Belfast Telegraph

Did Cheryl Fernandez-Versini wed too soon or was it her husband's refusal to do housework that caused the rift?

If Cheryl Fernandez-Versini grew weary of hubby Jean-Bernard's reluctance to help out on the homefront, then Paul Hopkins can sympathise.

My introduction to domesticity got off to a cracking start. I was about nine. My mother was by the fire, reading the evening paper when I asked what was for tea. "A boiled egg," she said without taking her eyes off the women's page, "and I've nice fresh bread there, too."

I stood gawking at her.

Eventually, she said: "And what did your last maid die of? The pot's on the stove, put an egg in from the press (cupboard), and turn it to mark three."

Reluctantly and begrudgingly I headed for the kitchen. "Do you put water in the pot?" I asked, knowing darn well you did.

"No," my mother shouted out to me, but her sarcasm was lost on me until three minutes later there was a loud noise as the egg involuntarily left the pot and was hurled down the hall, cracking into gooey smithereens against the front door.

I mention this small blip on my timeline because Cheryl Fernandez-Versini says she rowed with her soon-to-divorce husband because he "never really lifted a finger" around the house during their short marriage.

The X Factor judge is said to have been pushed to breaking point by Jean-Bernard's laziness.

Said one close souce of the rumour: "We never really knew what he did apart from 'supporting' Cheryl."

One of his friends, one Franky Twister, said: "As far as I know, he hasn't lifted a finger or done any work of any kind since he met his wife."

Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But let's not digress. This is a serious issue, the division of housework between man and woman. And let me declare my hand here: I have never been very good when it comes to domestic chores, the argument being that I was the product of an Irish mammy, reared my own children in a time when their mother stayed at home to nurture and guide - and a far better job she did than I could ever muster - and I went out and brought home the bacon, and, anyway, I have far greater things of a cerebral nature to deal with than dirty socks or boiled eggs.

Today's women spend more time in paid employment but still come home to the second shift. On a typical day, nearly half of them will do housework, but just 20% of men will do the same. And women put more time into scrubbing the toilet or doing the laundry - three more hours each week than men. Men carve out three more hours of leisure time. Even mothers who work full-time will still put in a week and a half's worth more time on household tasks than their male partners each year.

Men will empty the bins, change lightbulbs and do a spot of DIY - but women do almost everything else, according to a survey by Mumsnet.

So, when the division of household labour falls along gender lines, where can we turn for an explanation?

There is, of course, that school of thought that women take on more of the childrearing work - mums spend twice the time on childcare each week that dads do - because they are "biologically inclined" to be caregivers.

And it's true that the female body is the one equipped to carry a pregnancy and breastfeed and that these experiences can create bonds, although there is also evidence that giving dads the time to be present during the earliest moments creates a bond that gets them more involved with their children later on.

But there's no biological determinant for housework. No gender is physically predisposed to want to do the dishes or take out the bins.

This drudgery is necessary - at least if you like eating off of plates that don't have old food on them or living in a house that doesn't look like the proverbial kip. But housework rarely brings the joy and fulfilment of parenting.

At least one cause of the housework "differential" can be traced back to childhood. Studies have found that girls are asked to do more work around the house than boys. One study found that girls did two more hours of chores a week while boys got twice as much time to play.

This dynamic carries a lesson for both genders: girls learn that housework falls on their shoulders, and boys learn that girls will clean up after them.

In short, don't blame me for my domestic shortcomings.

There's another school of thought, of course, that women just have higher cleanliness standards. "Men are dirty pigs who don't care," the thinking goes. But this too is at heart a social construction that culture inculcates in both genders. Marketing messages illustrate the point: only about 2% of commercials featuring men show them cooking, cleaning or running after kids, while the majority of TV ads featuring women are selling home products like cleaners or deep-fat fryers.

And any woman who wants to change this dynamic confronts another problem: what man has been called a nag? But when women ask that their husbands pitch in more, they run the risk of conjuring up this old label. A nag is just a person making a request that annoys the requestee.

A bit like me and my mother and that cracked egg all those years ago. Mammy, what on earth did you rear? Nowadays, I can just about boil an egg…

Belfast Telegraph


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