Image: Caitlin Moran
Last week I had the unfortunate accident of clicking into a dubiously titled article (“What Young Women Really Need to Know”) that might have reeked of clickbait had it not carried the semi-legit byline of Caitlin Moran, the UK based author of various books with feminist sounding names, leading a reader to think she was not too far astray down the path of “sponsored posts” and “related reading” and “things you might also like”.
“A woman’s life will only be as good as the man she marries.”
At first I thought this tagline was just an evil trick of the editor to garner more pageviews — no feminist could have honestly meant it. Unfortunately, Caitlin Moran writes that very phrase not just once but twice, as if she too was afraid that we, the young women she feels she must advise, might have misread it. This was clickbait at it’s finest: it seemed even Moran didn’t know it.
I admit that I read the whole thing more than once, and then reread it at a later date. I admit that the impact of it was magnified by a week spent thinking about it. Why does it linger?
Her basic point is simple, and it is not wrong: marry a person who will do more than 50 percent of the housework/domestic stuff, and you will be in a better position to achieve career success and personal happiness.
My own displeasure at her statement is not directed at the underlying intention, but the inconsiderate way in which it is framed. Moran even admits this advice “feels unfeminist.”
Her hypothesis is structured on the idea that we could sum up the value of our lives in the simple terms of career success or personal happiness. But most good women, probably Caitlin Moran included, might agree that a “good” life is not necessarily driven by commercial success and happiness, and a “good” life may never achieve either. We could still strive for such things, yet even though having more time certainly will improve the situation, it does not guarantee the outcome.
Furthermore, Moran fails, the way many people fail in this line of thinking, to tell us what 50-50 share of the domestic burden actually looks like. The problem with the idea of 50-50 is that it assumes a sum total of domestic duties which we could easily list and break down evenly between two people.
Anyone who has lived in a flat with other people knows this: that even if everyone does their bit and completes their tasks off the chore list, there comes a point when the items not on the list start to make themselves known in accumulating piles of grime. Who shall notice those piles, and who shall clean them up? Or do we simply add them to the increasingly unwieldy list?
Cleverer women than I have achieved this arithmetic and managed, somehow, to break down the endless tedium of living into identifiable tasks. It seems they’ve also achieved that ideal outlined in the manual of living-together, a common standard of cleanliness. They are the paradigm of success that many of us will never achieve because, let’s face it, our partners often simply don’t care about it.
It is usually personally irrelevant that this uncaring attitude is the fault of deeply embedded misogyny, not necessarily even that of our partners but instead of our culture. What matters is our time, wasted as it is on such tedious scrubbing, hours eked out of our lives as if if we were losing breath with each passing minute. Yet it is another mistake to assume that a lifetime is as easily quantifiable as the sum of our housework, the total of seconds stacked upon minutes, hours upon days upon weeks, months, and years.
If life were simply that — your time on this earth — then I would advise you (not for the first time) to cease cleaning altogether.
Indeed, if life were such a simple problem of addition, then I suppose Moran’s point would feel less like a piece of cautionary advice and more like a straightforward observation. Those stacked years might indeed be “only as good” as those of any other. Is it actually a problem if a woman’s life is as good as her husband’s? Perhaps, given the current state of gender equality, we should be so lucky.
In any case, I won’t deny the value of time, but having a housekeeping husband is not going to help us more than laws that promote pay parity, provide parental leave options, and protect against sexual harassment. Putting the onus of our success and happiness onto our husbands’ work ethic suggests that our personal choices cost us more than these external forces which routinely hold us back. It’s irritating: here is yet one more instance in which women are encouraged to be more interested in finding Mr. Right than any other subject.
It also fails to recognize the nuanced ways in which we support each other in partnerships: just as though our lives had no more depth than the number of hours we spend here and there, our love lives might be quantified by the number of love letters we’d received, the number of times we consummated our love, the number of towels we picked up off the floor for each other.
Ultimately, this little nugget of wisdom is an unkindness to great women, all across the world, who still manage to love their domestically challenged partners.
If Moran’s advice feels “unfeminist”, perhaps that’s because it is.