Taylor Swift, 2014’s “secret lesbian” of choice. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
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Let this be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian

It’s 2015. Let’s just let women do stuff.

Have you ever noticed that no one’s ever rumoured to be nice? Or rumoured to be an accomplished Scrabble player, or rumoured to smell like tulips and pie? People are rumoured to be fart fetishists, UKIP supporters and, as of last year in particular: lesbians.

In 2014, everyone who was anyone was a secret lesbian. But just the right amount of secret. I.e. not too secret to stop the rumours from seeping into public consciousness. While the most noteworthy secret lesbian couple of last year was undoubtedly Taylor Swift and someone I’m supposed to have heard of called Karlie Kloss, I was told by at least seven stoked lesbians that the likes of Cheryl Cole and Mel B are “one of us, one of us”.

But I find it hard to believe that this secret lesbianism isn’t at least a little bit contrived. Let me explain. A lesbian is a woman who is only sexually attracted to other women. A secret lesbian is a (famous) woman who has been papped in some moderately adult situations with another woman, while vehemently denying that she’s into anything other than dicks. Many, many dicks.

For this reason, I’m hoping that 2015 will be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian. This wouldn’t have to mean an end to adult situations between experimental/bi-curious/sexually fluid women. Those things are all lovely. What I’d like to see banished to the realm of UGG boots and burgers served on pieces of wood is all the speculation.

Admittedly, this will involve some effort on my part. There are two rather different groups of people interested in lesbian rumours: lesbians and homophobes. While former are cheering, “One of us”, the latter are sneering, “One of them”. In the middle is a sizeable chunk of the population who could not give less of a shit, and I think they have the right idea.

There’s a Hebrew phrase, loshon hora, which basically means nasty gossip. It’s the exact loshon hora-ness of lesbian rumours that I think we badly need to ditch. If there are rumours about a thing, that thing is most likely sordid or at least a tiny bit gross. If you think lesbianism is either of those things, I’m not sure why you’re reading this.

There’s a huge difference between lesbian visibility (something we could do with some more of) and smirk-forming headlines about clandestine boob-fondles between women who “seem” straight. When anyone is outed by the media, the overriding message should be, “I’m L, G, B or T and that’s great”, rather than, “Those pictures of me touching my friend’s butt mean nothing… or maybe they don’t.... what are you trying to say? Hm? Hmmm?”

So, if I believed in new year’s resolutions, maybe mine would be to stop feeding into loshon hora about supposed girl-on-girl action. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having a residual interest in who is and isn’t a lesbian. But it’s 2015, guys, let’s just let women do stuff.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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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.