London Calling April 2014

A woman’s job?

Remove gender labels for a happier home

Surely, no one in Britain today would dare say housework is a woman’s job. If they did, they would run the risk of being called gender-biased or simply old-fashioned.

And yet, various surveys have shown that women in most countries engage in housework much more often, and for longer, than men.

For example, a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, released in early March, states that, “In virtually every country, men are able to fit in valuable extra minutes of leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework”.

In Japan, working women’s situation seems grievous at best.

I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read about working mothers (why not working fathers?) who are struggling to keep up with their domestic and job commitments, without much support from their (working) husbands.

According to them, their husbands “cooperate” by putting out the rubbish bins.

Childrearing is also considered the exclusive responsibility of women in Japan. According to Osamu Sakai, a blogger at Huffington Post Japan, “Companies have been totally dominating men’s lives since the rapid economic growth of the 1960s, and it has been a point of pride for these men not to care about their home lives” (article from 23 January).

Sakai believes that the tendency to assign the role of childrearing to only mothers is one of the major reasons behind the nation’s declining birth rate.

For many years, he says, “The portrayal of women as simply dutiful wives and devoted mothers has been impressed upon them”.

The fact that society views childrearing as the sole responsibility of women has made Japan a harsh country in which to raise children, he argues, citing examples of insufficient government support and train passengers looking vexed when they hear babies’ cries.

Sakai’s article, roughly translated as “The number of babies will never increase in a country where society is intolerant of children”, received more than 160,000 Facebook likes.

It garnered a huge outpouring of support from mothers, who agreed with his points. Some of them told stories of how passengers had treated them rudely when they brought prams or pushchairs onto public transport.

Removing the gender label from housework and childrearing can be liberating. I haven’t produced a child, but as far as housework is concerned, I’ve personally experienced great freedom.

About 30 years ago, when I met my British husband in Japan, I noticed that I was not expected to do or say anything just because I was a woman and he was a man.

I didn’t have to fill his glass of beer, iron his shirt (unless I wanted to), cook for him or the family, tidy the house … the list is endless. Of course I can work if I want to, but I don’t have to ask his permission to do so, and I surely don’t have to rush home to prepare his supper.

At the same time, I quickly discovered that I cannot expect him to behave in a certain way just because he is a man. My mother often used to complain to me, saying, “Oh, as the man of the house he should make a firm, final decision, not asking your opinion first”.

There is no “man of the house” concept in our household, as I am not “the woman of the house”. We are who we are.

Now that I live in the UK, my views on housework have evolved. Over the years, having seen how the British live, I consider housework as part of a bigger picture.

Anything that has to do with smoothly running the house is included.

Making social plans such as holding parties or going to the cinema, coordinating the gardening, fixing holiday schedules, designing the bathroom layout, planning for retirement … these are all important life activities in which family members all participate.

Doing the dishes as well as bringing home money are only parts of the greater household operation.

So, is housework a woman’s or a man’s job?

In this modern world, it’s a job for everyone, and should not fall singularly on a person of a particular gender—especially if that person is unhappy. It’s much more fun this way.

Now, the trouble is getting the people in your household to agree.