Are Kiwi husbands holiday helpers or just a hindrance? I don't know, as I've never had one, and never will. The question was posed by an article written by Beck Vass that I read this week, which, frankly, made me feel even more grateful to be in a same-sex relationship. Describing a number of situations in which the father of the house could be described charitably as oblivious and uncharitably as hopeless, it made me wonder whether more Kiwi women should consider lesbianism.
Before I'm attacked from absolutely every side, yes, I know that people are born gay, and that homosexuality isn't a "lifestyle choice", but if it were, I'd recommend it. There is some research that suggests that sexual orientation can be particularly fluid for women, so even if you've always considered yourself to fall in the straight camp, perhaps not all is lost.
I jest, and of course there are many men who are wonderful husbands and fathers, but I suspect even they would trumpet the perks of living with a woman. They would know, as straight men have been reaping the rewards of cohabiting with women for millennia. There's a reason that busy women can sometimes be heard exclaiming in exasperation, "I need a wife!"
As a busy woman who will very soon marry an amazing wife, I can report that the benefits of being in a relationship with a woman are numerous. The most fundamental being that there are few, if any, preconceived notions about roles within the relationship. The relationship dynamic is negotiated from equal footing, without conditioned, stereotypical ideas about what each partner should bring to the table interfering with what works best for both partners as a family unit.
While of course every lesbian relationship is different, generally speaking, without notions of traditional families and gender roles in the background, there's more of an opportunity to carve out an equal relationship. Equality doesn't have to mean both partners split every household task in half, but when the balance is right, it reduces resentment and makes both partners feel valued.
Other more mundane benefits (of my particular same-sex relationship, at least) include not having to deal with horrendous drying droplets of urine on the bathroom floor around the toilet bowl (well, not yet. If we produce male offspring, I may have to revise that benefit as applying only to the master en suite), no traipsed mud on the carpet, the toilet seat is always down, and there's less general smelliness. We also both have an understanding of how to do all household chores (and do them properly), the ability to cook, and no hang ups about doing a particular task because it's "men's work" or "women's work".
And there's also one not-so-mundane benefit that warrants a mention. Numerous studies have found that women in same-sex relationships have more frequent orgasms than women in heterosexual pairings. I have family members who read this column, so I won't go any further. Enough said.
Yes, there is more PMS to go round, and we both have to deal with insects (though even that works out, as I relocate her much-loathed praying mantises and she deals to my much-despised spiders). We occasionally have to call in male family members or contractors for heavier building and/or repairing tasks. And there may come a time when neither of us can open a tightly-screwed jar (though my puny arms haven't failed us yet). But otherwise, we get along just fine maleless. As horrifying as that must be to traditionalists.
I fully acknowledge that we haven't yet had children together, and that may change things dramatically as we navigate the challenge of caring for children and earning an income to keep food on the table. What I do know, however, is that neither of us takes it as a given that we'll be the one to stay at home with a baby, or to go out to work. Nor do we assume that the working parent (or parents) would be absolved from cleaning, cooking or looking after their children when at home. We approach the conversation around childcare as equals, without any entrenched beliefs about what we should or shouldn't do. Whatever solution we arrive at will ultimately reflect what works best for us as a family, but also as equal partners.
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The same negotiations over things like household labour and childcare likely occur in many modern heterosexual relationships, and I'm sure some straight couples arrive at very equal arrangements, but still research consistently shows that on average, women in heterosexual pairings do far more cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and other family members than their male partners. In New Zealand, women spend an average of four hours and 20 minutes per day on unpaid work, while their male counterparts spend two hours and 32 minutes.
Women are so used to shouldering the emotional and cognitive labour of running a household (Lucy has swimming after school, I must pack her togs, towel and goggles in her bag. Ben seemed glum at breakfast, I must spend extra time with him tonight. Oscar needs to be picked up from his friend's house at 6pm – I must remind his dad to collect him on his way home from work, etc.) and the actual labour, that many don't even question it. Indeed, if women didn't take on a disproportionate share of the domestic load, it's not hard to imagine that some households would fall into chaos.
Which would explain why, rather than making me laugh at the efforts of a "mere male", the article on Kiwi husbands made me feel anxious, and then relieved that my reality is markedly different. If there are men out there who still haven't figured out, after many years of feminism, that they're equally responsible for the mess they make, the food they need and the children they father, then who would bother marrying them?
There is another option, ladies. Just saying.