Cameron has reshuffled a Tory government into power

Against abortion, in favour of homeopathy, indifferent to gay marriage - why didn't we get a say on these new ministers?

Legitimate rape. Forcible rape. Anti-abortion. It’s not been a good time to be a woman in the US. 

Over here in the UK we’ve watched with mounting concern as American women have had to fight so hard to assert their rights as individuals. To assert their claims over their own bodies – over their own "personhood".

I’ve been a spectator of the US election rhetoric with a mixture of disbelief, anger, and a sense of "there but for the grace of God…"

But suddenly, I feel wrong-footed. I feel like the rug has been pulled out not just from under me, but from behind me. It suddenly feels like the things I’ve been watching women, minorities - and anyone who doesn’t represent Mitt Romney - fight against for an upcoming election in the US, have just been imposed upon me by stealth here in the UK, and no one asked me what I thought about it.

Perhaps you think I’m being over-dramatic. It was only a reshuffle after all. What’s the worst that could happen?

I fear we’re about to find out.

This is the reshuffle where a man who repeatedly voted to shorten the abortion limit, a man who has shown he is no friend to fair dealing, has been named as the new Secretary of State for Health. This is the reshuffle where a woman who is anti-abortion and anti gay marriage has been made Minister for Women and Equalities (or should that be Minister Against Women and Equalities?). This is the reshuffle where the Justice Secretary who listened to statistics that demonstrate that community sentences, although not overly popular with the Daily Mail, are more effective than custodial sentences at combating crime, was replaced with a man who promotes "tough" prison sentences and supports homophobic B&B owners.

The new cabinet we have had foisted on us today represents a group of mainly white, mainly male, mainly privately educated and immensely privileged rich people, who, on the whole, and after all’s said and done, say "no thanks" to abortion. They say "ooh, gay marriage, that’s a bit off isn’t it?" They say, "bang ‘em up and throw away the key", never mind that their damaging social policies contribute hugely to the "poverty of aspiration" and just plain poverty that fosters petty crime.

Despite facing one of the most unpopular and incompetent prime ministers in recent history, David Cameron couldn’t win an outright mandate in 2010. He has nevertheless seen fit to impose, not just a Tory government on his electorate, but a government that exceeds the wildest fantasy of your average Daily Mail columnist. This is shameful. It demonstrates an utter disregard, nay, contempt for the democratic process. This country did not elect a Tory government. And yet here we are, having one forced on us without elections, by the back door.

For the first time in many years, I am starting to wish I were American. Things look scary there. But at least I’d get a say.

Caroline Criado-Perez has just completed at degree in English Language & Literature at Oxford as a mature student, and is about to start a Masters in Gender at LSE. She is also the founder of the Week Woman blog and tweets as @WeekWoman. A version of this post first appeared on her blog here

The new Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.