I remember my mother had a book in the 1970s by Shirley Conran called 'Superwoman'. It told women how to 'have it all' – a home life and a career. This book had a mixture of household tips and time management, all woven into a message that perfect doesn’t exist, so be good enough instead.
If you don’t know the book it can be encapsulated into this single life hack: one doesn’t have to iron the pillowcases.
My mother’s advice from Shirley Conran was based on the same premise as my great-grandmother’s advice from Mrs Beeton. Both agree that household management is women’s work.
It’s undeniable that someone must cook the fish fingers for tea tonight, clean the bathroom, collect granny’s medicine on Thursday. But it absolutely does not have to be the same sex who does all of these things all of the time. Women having it all does not mean women doing it all. What’s more, doing it all unpaid.
I need to ’fess up. This is much easier said than done - I don’t have it all worked out in my own life. Last night I told my teenage sons they needed to wash up so I could work out a few impromptu words for the Law Society on feminism. They loaded the dishwasher – but the pan with the slightly burned bits still stuck on? Didn’t even put it in to soak.
And thus demonstrated exactly my point.
Men will do their 'bit' around the house and feel very smug and woke about their efforts. But you know what? That’s not enough, and it’s holding women back.
One of my friends recently got promoted to a senior management role in a large law firm. He’s smart, hard working, good at getting on well with people and I’m delighted for him and his success. But I don’t think it’s churlish to wonder if he’d have achieved all that at the same age if he’d also had to remember, fresh from winning a case in the Court of Appeal, to track down seventeen toothpicks and some sticky back plastic for his son’s art project on the way back to the office.
We do not need men to do be 'doing their bit' at home. They need to be doing their lot. Men are not 'helping their wives' when they collect their own children. Guys, just do an adult person’s full share.
Women have shown what we are capable of time and time again. We have laughed it off, stepped up, leaned in. Not only have we done everything men have done –we’ve done it all wearing high heels.
So I say to the men it’s your turn. By all means do your multi-million closing, your fiendishly technical tax restructuring. But unless you can do all that and remember to buy another protractor on the way home – it is always the protractor, isn’t it? – it’s not an even playing field, and this isn’t a meritocracy. You men have got where you are only partly on your own merits – the other part is on the unpaid work of some woman, somewhere.
You are not our equals.
Suzanne Gill, Wedlake Bell LLP