Across the 21st century an ever-increasing proportion of men found their lives radically changing. Their wives earned a lot more than they did, so it was logically the man who must stay at home and look after the children.
By the 2050s over two-thirds of British men stayed home to look after the children while their partners went out to work. What was it like being a man in a woman’s world?
The 21st century man found himself bouncing toddlers to sleep, washing up, cleaning up the house, then putting dinner on ready for their wives when they came home from work. They didn’t work from home or hold down part-time jobs: they had abandoned trying to have a career to raise their children. Usually, the only money they received was a housekeeping allowance from their wives. If they had an occupation, it was ‘househusband’: the trendy alternatives fashionable at the turn of the century, such as ‘stay at home dad’, were dropped — what else would a dad do but stay at home?
Being the home-maker was no easier for men than it had been for women. Indeed, it was harder, because they knew how powerful men had been in the old days. The practical aspects of home-making and child-rearing were not that difficult — the baths, the meals, the walks, the bedtimes, the vacuuming, the laundry, the polishing, the cooking — but the hours were long and the ceaseless round of tasks and duties was repetitive and boring, leaving him little time for himself.
A househusband has low status because his work is unpaid and, for men particularly, it was hard on one’s self-esteem. Whatever illusions some couples entertained of entering onto a ‘modern’ relationship with mutual respect, the balance of power in each relationship shifted very fast.
When his wife came home, the chances were she’d drop into a chair and put on the TV or read a magazine and ignore him, while he was still running round after the children and trying to make dinner. The woman expected the man to serve her dinner and to keep her company, so there was no more popping down the pub with his mates. Instead he had to stay at home and nod comfortingly while the breadwinner griped about her workmates or thought aloud about promotion.
Women tended to take their househusbands for granted, or to indulge in control-freakery. A wife was liable to criticise how her husband hung out the washing, or complain that his cooking wasn’t tasty enough, or he hadn’t ironed her shirts to her exacting standards. “I don’t work hard and earn the money for you to sit in my house and take it easy!” The irony was that women didn’t see men as hard-working, despite everything they did around the home. Men began to feel like Fifties housewives: they had to be perfect, yet were never good enough. When his wife was done offloading workplace stress, there was another nappy to change or cup to tea to make. And when the child woke up in the night it was his job to quiet her down. And in the morning he had to be up first, to cook his wife her breakfast and wave her off to work.
If he was lucky his wife would slip him some extra money to go and buy himself a new dress. But it was her call.
After months of such a life, a man’s self-esteem sank and he began to seriously doubt if he could return to the workplace, even if his wife would let him. All that time-keeping, phone calls, stress and competition, bossed around by kick-ass women with twice his brains and ambition — he begin to doubt his ability to survive at all. So the 21st century man got on with his life, trusting in his wife to provide money and make decisions, hoping she treated him well, and finding his own ways to get through the domestic boredom.
Househusbands tended to fall into two camps. One rather enjoyed their modest role and having their wives in control. The other felt resentful and humiliated. Either way, the generation of boys was growing up assuming that they would be the househusbands of domineering females, so it was time to get used to it.
“You’ve been very good, George, dearest. Take this and buy yourself a new dress. You deserve it!”