Studying Servitude with Charlie the Charboy.
With more female breadwinners than ever before, many married men are taking on the domestic duties at home. Whilst many househusbands feel hard-done-by, they're here to stay whether they like it or not. An article in our March issue titled Honing Your Househusband discussed a variety of ways to help a househusband adapt to his new domestic role, be more efficient, raise standards and broaden their skill set. The article received plenty of feedback from our readers and one email in particular caught our attention. We contacted Marie, a semi-professional single mother of three, to find out more.
Three kids and a career can be a handful and like most parents, Marie wants the very best for her children. Eldest daughter Emily (17) is studying for her A levels. Fifteen year old Charles is in his final year of high school, and youngest daughter, eleven year old Samantha wants to be a vet. Two years ago her husband of ten years left, leaving Marie to juggle her career, her children and the household chores; chores which used to be tended to by her husband. In her lengthy email, Marie describes how she helped to encourage her husband with regards to his household duties and had used many of the techniques described in our Honing Your Househusband article. “The problem with Isaac was he grew up in an old fashioned household. Both his parents worked but his mother took on all of the domestic duties... he didn't have to lift a finger until I married him.” Marie wrote. She went on to say that her husband did try his best to keep on top of the housework but just didn't have the right mindset for domesticity. Since becoming a single parent, Marie has been dividing the day-to-day chores between herself and her three children. “I did the laundry, shopping and cooking and the kids would do the dishes, dusting, hoovering, etcetera.” she explained. “...but their chores began to encroach on both their social and study time.” she added.
Seventeen year old Emily is aiming for straight A's and has a good chance of achieving them, providing she gets plenty of study time. Eleven year old Samantha won't be studying for exams for a few years yet, but it's important that she learns the value of studying and gets herself into the top groups at school. Fifteen year old Charles is an average achiever. His mock exams could have been better and Marie feels that he could make the grade to go into sixth form, but only just. “If he gets there he'll be out of his depth... he's just not an academic achiever and isn't that interest in doing A levels anyway.” she said of her son.
For the last eight months, Marie has been dividing the domestic chores between herself and Charles, allowing Emily and Samantha more time to concentrate on their studies. “I'm still doing most of the cooking, shopping and ironing and Charles does the dishes, laundry, dusting, hoovering, and I'm slowly teaching him how to iron and cook.” she told us. Marie went on to explain how some neighbours, friends and family members have expressed concern and even disapproval that Charles is taking on the housework in lieu of his studies, but Marie doesn't see it that way. “It's not a case of me telling him to hoover the lounge or gather and sort the laundry.” she said. “He's learning the skills he'll need in adulthood. Even if he does get a good job or have a career, chances are he won't be the breadwinner.” Marie described how her former husband really struggled with his domestic duties to begin with, failed to manage the workload effectively and frequently complained that he didn't have enough 'me' time. “Charles is learning to organise and manage his household duties around his schooling and social life, which will put him in a much better position when he eventually marries.” she claimed.
We've all heard stories from our grandmothers about the types of classes girls used to take in high school. By default, girls were taught needlework, domestic science, childcare and typing whilst boys took metalwork, woodwork, engineering drawing and science. They [the boys] were trained to be breadwinners whilst we [the girls] were trained to be housewives and since the whole spectrum of education has been opened up to girls, practical household skills have fallen by the wayside. “In this day and age where the women tend to be the main breadwinner, it's the boys who should be taught domestic science, cooking, childcare, leaning to manage the household budget and even things like handicrafts, needlework and flower arranging.” Marie claimed.
Fifteen year old Charles has been 'studying domesticity' since September last year. His mother was in two minds whether or not to wait until after he'd left school and finished his final exams, but ultimately decided that the experience he'll gain from juggling school, homework and housework will be invaluable when he's older. It was a struggle to begin with but now, eight months in, he's up at the crack of dawn, washing last night's dishes, preparing breakfast, pottering about and doing what needs doing. He'll polish the girls' school shoes, prepare the packed lunches, straighten the bedding and gather the laundry before getting himself ready for school. If he has time he'll clear up the breakfast dishes before he has to leave but more often than not, that's the first thing he does when he gets home from school. “Of course his academic studies are still important.” Marie told us. “He's a bright boy but not a clever one and I want him to do his best in his exams. At first he had barely any time to himself but Charles soon realised that the less time he spends doing his chores, the more time he'll have to himself and his studies. He works swiftly and efficiently, doesn't cut corners and doesn't waste time and I'm very pleased with how he's coming on."
We wanted to know how Charles is managing to juggle his housework and homework whilst being a full time schoolboy. “It was hard at first.” Charles said. “Really hard.” he added. “I remember watching Dad when I was younger... he was always getting in a tizzy and didn't know if he was coming or going half the time. There was so much to be done.” he explained. “It was like that for me at first because I was letting it all get on top of me, but when you start thinking; how long will this take, how long will that take, what needs doing now, what can be done later, what can I be doing whilst I’m waiting for that... you start seeing the bigger picture and it all sort of slots into place.” He went on to say that his mother helps a lot, since she still makes the evening meals. His mother added that his sisters also help with the household chores by putting their laundry in the basket rather than leaving it on the floor, putting their dishes by the sink instead of leaving them on the table. Charles did express that his sisters could help more and suggested that they could make their own beds or dust and hoover their own bedrooms, but his mother dismissed his suggestion. “It only takes you a few seconds to straighten their beds and a few minutes to run the hoover around.” she told him, reminding him that he vacuums the landing anyway and pops into their rooms to gather their laundry.
Although somewhat glum over his lot in life, Charles understands that becoming more domesticated is important. His general mindset is one of it's a dirty job but someone's got to do it, an we salute him for that. We asked him what he'd like to be when he leaves school and Charles expressed various aspirations ranging from a graphic designer to a nondescript job in a factory or warehouse, before admitting that he doesn't really know what he wants. “Working as a charboy is as good a job as any that he's likely to get.” his mother stated. This was the first time that we'd heard the phrase 'charboy' and Marie told us that his elder sister Emily came up with it. “Charlie the charboy.” she smiled. Charles gulped nervously.
We asked Charles what the worst thing about being a charboy is. “Erm...” he thought for moment. “...when my friends call round and I'm still wearing my housekeeping clothes.” he replied. Marie explained that as a charboy, Charles is effectively a househusband in training, and just as his school uniform gives him a sense of purpose at school, his housekeeping uniform is to remind him that chore time is not free time. We interviewed Charles during a period of free time, so he was dressed like any normal fifteen year old boy; a pullover, jeans and trainers. However on closer inspection, one can see that he's a little more groomed than the average teenage boy. His fingernails are short, shaped, polished and impeccably clean. There's no evidence of stubble on his chin and his eyebrows are narrow and elegant. His fringed hair is short and well kept with not a strand out of place.
We asked if we could see Charles in his uniform and whilst clearly reluctant, he meekly agreed. When he returned, Charles bore little resemblance to the casually clothed teenage boy we'd been speaking to only a few moments earlier. A pure white pinafore apron is worn over a charcoal grey housekeeping dress with a white rounded collar and short, cuffed sleeves. The frock lands a few inches above his knees and the traditional apron is a couple of inches shorter. His proud mother informs us that Charlie made the apron himself as he turns to reveal its back. The broad white shoulder straps cross one another and the even broader waist tapes are tied in a perfect bow at the small of his back. With broderie anglaise frills running along the shoulder straps and around the skirt section, the garment screams 'servitude'.
Unfortunately for you, our readers, Charles declined to be photographed for this article, so the best we can do is describe his appearance in as much detail as possible. As well as his uniform, Charlie wears a plain white headband and a pair of white knee high pop-socks, both which would look more at home on a schoolgirl than a housekeeper. On his feet is a pair of shiny black Mary Jane's with a stout three inch heel and his face is delicately painted with a dusting of foundation, a pale pink lipstick and a touch of eye-liner, eye-shadow and mascara. His mother believes that in the minds of far too many males, housework is still widely considered women's work and therefore traditional women's work wear is more appropriate than a trousered uniform. She explains that he's learning to take pride in himself as much as his housework and always wears make-up whilst doing his chores. "...and when he 'graduates'..." she mimed the quotes. "...he'll be given a black frock, black or tan stockings instead of his knee socks and a traditional servant's cap.” she informed us.
Charles isn't just doing the majority of the housework. He's getting an education in housekeeping, or as his mother puts it, a degree in domesticity, albeit a virtual one. Using information and advice sourced from old housekeeping books, online guides and even old wives tales. Marie has put together a number of fact-sheets that Charles can refer too. They cover cleaning tips from floor to ceiling and everything in between. He's learning about many uses of vinegar, stain removal techniques, deep cleaning with bicarbonate of soda, salt, lemon juice and elbow grease as well as which chores should be done daily, weekly, monthly and on a seasonal basis. She's even gone so far as setting written tests to make sure he's reading and understanding the fact sheets she's prepared. “The next step is getting him fully up to speed in the kitchen.” Marie told us. She's hoping that by the time he's sat his final exams and finished year eleven, he'll be doing all the household chores as well as all the cooking too.
We asked Charles if he would talk us through his current daily routine. He told us that his alarm goes off at 5.30am and he spends around twenty minutes getting himself ready. By 6.00am he's tidying the sitting room, straightening cushions, opening curtains, clearing cups and glasses, wiping coasters and the coffee table. By ten-past he's in the kitchen washing the dishes, wiping the worktops and and table and making sure everything is spotless. If it's a school day he makes the packed lunches for himself, his sisters and mother as well as laying the breakfast table with bowls, cereal, milk and fruit juices. A pot of tea is prepared alongside a cafetiere. Sometimes they'll want toast, bacon & egg, porridge or hot buttered croissants. His sisters' school shoes are polished daily and whilst his family enjoys their breakfast, he's upstairs straightening beds, laying out his little sister's school uniform and gathering the day's laundry. Whilst his mother and sisters are getting ready for school and work, he's clearing the breakfast table and having his own breakfast. Sometimes he gets chance to do the washing up before school but mostly it's left until he returns. By around 8.15am he's removing his housekeeping attire and donning his own school uniform. By 8.30 he's heading to school, and having already done two hours of housework, he's awake, alert and eager to learn.
Charles tells us that he never used to enjoy school but now he's in his final year, he's trying his very best to get at least a C grade in his final exams. His favourite subject is art & design and although he admits he's not very good at it, he would like to be able to study it at college. Marie shakes her head a little and tells him he'd be wasting his time. “It's nice that you enjoy being creative but taking the place of someone who actually is creative wouldn't be fair on them.” she says in a patronising tone. “I'm sure there's plenty of girls who could take their talents further than you could... you need to focus on being creative in the home. That's more important than having any wide-eyed dreams of a career.”
We got the feeling that Charles and his mother had had this conversation many times before. I glanced around their spotless and orderly sitting room and complimented their home. “You certainly keep the place spick and span.” I stated. “One day you'll be the perfect househusband... the women will be fighting over a boy like you.” I claimed.
“That's what we're aiming for.” Marie said. “By the time he's eighteen he'll be fully trained and entirely competent in every aspect of household management.” she envisaged. Charles forced a smile and nodded the slightest of nods. Clearly he'd like a little more out of life than just being a housekeeper. But in this day and age, boys like Charles have to compete with bright young women who are naturally more intelligent and far more likely to excel in their future career than the average boy.
Gone are the days of the patriarchy when too many males bluffed their way through overpaid jobs whilst the women not only worked in roles that were far beneath them, but also did all the housework, cooking, shopping and raising the children too. With his mother's guiding hand, Charles is being steered towards a future in which he'll be perfectly trained to do all that is expected of the modern man. What the world need now is more mothers like Marie and more sons like Charlie.
Article by Deborah Monksford and Marjorie Kernes
for Female First Magazine
for Female First Magazine