Hands up if you don’t hate men!
Me neither. I really don’t hate them. I love them in fact.
I like it that they take the piss, they’re hard to offend and they don’t do fake niceness.
I slightly envy their friendships, camaraderie and ability to tell it to you straight. And I’ve never felt that blokes have it easy, that life gives me lemons while they tuck into the filet mignon.
Okay, I’ve never been sold by my parents to an ageing polygamist. I’ve never been shot for trying to go to school or oppressed or imprisoned by an evil monster.
I get why women who’ve been dealt such shitty hands might conclude that all men are vermin. Some of them no doubt are.
But the men I know are largely good eggs and have their own set of challenges just like us. I’d crumble under the weight of expectation they face and its confusing, conflicting nature.
Be strong, be silent, be handy with a power tool. Man up, don’t cry, show your feminine side. Don’t be so competitive, you loser. Hold the door, don’t hold the door. Actually enjoy a stag weekend. The whole thing makes my head spin.
Also, I like being female.
So yeah, men. I like men.
But also, did I mention that since starting a family, I really FRICKIN’ HATE MEN! Okay, calm down me but I am on and off massively bitter towards my one and have noticed I’m not alone.
I abhor the stereotype of women getting together and moaning about blokes, like that’s all they’ve got to give. But wowsers. The heat gets cranked up daily on my bubbling pressure cooker of motherly resentment. That steam’s got to get out somehow.
For parenthood sure unravels a lifetime of assumed gender equality.
Being your child’s preferred source of comfort is a flattering, beautiful and very cuddly experience. But at times, it’s also a cloying, suffocating rage generator. And it is (please don’t hurt me) a role largely reserved for women.
I should pause here to acknowledge that I know many men take the parenting lead through choice or lack of it and are where their children run for cuddles.
And there are all the gay parents out there who I assume divvy up their roles fairly and without bitterness in peaceful and tastefully decorated homes (okay, I know that must be bollocks).
Anyway, I know I’m making sweeping statements here but I invite into my circle of moaning anyone who feels the burden of being needed a bit too much sometimes.
My daughter loves her dad. He is funny and patient and shows her how to do stuff. He lets go of her bike and body board at speed where I prefer to cling on nervously and alert her to her imminent death by shouting. Maya is all the bolder for her father’s faith in her.
But she still favours me for cuddles. It’s hardly a shock. I nursed her and spent all my time with her until she was one. My gender is probably irrelevant (apart from the mammary thing).
When she flies over the handlebars and skins her knees or wakes from a nightmare or feels out of sorts, only I will do.
This would be fine. If I weren’t also unaccountably responsible for: cleaning, shopping, present acquisition and going to parties, handling all school correspondance, paying workmen, taking Maya to the doctor and dentist, spotting suspicious rashes, keeping the garden in order, doing the washing, pairing the socks… I could go on. I also work four days a week.
I don’t know when these jobs became mine, but I own them because I feel I should and I own them with a spectacular level of martyrdom and loathing.
I am not an organised person. I am rubbish at planning. But James is last minute to the core. I’m in charge by default.
When we went to Portugal last month, he started packing 14 minutes before the taxi was due. He never leaves home less than ten minutes after he’s supposed to be somewhere already, even if it’s very far away. He doesn’t notice mountains of washing, which means he doesn’t notice when they’ve been dealt with.
The chances of him worrying whether Maya has enough frilly socks for the school week ahead are slim to none.
What makes it all the more frustrating is that I can’t even, if I’m truly honest, blame him for the unequal division of labour. It’s mother nature and our own mums’ tireless examples that I think have stitched me up.
Mother nature gave me the womb and the milk. She also made most heterosexual males unconcerned with the mechanism for ensuring a supply of clean knickers or the social convention of responding to wedding invites.
And my mum’s example? She busied herself with mum-tasks constantly when I was little: washing, cooking, baking, cleaning, jam and cricket teas.
It’s not like that’s all there is to her – she’s a keen mathematician, gardener and naturalist as well. She loves rambling and birds and reading about science and history.
But she’s never been able to sit without knitting and still can’t go more than 30 minutes without asking if anyone wants a cup of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle.
She was and is a wonderful mum and I want to give Maya what I had. If I can’t manage it I feel selfish, incompetent and massively massively guilty.
Once in a while, these feelings motivate me enough to actually keep on top of things. But mainly they just account for the list of 93 jobs in my head, reluctance to ask for help and simmering cauldron of fury in my belly.
James’s mum’s an even worse example. She had four kids, a job and all the social duties of a vicar’s wife. I am totally baffled by how she managed and she just got on with it.
The message, for me and James, was that childcare and housework are women’s work.
And I feel a bit cheated if I’m honest.
Society told me I could have ambition, freedom and a social life. Motherhood has shown me that if I want to continue enjoying these privileges, I must either sleep for 2.5 hours a night or let go of my guilt and start delegating.
I don’t like nagging and I’m not seduced by henpecked, infantilised men.
But I’m coming to think I have no choice but to draw up some lists and get bossing if I want to stay sane. James is not unwilling. He wants to know how he can help.
I must also do it for my daughter. I don’t want her squandering time and talent in the pursuit of ice-white teatowels. Unless that really floats her boat.
I want her to know it’s right to share duties and that dishing out chores beats passive aggression.
If her child just wants her and the playroom’s a stinking midden, it’s cool to say to her partner, ‘Your turn.’
So hold tight, James. Your orders are imminent. This time next week you could be buying glitter tattoos online or fashioning a Tinkerbell costume from crepe paper. And loading and unloading the electric clothes horse for what seems like all eternity. But I’m pretty sure you’ll be happier. Because I will be happier too.