An Open Letter To HRH The Duchess Of Cambridge

Women are devoting increasing amounts of time to their "birth day" appearance. Please don't give in to the trend, ma'am.

Ma’am,

We have tried here, at the New Statesman, to afford you a certain amount of privacy as you incubate a future monarch. Not all news outlets have been so circumspect. There has been adulatory speculation about how the million-pound nursery at Apartment 1A, Kensington Palace might be furnished. We’ve seen reports about the Royal birthing playlist, featuring rather less whalesong than one might imagine, and a good deal more Bruno Mars, Calvin Harris and Of Monsters and Men.

The advent of a new Royal has even been used as the hook for stories about a growing trend for a delivery room beauty régime. How new mothers, who might reasonably be expected to be preoccupied with the non-trivial business of pushing an entire human being out of their bodies, are now devoting an increasing amount of time to their "birth day" appearance. Apparently this is so that pictures of the new baby in its mothers’ arms are fit for posterity.

I am dead, dead, against this. For a number of reasons.

1. I think we as a society should learn to accept that what women really look like is actual women. Not creatures who have created a tabula rasa on the front of their heads with foundation and then sketched an idealised portrait of the popular actress Megan Fox on it using makeup. I don’t want to oppress anyone. If someone wants to do that for fun, once in a while, perhaps on a night out, that’s fine by me. But making it the daily standard sounds like a bit of a faff. Asking people to do that when they’re already doing the least relaxing things any human being can conceivably do seems, at the very best, to be an unrealistic expectation.

2. Childbirth is a stressful and, still in the twenty-first century, often dangerous process. If there’s time available for eyebrow reshaping or artful photographic lighting, that is time that could be used into doing things that make the new Mother safer, more comfortable, and less likely to blow a mental gasket. I have never given birth. Nor, unless there are some substantial scientific discoveries in the next few decades, am I likely to. But I’ve seen it done. It looks difficult, painful and a touch frightening. The happiest births are ones with the minimum personnel in the room. Mum, obviously. Dad, ideally. Baby, eventually. It’s nice to have a Midwife or other experienced professional on hand just in case things turn a bit tricky. I would contend that adding Gok Wan to the mix for some labour-day beauty tips is exactly the kind of over manning that crippled Britain’s industrial base and not at all the best working practice for childbirth.

3. All men know that, no matter what kind of person their wife or partner was before the birth, they will suddenly morph into some kind of all-knowing parenting sage as soon as the placenta hits the tiles. While men and women are roughly equal in terms of knowledge and usefulness, Mums are ineffably wiser than Dads when it comes to child-rearing. As a Dad myself, I find that more than a bit annoying. That last picture of the woman we love, in extremis, at her lowest ebb, slicked with sweat and other miscellaneous unnameable fluids, is all fathers have to cling to as our status and influence ebbs away and we become that hapless Dad in every TV advert ever.

If the Duchess Of Cambridge were to give in to this regrettable trend, we’d know about it soon enough. And what the Royals do today, despite our pretensions to a meritocratic society, the rest of us will be doing tomorrow. Or, in the next nine months at least.

We’ve seen inflation of expectation in all sorts of areas; weddings, school proms, baby showers. Life events that we used to celebrate on a shoestring until a celebrity started the ball rolling in the direction of unsustainable expense.

Photos of a perfectly-groomed new mother on the front page of every newspaper will just lead to more unrealistic expectation. Expectation which will inevitably lead to shattered self-esteem for new parents across the realm.

Your Royal Highness, if you’re reading this — and I accept that you may be a trifle too busy at the moment — please don’t look your best today.

Yours,

Michael

Don't saddle us with unrealistic expectations. Photograph: Getty Images

Michael Moran is the television columnist for the Lady magazine and the creator of the literary spoof “100 Books I'll Never Write".

Photo: Getty
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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.