer to be called by my name.
But back to my cleaning.
I read a book called Women’s Work a personal reckoning with labour, motherhood and privilege by Megan Stack.
It is an interesting and compelling read, flawed like us all but she writes about concept of time as a Mother and wife. She writes,
"My time had been used as capital. It has been invested in the family future to improve our collective position. I paid in slices of time. I paid life, brain cells, books not yet written. How much art is lost because a woman spends her time elsewhere?"
That stung like vinegar on a fresh cut.
And then this – ‘That this model for women’s emancipation depends, itself, upon a permanent underclass of impoverished women.’
My cleaner was a young woman from Kenya. She is studying to be a chef and cleans houses for cash. She was bright and funny and thorough and I felt guilty the whole time. I should be doing this, I thought. She needs the money, I told myself. I am helping her pay her rent, she is helping me. The wheel of privilege spun in my mind and it landed on fairness.
I paid her what I would have wanted to receive for this job. Paying cheap is slave labour and you aren’t helping anyone, including yourself, when you pay someone below minimum wage. We are perpetuating the expectations that women are less than and deserve less.
We talked about Kenya and her family back there. She told me she can’t go back now, because she has seen how much work there is here and how beautiful Australia is but she also feels guilty because they have so little. She can’t stop working because she wants the money, she can’t say no to jobs because she knows how few jobs there are in Kenya. She was leaving to do her third house that night, at 8.00pm on the other side of town. I admired her work ethic I felt bad she was cleaning my house because I feel bad about asking anyone to do anything for me. A likely pair both driven by guilt.
I don’t want her to be impoverished or any woman to be the “wife” and not be paid for her work. A Facebook post is not enough payment. Public acknowledgement is not enough. Equal and fair pay is enough. Men doing their equal share is enough.
I joked to a woman at work that we needed a wife. Someone to pick up the dry cleaning, write the shopping lists, meal plan, get the dogs to the vet and more. I don’t think my husband does this unless he is nagged or reminded. He simply doesn’t think about it.
I carry the mental load for my family and I work two jobs. I did this. I made this happen. I allowed it to continue. Every woman does.
It’s not personal, it’s society. We allow this to happen. We make excuses for the men in our lives. We take over because it’s easier than arguing over the washing. Men will say I do more than other men I know. And? That is an answer of a child.
It isn’t about the doing. For me it is about the thinking. The mental space for the house and children. The emotional labour of thinking ahead for your family. The bills, the shifting of the sand to make room for the other responsibilities. The future self always preparing, menu planning, organising.
We take the lead in the home and then end up with what?
Last week I read a post on a social media site from a woman in Melbourne.
Aged 55. Husband left me with nothing, no super either. Trying to find work after thirty years out of the workforce. Looking to rent a share house with other women my age.
If women choose to not work to run their families then I want them to have superannuation paid, half of their husbands, put into their own different super account. I want them to have a wage of their own for hours worked. Because it is work. Cooking, cleaning, babies, school drop off and pickups and more.
The mental load though, is priceless. How can you pay someone to be your memory?