Modern Man

Often the best posts are, like Anna has said, the ones that you have to drag out of you. The ones that are uncomfortable to write, and that you don’t know where to begin, or how to get down on paper what you want to say. 

But sometimes the best posts are the complete opposite of that. They’re ones that you start writing in your head, after some catalyst gets you thinking, and you find yourself rushing to the computer to get your thoughts out of your head and into a post. They flow out onto the screen and before you know it, the post is written, and it is good. Really good. This post is one of those. 

Esme started writing this in her head in the car on her way to work, and by the time she’d got to work she just had to write it down, and she sent it over to us straight away. And we’re so glad she did. It raises some really valid points on the rise of the ‘modern man’, what that means for the modern woman, and, perhaps most importantly, the modern relationship dynamic. This post is oh so relevant for me at the moment, so I’ll be interested to see your thoughts and join in the comments later…

It all started with a comment. Not a thrown away comment – one that was said with thought, intention and feeling. I knew that the person who said it really meant it and firmly believed that they were not the only one who was thinking it.

‘These modern men do so much. What I want to know is what are the women doing?’

It’s not important who said it, what’s important was that it was said in the first place. We had been talking about a lazy colleague ‘just popping out’ (again) – this time to pick up medicine for his twin babies. The comment in question was not elicited by the fact that our colleague was going out, but that he was buying medicine for his kids when his wife doesn’t work and is, therefore, at home with said babies.

‘Where is he? Shouldn’t she be doing that kind of thing?’, someone asked.

‘Well she does have two ill one year-olds’, I pointed out.

‘These modern men do so much. What I want to know is what are the women doing?’

Um. What?

This was not the first time that this point of view has been raised in my office and it makes me very uncomfortable. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that these ‘modern’ men are hard done by if they are asked to contribute to family life. In fact, even if her indoors doesn’t work (because, obviously, looking after twins isn’t a more difficult full-time job than working in an office. Obviously not) I still don’t understand the argument that husbands/boyfriends/partners shouldn’t help. It just doesn’t compute with me.

As far as I can grasp it, there is still a belief amongst some people that any man who contributes more than putting out the bins or doing the Sunday roast is sent from above. And they’re doing much more than they need or should be doing. The fact that I am married to a man who not only enjoys cooking dinner but also sometimes makes a cake for me to bring into work and, shock horror, it tastes nice, makes me the luckiest wife alive. Yes, I am incredibly lucky to have nabbed (using the word in the ironic sense here ladies) my man, but I will be damned if I’m going to give him a medal every time he makes the bed or washes my delicates. (Actually, he doesn’t do either of these things, but that’s beside the point.) The point is that he doesn’t want praise for doing the things that one of us was going to have to do anyway. He knows that he is half of our family and therefore should do half of the jobs. I thought we had moved on from that idea that men earn the dough and women bake the bread? Apparently not.
The thing is that every relationship and family is different. I grew up in a large family where it was always all hands on deck. My Mum gave up work when I was born and didn’t go back until my brother went to school. When my youngest sister (there are 4 of us!) came along, Mum simply refused to give up her already successful career and my Dad went part-time to look after the youngest and be there when we came home from school. My Dad did struggle at the school gates, being the only Dad regularly picking up the little ones, but he persevered. This instilled in me an understanding that there were jobs to be done by parents and the family and as long as someone was doing it, that was fine. It wasn’t ‘modern’ or even that weird – it just was what it was. And then as I got older, I realised how blimin’ proud I was of my Mum forging forward in her career with 4 children because she had to fight against a lot of prejudice and feelings of non-conformity. But shouldn’t we have got over this?

Maybe it is just the older generation who tut to themselves when the wife goes out without the kids and leaves her husband to fend for himself and take control of bath time after a long day at work. But, unfortunately, I don’t think it is. Now that my husband is starting to look for jobs for after his PhD (there is a light at the end of the tunnel!), everyone asks me about what he’s going to do. They’re impressed when I mention the companies he’s had interviews with, they nod and smile when I say that he’s going to go far. But when I say that we’re hoping to stay in the area (i.e. not move to London) because that’s where I want to be for my work, they don’t understand. ‘You might need to move for Tom’s job. You’ll need to be where the best jobs for him are’ is what I’ve heard over and over again. What about my potential? Oh I see, as long as my husband is earning well so that I can stop work to have his babies and clean his house, I am living up to my potential. Got it.

OK, OK, so I’m kind of jumping to conclusions that everyone thinks that being a wife means giving up my dreams so that my husband can achieve his. I know that that’s not true. But yet, why shouldn’t men do the food shopping? Why shouldn’t he leave work early once a week to take his daughter to ballet? Even if his partner is a stay at home Mum, or whether she works part-time in a less stressful job than him or whether she’s the CEO. Let’s stop making assumptions and allow families to make it work in the best way for them.

Categories: Politics and Feminism, Uncategorized
26 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Zan
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Love love love this Esme! My other half is a great cook, he does most of the cooking in our house. Apparently this means I live with ‘a saint’ and am ‘incredibly lucky’. I’m not denying the later, but no one’s a saint! But the reactions I get to this and the fact that he often does more around the house than I do, is that I should be eternally grateful and am NEVER allowed to complain about anything.

    Fact is, I spend 2 hours a day in the car commuting so that we can live where he wants to live, he works from home and just has more spare time than I do. I do other things for us, it’s fine and works for us. But the way people react sometimes is just astounding to me. There’s still an assumption that by not doing all the housework and cooking, I’m not looking after him in the way I should…. (this just makes him laugh mostly and he does often point out that he’s looking after me, which usually shuts people up!).

    • Esme
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      I know – as though random people understand YOUR husband more than you do? Thanks, Zan.

  2. Posted July 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    *stands up and applauds loudly*

    Recently someone told me I was a lucky girl because Gareth irons his own shirts. That’s HIS OWN shirts, not my shirts (I don’t iron my shirts, they live under a lab coat all day, so who’s to notice?). I was a bit gobsmacked… I’m lucky that he does a task that he’s been doing for years before he met me, which I have no need or desire to do myself, and at which I suck anyway? Or I’m lucky that he doesn’t demand I iron his shirts just because he has boy bits and I married him? I can categorically state that my ironing skills are not the reason he married me, they’re not even in the top 100 reasons he married me. Sometimes, if he is stressed and short of time, I will iron a shirt because I love him and I want to make his life easier at a crappy time, but he doesn’t expect it of me, and I don’t expect it of myself. We’re a team, and between us we share out the crappy jobs. Yes, I am lucky to have him in my life, but not because he irons, mostly just because he’s awesome.

    The raising kids thing baffles me even further… do people never think that perhaps the Dad actually WANTS to do something with or for his kids? They are after all, his children too, why should he not want to see them go to ballet class, or want to care for them and bring them medicine when they’re sick? Why are Dads not allowed to have caring nurturing instincts? It makes no sense.

    Okay, rant over. Sigh. People make me MAD sometimes.

    K x

    • Esme
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      All I can say is that you are a terrible wife #wifefail (joking, obviously).

  3. Sarah
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    TOTALLY agree, Esme. My husband irons his own shirts and makes his own sandwiches for work, as well as doing 50% of the cooking and dealing with bins (and frogs/spiders) We divide household tasks in half because we both work full time.
    But I still end up defending this and feeling guilty that I don’t iron shirts and make packed lunches! In 2012!!

  4. Hannah
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi Esme

    Great piece and I whole heartedly agree.

    When my (now) husband and I first moved in together, I really struggled with the fact that I felt like I was doing more than my fair share of the jobs… he was brought up in a very “traditional” family where Mum did the cooking, cleaning, ironing etc, although, to be fair, this was because Dad was up in the study doing a second job to earn a little bit extra for them all. Anyway, I digress…

    The point that I was making was that I really felt like I was nagging him and that he would start to resent me for it (not the idyllic cohabitation I had been hoping for…), until one day he said to me “if you want me to do something, just ask me… I don’t mind and, to be honest, I think I have a higher tolerance for mess than you”

    So, now, I do just that… and we’re both happy!

    Over time, I’ve also come to realise all the other things that he does do, quietly, with no fanfare, in the background – like spending hours pouring over our finances (usually after I’ve gone to bed)

    Like Katie says, I am a lucky girl, not because of the jobs that he does, but because we make a great team!

    ps – Don’t even get me started on the childcare stuff….

    • Esme
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I think so often us women spend ages shouting at our male partners in our head ‘why aren’t they helping? Argh, I’m going to KILL HIM if he hasn’t done the washing up by the time I get home’ and then one day we realise that if we just asked them to help…. Much easier!

  5. Frances
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    YES completely agree with every word of this post!

    We share jobs not because either of us are super-awesome (he is, but that’s irrelevant to this comment), but because during the week we get home usually about an hour and a half before we want to go to sleep and it just wouldn’t work if just one of us was doing everything. We’ve had the same reactions from people while planning our wedding (and there’s a whole other post – “Contact details – I’ll need the bride’s phone number” No you won’t, you’ll need the number of whoever can answer their mobile at work more easily, and that’s not me) and it’s quite infuriating sometimes that people don’t recognise the teamwork involved in family/couple life.

  6. Alex D
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post. That is all!

  7. Posted July 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Can’t write a concise comment to this without it being an essay so can I just say Agreed!

  8. Posted July 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Totally and utterly agree with everything you’ve said!! Would write more but I know it will turn into a total rant, so I will leave it there…


  9. Sandra C
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Great stuff! I agree completley that your life together should be a team effort and if you agree a system/method that works for you both, then everyone else should butt out. We’re a team and pull together, largely. We don’t have the childcare thing, but as long as what we decide works for us, everyone else can think what they like. There are no man/woman jobs, just jobs that need doing and we agreed a system when we moved in together, which is fluid if anyone feels it’s unfair, or can’t manage it this one time.

  10. pickle
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post!

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by incredulous women of an older generation how lucky I am that my husband cooks. We’re only just married and have not lived together on our own before (shared house situations) so are still negotiating the division of household tasks; equality is massively important to both of us in our relationship so there’s no way that he would either want or try to put me in a position of doing more household stuff than him.

    But – I’ve been finding I quite like the odd bit of wifeing (within reason, he still bakes the cakes…) and I can see just how easy it would be to internalise exactly these sort of societal expectations and end up thinking of certain tasks as ‘mine’ and feeling guilty if he’s doing more washing/cleaning/whatever than me for a bit. Thank you for the timely wake-up call!

  11. Posted July 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I come from a traditional family set up in many ways. My Ma does the housework, apart from the heavy garden jobs and the washing up (Pa’s domain) but I was insistent that when I married it would be someone who would hang out the washing without feeling emasculated, and share the other jobs. Knowing the other men in my life, I do subconsciously count myself lucky that I found that man. But I chose to find that man. So actually it’s less luck and more judgement.

    Like some of the other AOW community, I work from home. I therefore find myself doing more of the day to day jobs now than I did when I worked 9-5. Not out of a sense of wifely duty, but because it’s practical to food shop/wash/iron/do the dishes on weekdays and means we get more time together on evenings and at weekends (when we’re not working weddings). And you know what? I do actually like that being part of my role. But I definitely see it as our choice, it works for us.

    Are the people judging you on the moving for jobs issue your age Esme? I find that quite an outdated idea. I do understand people assuming that when you’ve done a phd you might have to travel for the right job…just because it’s a specialism and there might not be the right role in your area and not because he has boy bits!

    • Esme
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I have had the reaction to staying/moving from people of all ages, actually. Most of them have been meant kindly as, like you say, Tom is now very specialised so he may struggle, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not annoying! I think when you’re a bit touchy about a subject, any comment someone makes that’s not exactly what you want to hear get touch a nerve. Does that make sense?

  12. Cat B
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Great post Esme. The attitudes you talk about really rile me but I do tend to forgive them when voiced by older generations as things have changed so much just in the last 20 years.

    My upbringing was fairly unconventional inasmuch that my mum had a career and worked in London during the week, coming back home at weekends. This was from a very early age so all I remember is my dad doing the cooking, cleaning, tidying, shopping etc etc.

    It made me very open minded about what constitutes a ‘normal family’ and division of household chores along gender lines. I think what still gets me is how often the kind of views you talk about are voiced by other women – we are expecting a baby in January and if it is a boy then he will absolutely learn how to cook and do his fair share of housework and to view it as something normal rather than a herculean effort deserving of a medal!

    I am lucky as my husband and I share housework 50/50 and he definitely doesn’t see it as him doing me a favour – we both work really hard and see helping each other out practically as an extension of the love and respect we have for each other. I think that’s what it comes down to – housework isn’t a female activity that emasculates men – it’s a whole host of practical activities that both men and women should undertake to make their own lives and their family’s life easier. Same goes for buying prescription medication for poorly twins! xx

    • Esme
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Congratulations on the baby, Cat! You’ve got me thinking about a post on not enforcing stereotypes from birth now…

  13. Posted July 12, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I get the opposite. I have friends who criticise me for doing the bulk of the cooking, cleaning and laundry. My commute is an hour less than my husbands so I do more housework. If I ma ill or busy with work he picks it up, if we are both busy with work we let it slide a little bit. Surely we can all be allowed to find a compromise that works best for us wherever we may be? I think it is all about everyone finding the mix that works for them, and though I do the bulk of the housework my career is very important to me too – why would that be hard to understand?

    • Esme
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Definitely, you have to find what’s best for you. I also get home earlier than Tom and am generally a lot more organised and remember things, so I do more around the house. However, I don’t do any washing up AT ALL, ever. Even though that means I do all the clothes washing, I still get so many people telling me how lucky I am. It’s what works for you, isn’t it?

  14. Esme
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the great comments, ladies. Sorry I couldn’t reply yesterday, I was at a work thing all afternoon with no wifi – dying to see what you thought!


  15. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Ugh! TOTALLY agree!!

    Can’t get into full rant-mode now though (stupid work!)


  16. Esme's Mum
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Firstly let me just say that I am SO PROUD of Esme (and the fact that she listened to me occasionally) – as I am proud of all of my children. But the main point is it’s not only you young ‘uns that have to deal with others ideas of what a marriage is. I am in my second, and definitely last! marriage, to a wonderful, wonderful man. He irons, he cooks, he shops, in fact he does all the ‘traditional’ female roles as well as the spider/car/gardening things. And EVERYONE we meet says “Lucky you, he is so well trained”. What???? Is he a dog? Is he a slave (well only when we have the house to ourselves…)? No. He is my partner in life and we share.

    Every family is different and what works for you should not be judged by others, whatever their view on family roles. Keep doing what works, keep changing what works as your lives and situations change and don’t let others tell you how you ‘should’ be.

    And anyway, I think that all those people who say “lucky you” are jealous because they have ‘traditional’ partners and it is easier for said partner because they have to do less.

    Well done my lovely daughter and don’t forget to vote.

    • Posted July 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      Hi Esme’s mum! What a lovely, brilliant comment. I think you and my mum would be friends :)

  17. LucieCharlotte
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant. That is all! Xx

2 Trackbacks

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