Housework is never this exciting in real life. Photo: Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Why is housework a forgotten feminist issue?

The unequal distribution of unpaid domestic labour isn’t a frivolous side-issue. It’s dull, yes, but it’s related to depression, poverty and domestic abuse.

Feminism is a lot like housework. It’s mostly done by women, it’s under-appreciated by most of those who benefit from it and if your main concern while doing it is looking good, you’re probably doing it wrong. And yes, you can hype it up like Barry Scott with Cillit Bang, but the truth is no one wants to do it. After all, it’s never-ending; you might tell yourself all that’s needed is one major session but rest assured there’ll be more crap to deal with tomorrow. What’s more, if you’re not prepared to get your hands dirty, you might as well not bother.

For a long time, I didn’t want housework to play any role in my feminism. I thought we’d already dealt with that in the 1970s. Hadn’t we agreed that domestic labour should be shared? And besides, wasn’t this one of those non-issues that only privileged middle-class women really cared about? I didn’t want to be associated with those feminists, the ones who were only in it because they considered themselves too special to do the washing up. I was interested in the real issues: power, sex, violence, abuse. So you can’t persuade your husband to wash his own socks? Need to employ a disadvantaged woman to clear up your mess? Cry me a river.

I thought I was being progressive. Looking back, I see that I only wanted to keep my own hands clean. I wanted to look good, doing Important Person Feminism. The feminism of my mother’s generation – shit and string beans, kitchen sink feminism – struck me as dull, unimaginative and culturally repressed. That such feminism still needed doing was something I chose to ignore, an ever-mounting pile of dirty laundry to be shoved under the bed in the hope that someone – anyone – would come along later to sort it out.

I’d bought into the “generational model” of feminism, wherein, to use the words of Lori Marso, “each new generation of feminists improves upon the last”. Issues are picked up, dealt with and then discarded so that we may move on to bigger and better things. Yet unpaid domestic labour – cleaning, cooking, caring – is still with us, and the majority of it is still done by women. Like it or not, this remains a feminist issue. That a previous generation of middle-class feminists found a makeshift solution to this – and that this solution only benefited women like them – doesn’t provide modern-day feminists with a get-out clause. The unequal distribution of unpaid domestic labour isn’t a frivolous side-issue. It’s dull, yes, but it’s related to depression, poverty and domestic abuse. It reduces the social status of women and it limits their choices. It reinforces the idea that an imbalance between the sexes is natural, with one living to serve the other. It’s feminism 101. We ought to be furious and yet we’re not.

In Saturday’s Guardian Selma James, founder of the Wages for Housework campaign, criticised middle-class feminists for selling out single mothers due to their reluctance to classify caring as work:

The refusal of feminists to acknowledge that work enabled Tony Blair to call mothers "workless" and made way for welfare reform's definition of a good mother: she goes out to a job, even below the minimum wage, with whatever childcare she can afford.

Meanwhile, in Italy the lawyer Giulia Bongiorno is proposing a salary for women working in the home, motivated by the plight of victims of domestic violence who are unable to leave their partners due to a lack of independent income. Years ago, I’d have admired these women yet shuddered at their activism. Aren’t they endorsing the idea that women’s work is for women alone? Aren’t there other issues with domestic labour – the isolation, the repetition, the uniformity – which mean the problem isn’t just financial? Shouldn’t we still be pushing to share? Perhaps, but feminism needs to be practical. It needs to be for all women, regardless of background or cultural beliefs. It needs to help them now.

I struggle to see how wages for housework would work in practice. It still feels like chipping around the capitalist edifice rather than demanding something more equal, humane and respectful for everyone. Nonetheless, we need to talk about it. We need to appreciate what women are doing behind closed doors and we need to recognise the price they pay.

When young people such as Cait Reilly challenged Workfare, wealthy politicians such as Iain Duncan Smith were quick to call them “job snobs”.  I fear we do something similar when we dismiss “women’s work” as a feminist concern. It’s not that entitled women have decided they are too good to work for nothing; it’s that no one’s work is of no economic value and those who treat it as such – whether they are politicians, employers or those you live with – are guilty of exploitation. The impact of this attitude is both destructive and far-reaching. And yes, some feminists have challenged it before, but we need to challenge it again, and we might still need to challenge it in future. It’s hard work and it’s repetitive but let’s be honest: it’s an essential part of keeping our own house in order.  

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Getty Images
Show Hide image

Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war