My partner’s man-flu: Let’s be honest, it’s all a patriarchal plot

I am ill. My partner, however, is more ill. For me, this is almost as annoying as my being ill in the first place.  

I don’t mean to be unsympathetic but I feel that as a feminist, I am put in a difficult position. I don’t like gender stereotyping yet man-flu is itself a horrible pseudo-misandrist stereotype – one of those fake weaknesses, like being crap at washing up, which mean men get to laze around watching telly while women do all the work, at least in TV adverts. I don’t want to be in a TV advert. I don’t want to find myself playing the role of one of those Boots or Anadin women – the passive-aggressive little troupers who “just get on with it”, taking on all domestic work while caring for their poor, sick menfolk and ostentatiously ignoring their own needs (no, no, I’ll just take this pill. I’m fine honest. I’ll just take this pill and stomp around metaphorically juggling all my responsibilities while my piss-poor family watches and does sod all, the bastards). I find all of this rather offensive. Hence even though my partner cannot make it out of bed, I am resentful. Why should I have to do everything? Why can’t I get man-flu, too?

The thing is, if it wasn’t for sexism, I’d be much better at these things. Occasional periods of being over-burdened with domestic labour would not feel disempowering if they weren’t accompanied by the feeling that I’m being put in my place. Already I’m seeing myself pictured as the “stressed working mother” from the pages of Femail – the woman wearing an apron over her power suit, on the phone at home, one hand raised to her furrowed brow while several small children cling to her legs. That’s me. I even have a caption – Having it all wasn’t supposed to mean doing it all! – floating a couple of inches above my head. Every dirty dish over the half that was meant to be my share of the washing up is a lesson learned. See! You thought you could have equality but you can’t! And this is just when my partner’s ill!

Added to this whole quandary is the fact that I’m a lazy sod who doesn’t like doing more than her fair share at the best of times (unless it’s for fun things, like cuddling the kids or spraying bathroom mousse, which is always entertaining). Providing I’m not actually vomiting, I want to be the person on the sofa, which then makes me think do I want to be the man in this relationship? As if these stereotypes are real things and not complete and utter nonsense. It’s all a bit of a minefield. Plus I have a very minor fever, which isn’t helping on the clear thinking front.

Basically, I have reached the conclusion that in order to support women fully in their struggle for equality, men shouldn’t get minor ailments. Ever. It just disrupts what’s already a very precarious tightrope walk to fairness and we’ve all got bigger fish to fry. Except I’m not frying them, and I’m definitely not doing the washing up afterwards.

POSTSCRIPT It appears that some readers think I seriously believe men should do their half of all household tasks even when they’re ill. This is not true. This was meant to be a light-hearted, flu-ridded look at the ways in which the awareness of stereotypes overlay our own perceptions of what is “fair” within individual relationships, only I, um, didn’t manage to express myself very well. This is because I am ill. Although not as ill as some people.

9 thoughts on “My partner’s man-flu: Let’s be honest, it’s all a patriarchal plot

  1. “Man-flu” used to drive me bonkers. At uni, I dated a few rugger-buggers who would spend three days at a time struggling with this ‘ailment’. If I, however, should take ill I was immediately demanded to “man-up”. What rot! As someone with a smaller body mass it’s understandable that I need 5 days in bed as opposed to his paltry three. Man-flu. I’ve come to realise that because men don’t like showing any weakness, at all, they have had to relabel the standard flu to be prefixed with ‘man’ to make it, the common flu, seem macho. I’m sure somewhere in there there’s an argument that we ‘oh, weak women’ have brought this upon them. The need to insist that yes, men can get ill, but only with manly things…like “man flu”

  2. Surprised you posted this after saying you didn’t like what you admit is a stereotype. When cold/flu hits our house sometimes I am more ill and sometimes my wife is. In recent years she has seems to have had it worse (probably for a good reason) but I don’t want to swap with her just so I can say I have ‘man-flu’.

    My son starts nursery next week so I’m quite sure he will be bringing a multitude of bugs for us to enjoy. Maybe I can report back if I either of us get ‘man-flu’.

    1. No, I feel bad for posting it after hearing my partner say he didn’t want to ring in sick at school because he just knew he’d have to face all the man-flu comments! To be really honest, I think I am more of a hypochondriac than he is – I totally do not fit in with the “woman who gets on with it pluckily” stereotype!

      1. Let me get this straight… Your partner is so sick he can’t make it out of bed, you resent the fact this means he can’t do his half of household chores and he even thought twice about calling into work sick because he knew you’d taunt him about it?

        1. Um, no. I think you’ve misunderstood. I don’t think I got the tone quite right with this post! And with man-flu taunts he meant the women he works with (I just gave him a cuddle because I am nice really!)

  3. What I got from this is that men can retire to the settee/bed safe in the knowledge that the house will still run. When women get ill, they cannot do this unless they are at death’s door, because the worry that the house will stop running keeps them on their feet. So it is a difference in attitude to illness. And it is this attitude that is perpetuated constantly, making women resent men when they keel over with ‘man-flu’ which by definition is ‘fuck the house, I am ill’. I recognise that this is not true of all men, or all women, but it is true enough to resonate.

    1. I can relate to this!

      Housework and my relationship are a bit complicated in my head. I have serious problems with confirmation bias – overestimating my contribution and underestimating my partner’s. We were both lazy teenagers but at uni I was much better at cleaning and cooking than him. Since we got together he’s got much more involved, including finding out he’s perfectly competent in the kitchen if he’s got a good recipe in front of him.

      However I broke my wrist at the weekend and can do basically nothing so he’ll have to do all the chores and cooking. It’s going to be an interesting experience. I’m incredibly frustrated that I can’t do things and also trying really hard to not criticise him for not doing things the way I would.

      I try not to think of our relationship in the context of gender roles because I think it can generally be explained by our individual differences, but at the same time I expect some of those differences were shaped by expectations of us growing up due to our genders.

  4. I had to leave most of the chores to my other half for a while during an exam stress/dissertation period. I have to admit, he did let the house build up a tonne of mess but then he’d do a blitz and clean it all so I guess it’s a difference in the way we look after the house.

    I found pretty much all the adverts in the past few months offensive! The Boots one, a Tetleys one that kind of says that only mums are involved with the kids or want a catch up over a cuppa, and almost all of the Christmas supermarket ones that showed the woman doing all the work. Angry face done now, but I agree with your article. Being a feminist makes you aware of the gender stereotypes and trying not to be one can be hard at times. Hope you and your partner feel better soon!

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