On Wifework, Piers Plowman, and the Dangers of Judging Books by their Covers

How far have women really come? Does it even matter? Motherhood is exhausting, but it’s the toughest job I’ve ever loved. It’s so un-glamorous. It’s just not a job that’s meant to be glamorous. All the feminism in the world and all the posh women’s magazines in the world can’t glamify waking up at 3 in the morning to change sheets or wipe snot from a child’s nose. Motherhood: It’s not glamorous or un-glamorous, it’s not empowering nor degrading. Motherhood is just motherhood. Married or un-married.

Jeanne de Montbaston

wifework

A while ago, I lent someone my copy of Susan Maushart’s book Wifework, which discusses the range of activities, typically labelled ‘economically unactive’ but necessary to running a household, that tend to be carried out more by women than by men. Maushart’s book isn’t perfect, but its strength is her persuasive argument that there’s an awful lot of work that we don’t define as work – we don’t even recognise it as taking up time and energy – and yet, overwhelmingly, it’s women who do it. Essentially, she’s talking about the cognitive dissonance that leads the men and women in her studies to be fairly sure they divide tasks ‘more or less 50/50’ while demonstrating, in their daily lives, that they didn’t. And one of the biggest ‘hidden tasks’ she mentions is that of planning and thinking. She means those seemingly inconsequential activities, like writing a shopping list so someone…

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