It’s a man’s world…

a woman's place

I know I’ve been absent from The Prompt for a few weeks. Somehow inspiration has failed me. But I saw this week’s prompt – the saying above – and I wanted to think about it because I think it is an interesting and controversial one.

Before I had children I didn’t think too much about this. The hubster and I both had full time jobs. I never really pursued my ambitions to be a writer but I know I could have done and stood on an equal footing with a man in that profession. I knew that some professions were very male-dominated and that women found it hard to be taken seriously in certain roles. In some cases I think it is true that there is a glass ceiling for women, but at the same time, the large and well known organisation I work for now is currently headed by a woman and also has a professional association dedicated to women (which doesn’t stop male colleagues joking about the unfairness of this kind of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’).

The thing about having children is that it gives you a whole new perspective on where you stand in the pecking order. As women, we are automatically granted up to a year’s maternity leave (in the UK – not all of it paid), and then we are given the opportunity to work flexibly in order to accommodate childcare needs (although having said that, the legislation in the UK has just recently changed to allow everyone and anyone the right to request flexible working). I think the mind-set is that women fulfil the ‘caring’ role and so therefore it is almost the unspoken norm for the woman to either give up work completely or work part-time.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of what it’s like to look after little children day in day out – sometimes it can be a thankless task – but it can also be seen as a ‘privilege’. If a man doesn’t like his job he can see that as a reason to feel some envy for this flexibility women seem to be granted almost automatically, but if he loves his job then he’s laughing.

But it’s not the workplace where the idea of a ‘man’s world’ really resonates for me. It’s the home. Whilst I appreciate that I could be making a sweeping generalisation here, I hear from female friends and colleagues (all mothers) time and time again that essentially, there is no real ‘equality’ in their relationship when it comes to organising and running the home, ensuring childcare needs are met and everyone is fed and watered and happy. And we’re talking about all different working arrangements – be it stay at home mums, full-timers, part time workers or situations where men have some time alone with the children each week whilst the mother works. It is nearly always the mother who is ‘on call’ 24-7.

In this respect, nothing seems to change from one generation to the next. It is easy for ‘equality’ to be a political issue in the workplace, not so much in the home. A mere suggestion of this kind of thinking is enough for some men to shout ‘feminist’ as if it is some kind of filthy dirty word which leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

I’m sure from a man’s perspective there are many negatives to the shared juggle of family life too. They have the burden (in many cases) of being the breadwinner. Up to now they have not been granted the courtesy of asking for flexible working. Often they earn the highest salary and so therefore they are automatically expected to be the breadwinner.

I know from personal experience with my husband and his ex, that men are given very short shrift by the courts when it comes to father’s rights. But equally, without a sense of moral responsibility and a good work ethic, a man is capable of walking away and abandoning a woman and child far more easily than a mother could ever do the reverse (or would want to).

Men seem to somehow maintain a good proportion of their freedom when they start a family. They are still able to pursue both their careers and their out of work pursuits whilst women are left at home, literally “‘er indoors”. OK, sometimes we are granted time off for good behaviour, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

So yes, in my mind it is still very much ‘a man’s world’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon…



22 thoughts on “It’s a man’s world…

  1. Great prompt and yes, potentially very controversial!

    At our last book group meeting, I explained women’s dilemma (which was touched upon in the book) as thus: “A man has to make a deliberate decision to think outside the norm to imagine that there are any circumstances where he will not be able to do exactly as he pleases. The default is that he will go through life making decisions that work for him.

    With women, as soon as family and children come along, or responsibility for other relatives, however independent we thought we were, we realise how heavy society’s expectations are. The default is that we will be expected to change our lives to fit round the issues that arise and we have to think outside the norm to do otherwise.

    Men, meanwhile, will never even realise that this difference exists.”

    All the women were nodding away like mad when I put it like that!

    I do feel whingy complaining about it as I try very hard to try to feel that I am in charge of my own destiny. But however hard I try not to whinge, it does feel like this issue hits a common chord with so many women.

    Great post – you’re a good writer btw, do you ever regret not pursuing that line?

    • Wow. That’s so insightful Denise and I was nodding along too! I guess it’s a bit different for you as you are a single mum so you must feel the burden of responsibility but without the irritations of feeling like a partner is not pulling their weight… not that that was in any way your choice.
      As to writing – it’s one of those fields that is so flooded and there’s so much competition and I just wasn’t go getting enough. Maybe one day when I come out the other side of the little children haze I’ll give it another go! X

      • For me personally, it was not so much the responsibilities of the house, but the thing I was totally unprepared for both when my husband was alive and after he died was the loss of status that I felt from not working or having a role outside the house. I think this was very sad and I missed out on relaxing and enjoying what was round me – although it was down to me, it was sort of down to my school as well for rolling up so much importance in the idea of achievement and not preparing us for life. Not so much as in – “lower your expectations because life is rubbish”, but “do what you think is right for you, because life might not always be straightforward.”

        I think you’re right – little children interfere with the thought processes required of writing!

      • Great post, and there definitely isn’t total equality at home. Such a difficult thing, when one person ‘works’ more hours, but I know so many women that feel wound up like springs because they feel put upon, even if their partner is lovely and kind and helpful some of the time. It’s as Denise says, the fact that, generally, men CAN make decisions without having a whole chain of repercussions, but if I were to say that to my husband he’d think I was wrong. This is what causes a lot of rows I think – can they ever fully understand how a woman/mother feels?

      • Yes, I thought Denise’s comment was really insightful, and I think what you’ve said about there being a string of repercussions too – I couldn’t quite get my head round the *exact* difference but you’re right, as women, we could just drop everything and go out for girls night out/to the gym, etc, but it would never be that simple. Thanks for reading & commenting X

  2. I agree Sam, I can’t see it changing (in the main) any time soon. Unless men are able to start having the babies of course.

    When my eldest was about 6months old it got to me, all the mundane tasks that automatically became mine. Then I realised I couldn’t have it all, the mat leave/part time working expect my hubby to go above and beyond. I’m fortunate in that he does pull his weight with cleaning, and often blitzes the house when he gets home if I’ve had a rough day. It’s not unusual for him to spend two solid hours tidying and hoovering over the weekend. He will look after the kids all day (without complaint) if I want to spend time with my friends. He’s fanatical about his fitness, but works out at home. He has two ‘boys nights’ a year with his uni mates, and the odd drink after work, otherwise he’s home straight from the office.

    Saying all that, I run the house day to day. Do 90% of all the childcare, source and cook all the food, and organise our lives. Especially at the mo with a baby attached to the boob all day, it can feel like a full time job. In fact Icurrently have no idea how I’m going to fit my job back into life.

    Overall though I’m comfortable with my role, but I think it’s only because I’ve got a good partner.

    • You are very lucky Hon. The hubster is allowed flexible working and looks after both children alone on Thursdays and has always done since JJ was nine months old and I went back to work. This is great and I think it’s awesome that he is happy to do this but I generally spend at least half an hour tidying, cleaning and washing up before getting the boys their tea after my 8.5 hour day at work whilst he disappears to the gym for an hour or more as soon as I walk in the door. This is also generally a time of tiredness tantrums and tears for the boys. It’s not easy.

  3. This resonates so much with our home life. I work almost full time and arrange nearly all of the “home” duties too. MrM has recently been made redundant and is looking after the kids whilst searching for a new job. Four days into summer holidays, he’s moaning becuase the kids are moaning, the washing’s still on the line, washing up not done, dinner not cooke. That’s “my” job.. no equality in the home I fear.

  4. Great post. There is only me in our household so I have no option and I also happen to work in female dominated environments. I do get the feeling from a lot of my friends that it is still unequal in the home, they say even though they are married they often feel like single parents because they hold the majority of the household responsibilities.

    • Yes – that’s exactly it – you do feel like a single parent sometimes. Sometimes I wonder how much harder it would be as a single parent when you’re already doing at least 75% of the parenting…

  5. I love the perspective of looking at home gender rules and it is so very true! My hub is pretty good with sharing things I must say, both home and child related. Not to say there aren’t many moments and days where I despair but still. Like you I hear from many friends whose husbands don’t change nappies or know how to use the washing machine. Some people just grow up with these built in gender stereotypes. Fab post xx

    • I guess there are a fair few men out there who are a bit more enlightened than some (not naming any names!!). I do hear of quite a few friends’ husbands who like to cook and do all the cooking for example. I think you can look at a person’s parents and infer quite a lot about their upbringing and outlook on life. But then you say that your husband’s parents are very traditional but he sounds like he has a more balanced perspective? So maybe that’s not always the case…

  6. Great approach to the prompt Sam! I think that sadly what you say is very true. I am lucky in that my husband is very hands on, but I know from speaking to friends that he really is the exception. I do take the lead with the home now, as I’m at home, but when I worked we split things fairly evenly. I probably did a bit more housey stuff, but he did anything that involved phoning someone, so I still felt I was winning (!). One of my observations in my post is that I don’t necessarily think women (or men) need to change, but the ‘environment’ does. Men and women will always approach things differently, and enjoy different things, mainly because we are all individuals, but the context in which we do them needs to be more equal and flexible. Thanks so much for linking #ThePrompt lovely to have you back 🙂

    • I think you and your husband have absolutely got the balance right but it must help for you to have a great profession which you are clearly engaged in and good at (and it being one which is dominated by men and therefore, I presume, well paid?).. I agree that feminism is all about context – we want our contributions (be there in the traditionally male or female environment) to be valued equally. Thanks for a great prompt! X

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