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)