According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in May 2021, women were almost twice as likely as men to have spent five or more hours in the past week in unpaid indoor housework. It was 62% of women against 35% of men. Women are again almost twice as likely as men to have spent 20 or more hours per week looking after and supervising children without pay. About three-quarters of women spent five or more hours unpaid cooking and baking (which seems low!) Compared to about one-third of men.
A report by Deloitte also released in May found that three in four Australian women had their workloads increased during the pandemic, and 61% said their household load had increased as well. Two-thirds of women said they had the greatest responsibility for housework and household management. The distribution of reasons is fascinating: 36% said they were the only person available to do it, 19% said their partner didn’t want to do it, 17% said their partner wanted them to do more and 14% 100 said their partner was paid more than they did, so they felt they should do more of the housework. Only 12 percent said it was because they enjoyed cleaning.
So where does that leave us, other than tired and cranky? In short, it leaves us without enough time to do the work we want to do.
Data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies – released on ABC’s 7.30 for his series of reports on “Why Women Are Angry” showed that in households with children, women always or usually perform up to 60% of the chores, but this figure drops to only 5% for men. Study author Jennifer Baxter said this finding “came out of every survey.” Not surprisingly, they found that far more men than women were happy with this arrangement. This was especially the case when both partners worked full time, but the women worked even more at home. Which makes sense. Think about the fact that we have a word to repeatedly ask someone to do something – nag – but not a word to repeatedly ignore requests to do something. The first is considered an unattractive trait, the second is normalized.
I know Virginia Woolf’s position is partly a privileged lament – she spent her first paycheck not on rent but on a Persian cat – but also partly a rebellion against the idea that the value of a woman must be measured against the condition of her home, and how the pursuit of domestic perfection can occupy crucial mental space.
American author Mary Gordon argues that the problem with domesticity is that it makes people so anxious, “because they feel so judged, about the way their homes are built.” Especially women; if you feel that you are still on trial, that your worth is proven by the state of your home, it is a great shame.
So how do you respond? Happily, scandalously, Iris Murdoch lived in dirt. Quentin Crisp boldly said the dirt hadn’t gotten worse after four years. I am not advocating misery, but mental space is precious, and our interiors can make our free time slaves. Especially in Australia, where our houses are supposed to be our castles, currently surrounded by a moat.
Is Woolf always right? That we have to be picky, unclean, take the occasional chicken breast, insist on some of our own needs or wishes, let dust collect on the ledges, in order to thrive?
There are many structural issues that need to be addressed here when it comes to entrenched and deepening inequalities in our own homes: pay equality, employment, pay stagnation, gender expectations. But one thing we can do is get rid of our house angels.