I was in Blackwell's in Oxford today, browsing the books, and came across this gem:
It was the first time that I became excited about this type of board book and I devoured it very quickly. You can check it out here.
The joke behind the book is, of course, that men never do anything remotely helpful around the house or with the children. It does bow to the stereotype that men suddenly become incompetent when faced with domestic duties. I am sure there are blokes out there like this but, as my previous post attests, I don't have this particular problem.
My husband was always happy to change the nappies and get up in the night, and was often awake long before I was. Doing the laundry? No problem. Before I have my eyes open on a Saturday morning, my husband trots down the stairs with a basketful of darks, enquiring 'Do you want a shower this morning?' before putting the load in (no, unfortunately he's not asking me to him in a romantic personal hygiene session; he's reminding me that the washing machine sends the shower up the creek).
Husband is also keen on cleaning. As soon as he's home in the evening, he's wiping counters down, washing lunchboxes out, sorting through the recycling bins. If I set a teaspoon down on the side after making a cup of tea, it is swiftly removed and the surface wiped before I can say 'sponge'. I sometimes wonder if he'd dress me in an antibacterial wipe if he could.
When I share this with my female friends, they sigh in envy and don't understand why I grumble. Well, I guess because I feel that my 'DH' is commenting on my (lack of) domestic skills. Even though I am liberated woman, I still feel that if my husband is driven to cleaning immediately upon his return that this is a comment on my slovenly ways. Talk about role reversal... who's the daddy - and the mummy - now?
Sometimes this insecurity has led to rows between us.
DH: 'Shall I cook the supper tonight?'
Me: 'It's only 5.45pm!'
DH: 'I know. I am just wondering if you'd like me to cook tonight?'
Me: 'No you're not. You're commenting on how lazy I am to have not started cooking by now.'
DH: 'Of course I'm not! I'm trying to be helpful! Why should you be the one who cooks all the time?'
Me: 'Because I'm the woman!'
And here's the crux. Even though, when I was growing up, I was determined not to be the stereotypical 1950s housewife, I feel my domain is threatened when my equally liberated husband comes home and offers to share the domestic tasks. And I am not alone. I have talked to other women who feel equally slighted when their well-meaning husbands come home and offer to take over. Here's how a typical exchange in our house might go:
Me: 'What - is the house not tidy enough for you?'
DH: 'It's just if I see something that needs doing, I do it.'
Me: 'Why can't you come home, grab a beer, and scratch your balls like other men do?'
My daughter and I occasionally try to persuade him that it's OK to relax when you step through the door. It's all rather Edwardian though, thanks to our DVD of Mary Poppins. My daughter grabs DH's slippers and dressing gown (through lack of smoking jacket, so DH has to sweat in fleece instead of languish in silk) and I hand him a glass of sherry. He smiles and perches on the sofa but I am sure his eyes are scanning the piles of books in danger of toppling over, the cushions scattered haphazardly on the futon.
It is difficult being a woman - and a man - these days. There are countless stories of women being pulled this way and that, expected to hold down a career as well as be a mother, a wife and superhumanly talented in some sort of art too. But the men are also cast adrift in a sea of confusion. They are the breadwinners - or are they? Should they offer to become househusbands so their wives can go out to work? Should they split the childcare evenly? Is scratching their balls and downing a beer acceptable these days?
I think what really drove it home for me was watching an exchange amongst families a couple of years back. The shattered mothers of the newborns were sat having a picnic, eyes glazed with sleep-deprivation, while the men chatted. The subject of their conversation? Breast-feeding.
Man 1: 'How long has Fliss been breastfeeding for?'
Man 2: 'Oh, for 9 months, since the birth. We don't want to move to formula if we can help it.'
Man 1: 'When do you think you will stop?'
Man 2: 'Well, statistics show that the longer a child breastfeeds, the greater their immunity against common colds so we are planning to wait until Titan reaches at least two years of age.'
See if you can spot at least TWO things wrong with this conversation.
The first? The use of the word 'we' when referring to breastfeeding. Does Man 2 slather cream onto cracked nipples? No. Does he have to suffer the embarrassment of straying breast pads? No. So where does the 'we' come in here? It's like the breasts have become some kind of joint venture - the property of both mother and father (and of course baby).
The second weird thing? That men are talking about breastfeeding and its benefits while the women zone out. Why are they doing this? What's wrong with football and Formula 1 (not Formula milk)?
It's becoming creepy. Women need to take their breasts back, and men need to find their cojones. There's too much oestrogen as it is in the water supply.