Woman’s Hour rang last week. Do you want, the researcher asked, to talk about the difficulties stay-at-home mothers face in making friends? Hang on, I said, you want my husband.
I do some childcare. I gave birth, for instance. I shared pictures of the child on Facebook while a maternity nurse rocked him to sleep. I wrote columns about the tyranny of motherhood, with allusions to the virgin birth and the film Alien. I took him to the Hay-on-Wye Festival and introduced him to David Owen and Gary Kemp and Alan Yentob. I took him to the city farm and we admired some pigs that will die of old age, because this is north London and it is not a real farm.
When my husband, with his insane, sleep-deprived face, is allowed to rest (because a dead man is no good to me) I let the child do anything he wants, because I fear the noise. Yes to “Beebies”. Yes to eating pound coins. Yes to reading books featuring knights and princesses, rather than social-democratic politicians and shop stewards. When he makes the noise, he vibrates and practises the manufacture of emotion for personal advancement. And I think: I love you. You are just like me.
My guilt is easily soothed. I have always been like this; I am selfish. It’s more difficult for my husband. He finds it hard to find play dates because he is shy, and fears using the word “date” in any sentence delivered to a strange woman (and there are no men to ask); why, he pleads, can’t he say “play meeting” or “play summit” or “play symposium”? He is distressed when, presenting the child for vaccination, the nurse invariably says, with puzzled face: “Where’s Mummy?” “Oh, that’s easy,” he’d like to say back, but can’t, because he’s shy. “It’s 2016. She’s got a fucking job.” (He also has a job, but only at night. He’s a comic. He speaks in the dark.) Sometimes people address the child directly with a chirpy face and a double thumbs-up. “Don’t worry, Mummy’s coming back soon.”
My husband is also distressed by the condescension in the playground, by days pitted with congratulations from grandmothers and laughter from inadequate males. It wounds his feminist heart.
The child colludes, because the child is sexist; his sexism pre-dates his ability to speak. When a female friend comes round, he weeps, because he thinks she’s a babysitter. Unknown females, in his mind, must be babysitters; unknown men, on the other hand, are potential playmates. (My husband is dictating this part to me, because I didn’t know it.)
We did find a male babysitter who apologised for being male: “I hope you’re fine with the male babysitter, as sometimes people find it unusual and inconvenient.” But it was OK, because the sexist child was asleep and dreaming of a fiercely gendered world.
This article appears in the 13 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, David Bowie