Men who don’t cook or do housework

cook-housework
Cook lamb roast photo by Vicki flickr https://flic.kr/p/4u4Dtr

This topic would not have raised an eyelash in my Dad’s era, a generation of men who did not cook or do housework. Many men of my vintage grew up in households where duties were strictly demarcated along gender lines: Dad went to work and paid the bills; Mum stayed home and did all the housework and cooking; knitting, sewing, mending – shall I go on?

We kids had chores to do – washing up, drying, putting away, feeding the chooks, collecting the eggs and so on. Dad would come home on pay day and hand his pay packet to Mum. Later on she’d give Dad an ‘allowance’ for his smokes, haircuts and the like.

Mums from this era did more than cook and keep house; they managed to harvest a lot of the household food, swapping eggs for freshly-caught fish and turning a peach tree harvest into 20 jars of preserves, for example. There were always vegies in the garden (brussel sprouts, yum), and in the pantry multiple jars of homemade marmalade, jams, chutneys, pickled onions and so on. There’s no end to one woman’s ingenuity when making a working man’s pay last a family of five.

When we came home from school there was usually something in the oven – scones, bread, biscuits. The house smelled good and Mum was nearly always there. Dinner times were a bit regimented. Dad would get up about 5 (he worked nights so had an afternoon nap) and sit in his favourite chair reading the newspaper until dinner was served at 6. It wasn’t quite the pipe and slippers routine, but close to it.

Decades later, as a result of living alone or in share houses and with women who had at least read the Female Eunuch, I evolved into what is sometimes called a ‘SNAG’.

There are a lot of us around now – some do all the cooking, bake cakes and make preserves.

If you’ve been paying attention, She Who is Ambidextrous broke her right wrist six weeks ago and although she had the plaster off last week, she’s showing little inclination to oust me from my new-found kingdom.

Like the song says, I can’t do without my Kitchen Man,” she jested, while covertly supervising the preparation of the leg of lamb. (I used a slow cooker, first searing the joint to keep the flavours in, inserting a couple of cloves of garlic and later added potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato and onion).

This was my second attempt at a lamb roast. The first one was (we both agreed), a little dry. The recipe said cook on low for 10 hours so that’s what I did. I’m only now finding out, after six weeks of being chief cook and rice cooker washer, recipes are only meant to be a guide.

I’ll be the first to admit it takes a bit of gumption to invade the kitchen of a classy cook, although of late SWIA was showing signs of taking a break. I’m sure she did not mean that literally.

My contributions in the kitchen prior to the fracture included sausages and mash, home-made pizzas or pies and vegies for footie nights and the occasional spaghetti bolognaise.

I had precious few disasters during my tour as camp cook and one or two meals (chicken stir fry and a beef curry), drew compliments from the resident chef.

Readers will know I do other chores around the house: vacuuming, laundry, ironing and outside chores like pulling the wheelie bins up a 97m driveway or emptying the Bokashi bucket (don’t ask).

Men who do their share are usually visible (like the young hipster I saw with a baby strapped to his front and a toddler clutching his ankle, navigating a trolley down the organic foods aisle and carefully reading labels).

Such a sight could lull you into thinking 21st century men had moved on and now do their share of unpaid domestic work. Well, not really.

The invisible ones surfaced in 2016 Census data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – one in four men who said they did no housework at all. The Census estimated that Australian women spend between five and 14 hours per week doing ‘household work’ while men on average spend five hours. This work is mainly defined as including cooking and housework. Many more hours (up to 30 per week), are spent on unpaid household tasks like laundry, child care and shopping.

Dr Leah Ruppanner, senior lecturer in Sociology at University of Melbourne, suggests women still spend twice as much time on housework as men.

Writing for The Conversation, Dr Ruppanner said Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed Australian working women spend on average 25 hours a week doing housework (in addition to the 36.4 hours spent in full-time employment.

Men working full-time spent 15 hours a week doing housework, on top of their 40 hour week. The data was drawn from a massive but infrequent ABS Time Use Study, last completed in 2006. That data showed women to be doing the greater share of cooking and cleaning up, laundry and clothes care, child care and shopping.

The one area where men prevailed was home maintenance, with time equally divided when it came to household management and grounds and animal care.

Dr Ruppanner said women shoulder the time-intensive and routine tasks such as cooking, laundry and dishes. They are more likely to do the less enjoyable tasks (cleaning toilets and showers). The men are most often found doing periodic tasks like washing the car, mowing the lawns or changing light bulbs.

She said the solution was to bring men into the process as equal housework sharers, not ‘helpers’.

“It also means not penalising men for ‘not doing it right’.

Cleaning the house is a skill men can learn one toilet bowl at a time.”

A 2015 OECD report on unpaid work showed that Australia was relatively high up the list of gender imbalance. The study interpreted unpaid work as including housework, shopping, child and adult care duties, volunteering and other unpaid work.

Australian women completed 5 hours and 11 minutes per day with men lagging behind (just under three hours), which put us in fourth position in a poll where you’d rather be at the bottom.

The pack was clearly led by Mexico, where women spent six hours and 23 minutes a day doing unpaid work. Mexican men put in just two hours and 17 minutes. The gender gap was closest in Sweden, with women and men sharing domestic duties on a more equitable basis (3.26/2.45 hours).

Japanese, Korean and Indian men devoted the least time to domestic work (under 1 hour per day), while at the other end of the scale Danish fellas put in three hours and six minutes.

Meanwhile in Australia, this Aussie househusband is off to make a Shepherd’s Pie from the remains of the lamb and left-over vegies. Sorry, no, you’re not invited.

(Post Shepherd’s pie – and quite satisfactory it was –  SWIA)

 

King decrees universal basic income

king-basic-income
King decrees universal basic income Image by Jason Train, Flickr https://flic.kr/p/f1BBQu

The question for the week is, what, apart from introducing a universal basic income, would you do if you were King, President or Prime Minister for a day? The term ‘King for a Day,’ which has inspired more than a dozen pop songs and an obscure opera by Verdi, implies that for 24 hours you get to be loved by the masses. You can loll about in a high-backed chair, gold orb and sceptre in hand, and be fawned over – mint juleps and the like.

In the Silly Season, media outlets tend to ask people questions like this, for a news slot or an inconveniently empty news hole next to a couple of ads. The ABC North Queensland asked a bunch of 11-year-old kids and some senior citizens what they’d do if they were Prime Minister for the day. Some of the answers were predictable enough. Sophie, 11 said, “Give everyone a day off so adults can take their kids out (and make theme parks free).” James (10) said he’d employ more scientists so Australia can get its research skills up (reserve that kid a cabinet post, circa 2030). Keira (11) wanted more national parks; Charlotte (11) wanted a program for kids to do work experience and be taught something they want to do.

If I could be King for a Day, I’d single out the dysfunctional tax and welfare systems and propose the following reforms:

Introduction of a universal basic income for all adults: $25k a year, indexed, no strings attached. Adults are free to earn money over and above the $25k, but it will be taxed on a sliding scale to the maximum rate for anyone earning more than, say, $150k.

Hypothetically, a previously unemployed or under-employed couple could, with a tax-free household income of $50,000, find jobs, start a business, renovate the spare bedroom, and join Airbnb and ramp up their annual income in a myriad of ways. Their only duty would be to the Tax Office.

Treasury boffins would be responsible for reforming the tax system to ensure the universal basic income could be funded and that as few people as possible are disadvantaged. Treasury could find ways to encourage business to work with this new system, for example offering generous tax rebates for research and development.

In my Kingdom, all forms of social welfare would be replaced by a new regime, overseen by the Office of Financial and Social Opportunity and Incentivisation (NOOFASOI). The office would oversee payment of the UBI and iron out the inevitable wrinkles in a new and untested system.

This is not just a FOMM flight of fancy

Countries as diverse as Finland, France, Ireland, Norway, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, Iceland, India and Brazil are either talking about universal basic income or trialling it in one form or another. Switzerland had a referendum, and while the people said no, it shows how front of mind this issue has become. Indeed, Australia has a university-sponsored programme to research income security.

And the Parliament of Australia published this comprehensive yet concise policy paper by Don Henry, for those who want to find out more.

The media went on a feeding frenzy recently after the end of the first year of Finland’s two-year trial to dole out a subsistence amount (no strings attached) to 2,000 unemployed Finns. The Finnish government (wisely) is letting the experiment run and will only look at it the results when the trial ends.

I would not pretend to understand the complexities of financing a universal basic income and the social engineering required to make it work.

An OECD report in 2017 said that despite well-publicised campaigns for a Basic Income, no country has put a BI in place as a pillar of income support for the working age population.

“The recent upsurge in attention to BI proposals in OECD countries, including those with long-standing traditions of providing comprehensive social protection, is therefore remarkable,” the report says.

It’s not so remarkable when one looks into the growing inequality that is being spawned by job losses as a result of automation and digital disruption. As Oxfam said last week, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people in the poorest half of the world’s population.

This is clearly not sustainable. 

From where I sit, the domination of the contract or ‘gig economy’ and a part-time, casual workforce has left the welfare system behind. Moreover, the welfare bureaucracy is unrealistically punitive, in that it forces the unemployed to prove they are pursuing fast-disappearing jobs to qualify for support.

Mainstream conservative publications including The Economist and the Financial Times have canvassed the UBI debate. As the FT said, it “strengthens a sense that the traditional welfare state is no longer fit for purpose”.

The advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are threatening many jobs around the world, the FT said, adding that most workers have come to accept that the job for life has gone for good.

But if the intent of a UBI is to lift people out of poverty and ensure wealthier people pay their fair share of tax, it’s not that simple.

The OECD report concludes that introducing a UBI in countries with strong social support systems would not solve poverty and would lead to higher taxes. Others warn against dismantling welfare systems, which, however flawed, are at least a safety net for the poor and disadvantaged.

George Zarkadakis, an AI engineer and writer, outlined some of the flaws in an article for Huffington Post. Zarkadakis dismissed talk of taxing the cash reserves of fully automated companies, saying this would affect their ability to invest and innovate; they would lose their competitive position to low-tax or zero tax regimes. Likewise, he was sceptical about the hi-tech and energy companies that are lobbying for (and prepared to help fund) a UBI, arguing that this would give them undue political influence.

The ancient ideal of a UBI (Thomas More’s social satire, Utopia, published in 1516), frees creative people and artisans around the fringes of the commercial world to develop their skills without financial pressure. The ‘shall we tell Centrelink?’ poser goes into the dustbin of history, along with the often inaccurate stereotype of the ‘goddamn, long-haired hippy dole bludger’. People on disability pensions would no longer have to get stressed about the fluctuating cycles of their illnesses. For example, a person receiving the blind pension (which is not means tested), can lose it if they recover some sight. There is also the travesty where workers made redundant find out that 30 years of paying tax counts for nothing. Unless their payout is locked up in super, they’ll have to spend every cent of it before dipping into the public purse.

Even a theoretical discussion about a UBI should alert us to many of the anomalies in our welfare system, which arise from outdated legislation and an institutionalised idea that people are out to rort the system.

As for my Kingly privileges for a day (you can tell how far along we are with ‘The Crown’), I was so busy hunting grouse, inspecting broodmares, dallying with ladies-in-waiting and whatnot, I never got around to doing anything. Terribly sorry.

More reading: Hardship in Australia