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.