"From now on", I declared to the hubby at the end of February, "we're going 50:50. At home; with the kids; with EVERYTHING that isn't our own 'work'. Sound good?".
My husband, let's call him…Bert…works in an industry where many leaders, for now still majority male, have historically had the luxury of partners at home leaving them with working days unencumbered – typically in an office a safe distance from snotty noses and squeaky, conference call-disrupting little voices.
At 43, Bert is one of the younger, possibly more enlightened, partners in his firm, but nevertheless, true to stereotype and despite the fact that I've also always had my own career, since we had our first child, six years ago, I have, without any real discussion, borne the lion's share of childcare and domestic duties. My declaration of equality was hard won, and a decade in the making. I was proud of it.
The first few weeks went well. Bert did everything I asked of him and then some, and I was about ready to kick back and pat myself on the back, my job for womankind done, when there was a tectonic dislocation. Offices, schools, childcare, all fell through the coronavirus-induced fault lines. For some, so did financial stability, health and tragically, even life.
In current circumstances, then, why am I even thinking of gender equality? Don't we all just have to do what we can to get along; to be "flexible", as a friend cautioned the other day?
Well, five weeks into lockdown, it's clear that Covid-19 presents a clear threat to the gains made in the hard, 5000-year battle that women still hadn't decisively won. Whilst the technological leaps and bounds being made by companies in terms of remote working are to be lauded, there's a real danger of going backwards on the home front.
Any number of factors may come into play: the fact that women, still typically lower earners than men, are more likely to come under pressure to cover childcare by going part time or taking unpaid leave, and fact that women already perform more unpaid care work than men.
The fact that the mental load is just as heavy as the domestic load during this stressful period and that women often take the lead in worrying and comforting those around them – children if they have them, but also their own parents and the rest of the family, too.
Heejung Chung, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Kent, has long argued that flexible working can actually lead to the kind of work-life merge that means women working from home often deal with extended days, picking up the slack at both ends, in a way that men often don't.
We've long talked about the "second shift" in regards to the domestic tasks women have to do when they get home from work, but during lockdown people are talking about a third shift, in terms of the sheer amount working women are having to cope with.
With cleaners and carers no longer coming in to lighten the load and "home schooling" casually being lobbed into the mix, many are buckling under the stress, and this is exacerbated by reports of employers cutting male employees less slack than their female counterparts, which in turn has a knock-on effect.
At the same time, chatter abounds about male partners who, despite having the kids at home, are managing to focus on the work that they want to do when they log off (gardening, or bike rides and "PE" with the kids) whilst their partners are left to literally mop up the drudgery.
Daisy-May Cooper summed it up in this week's Mad World podcast with Bryony Gordon: "I never thought it would take an apocalyptic situation to revert me back to an 18th century housemaid", she said. "I feel bad for complaining… because there's so many things going on in the world, but it's dealing with the housework… tons of laundry... my daughter, who is two, just constantly following me around… thinking about evening meals…
"My husband's gone into this real caveman role, where he's just working on an apocalyptic veg patch, out the front, and I just think – you f------ b------! You're tending to these seedling potatoes, and I'm struggling with everything else in the house…".
In the context of this new landscape and my husband's client-centred, deadline-driven role, then, going 50-50 has been tougher than we ever imagined. When lockdown was first announced, we discussed what it meant in practice. Bert looked slightly ashen: daylight hours to be split equally into blocks of work and blocks of childcare, all cleaning, cooking and food shopping shared evenly, too.
For the first few days there were some teething issues. We agreed a schedule for split work and childcare and we'd built into a few days a single sacrosanct hour, 6pm, for family time, the four of us. Day One, at 5.45pm, I received an email from hubby, newly resident in what had been until the day before, 'my' study: "I'm sorry but I've had to agree to a call at 6pm so I can't be about for bedtime. I should still be able to look after the kids tomorrow afternoon though. Is that okay?"
I sat and fumed. Tomorrow afternoon was my work slot, so no, it was NOT OKAY.
The next day from my "new" study (which until a few days before, had been a clothes cupboard), I caught a glimpse of Bert in the garden. He was plugged into a work call whilst attempting to restrain a three year-old in a swimsuit (wtf, Bert, it's 12 degrees outside!) from whipping her sister with a bamboo cane.
I toyed with the idea of raising my white flag – going down, saying I'd take over the kids, accepting my career would again play second fiddle to his. But then I thought back to all the times I've been the one chasing them around whilst juggling work commitments, and I thought to myself, "No. Sorry, darling, but this is what equality looks like".
Now we're in week five and two fundamentals have become clear. First, in this new world, where the domestic is now starkly visible, we can place everything – childcare, housekeeping, cooking, and yes, taking out bins – on an equal footing. And, in fairness to Bert, we have. It has not been easy: early morning starts and late nights working have become a feature. But it's important. And if we can put unpaid domestic life on an equal footing, we have a much greater chance of putting working life on an equal footing, too. As the OECD says, "gender inequality in unpaid care work is the missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes".
Second, as harsh as this new world has been, it has given us a chance to look again at the way we were working, full-stop. Gruelling commutes, long hours and minimal midweek contact with the kids. I'm not sure that ever, really, worked for us. How many, I wonder, does it work for?
In these dark times we need to find silver linings and here, then, is ours: we have a chance for a reset. The Second World War birthed the second wave feminism of the 1960s. Now, like then, if enough of us reassess who is really doing what, there is an outside chance to create a more positive gender paradigm; a chance, as Rosemary Morgan of the Gender and Covid-19 Working Group puts it, "to build back better".
This is too great an opportunity to let pass.
Follow Molly on Instagram: @the_lens_i_see_through