“This week on Weekend Woman's Hour, we talk to Denise and Robert Matthews; a couple who've completely reversed their traditional roles. Denise works full time as an estate agent whilst husband Robert works full time at home doing the laundry and ironing, cleaning, gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, washing up... everything.” presenter Janine Murphey introduced. “Now, Denise... can you talk us through a typical working day?”
“Of course Janine, and hello.” Denise replied. “I get up around six-thirty, seven AM and have a quick shower before breakfast, which Robert has lovingly prepared for me. He straightens the bed and gives the bathroom a once over before laying out my clothes for the day...”
“He chooses your clothes?” Janine quizzed.
“Oh no, not at all.” Denise said. “I tell him what I'll be wearing and he'll lay it out and whilst I’m dressing, he's clearing up the breakfast dishes and preparing my packed lunch...” she goes onto describe him handing her her case and coat, seeing her off, briefly explains her working day which ends at 5pm. “I return home to a cooked dinner and we dine together, and whilst Robert's clearing the table, cleaning the kitchen and washing the dishes, I'll either catch up on some paperwork or put my feet up in front of the TV.”
“And Robert... what's your typical day like?” Janine asked.
“Hello.” Robert said. “My typical day begins around 6am. I'll have a quick shower before giving the bathroom a once over, then I’ll tidy up downstairs, polish Denise's shoes, give her jacket a brush down and prepare breakfast. Then I'll straighten the bed, tidy the bathroom, lay out her clothes, tidy the kitchen, wash the breakfast dishes, make her sandwiches and see her off.” he explained. “I'll decide what we'll be having for the evening meal and either take something out of the freezer and/or prepare a shopping list. I'll set my hair before the work really starts; dusting, polishing, vacuuming, laundry, ironing, grocery shopping. The more I can get done in the mornings the better. I'll have a light lunch and time permitting, I’ll grab an afternoon nap before making sure the house is absolutely spotless before Denise returns. I'll put the tea on and dress for dinner, we'll dine and then I'll clear up and clean the kitchen... if Denise is doing paperwork I'll occupy myself with some ironing or organising or we might watch some TV together until around 10pm when I’ll turn in.”
“So you're busy?” Janine asked.
“Yes.” Robert replied.
“Now, being a radio show... our listeners can't see Robert or Denise, but could you describe what you're wearing today Robert?” Janine asked.
“Er... of course.” Robert hesitantly replied. He described a powder purple sleeveless dress; knee length, with a peppering of large lilac spots.
“It's a lovely dress.” Janine complimented, before informing the viewers that his hair and make-up are both immaculate, and adding that he also wears a pair of patent black court shoes with a modest three inch heel and thin nude tights.
“They're actually stockings.” Denise added. “Proper ones, not hold-ups.”
“Now... I can't imagine you doing the housework in such a nice frock.” Janine the presenter stated.
“No.” Robert bashfully replied. “This is how I'd dress for dinner.” he said, before describing his housekeeping attire which consists of a plain frock and apron.
“Well the apron's white and I have a few housekeeping frocks; black, grey, duck-egg and burgundy.” Robert replied.
“Do you have a favourite?”
“Not really... they're practical clothes.” Robert replied, before saying that he's not keen on the duck-egg frock because it feels like something a dental nurse might wear.
“And heels... do you find those practical for housework?”
“I didn't to begin with but like all things, one soon becomes accustomed to them.”
“You mentioned setting your hair.”
“Err, yes...” Robert replied. “I think that's the biggest learning curve I've had since becoming a househusband...”
“It was quite a hurdle wasn't it?” his wife interjected. “My grandmother, who was a traditional housewife, always told me that one must tend to themselves before they can tend to the home.” she explained. “But things have changed so much since my grandmother's day... women are the workers and men tend to stay at home these days. But there's still the stigma that housework is woman's work and we all know the mantra....”
“Woman's work means woman's wear.” Janine and Denise said in unison, before proudly chuckling.
After seeing his wife off to work, Robert spends a good hour putting his hair in rollers and applying his make-up before getting on with his chores and doing the grocery shopping. “At first I felt very self conscious leaving the house wearing rollers and a hairnet, but people can think what they like... I want to look nice when Denise gets home from work and Denise likes me looking my best.” Robert explained.
“Do you envy other househusbands who don't have to go through the daily rigmarole of doing their hair and make-up?” Janine asked, adding “...it must be a bit of a chore.”
“Life is full of chores.” Robert chuckled. “But yes, at first I really did resent it. My hair wasn't long enough to do much with so it was just learning to apply my make-up properly, and getting used to wearing a frock and heels.”
“It helped you focus though.” his wife interjected. “Before I put you in a frock you were constantly chasing your tail, trying to keep on top of everything but once he was dressed the part and we revised his cleaning rota, things really fell into place.”
“Hmm.” Robert agreed. “Obviously I was dead against wearing a frock. Domestic dresses aren't very flattering but they do focus the mind... the sooner I've completed my chores the sooner I could take it off.” he said.
“And what did your friends and extended family say after you'd taken on the domestic role and allowed yourself to be feminised?” Janine asked.
“Well...” Robert began. “...a lot of things.” he nervously replied. “Some were positive but most seemed to think I was under the thumb and being taken advantage of, but the important thing to focus on is not what people think or say but how our marriage works. It's a partnership. Denise brings in the money that pays for the roof over my head and the food in my belly and I provide a clean and tidy home and prepare the food when she gets home from work. We both work very hard to achieve what we've got and we wouldn't have it any other way.”
“But.... wouldn't you rather things be the way they used to be, when men provided and the women cooked and tidied?”
“..and worked too!” Denise interjected. Janine agreed.
Robert replied. “If I could earn as much as Denise does and Denise was more domestically minded, then that could work... but the world isn't like that any more. Generally speaking, males aren't the best at multitasking so we're all better off focusing on what we're good at rather than sticking to traditional roles... in my case that's following a set routine and doing one chore at a time and in Denise's it's managing a large portfolio of clients.” he said. “I certainly couldn't do what she does and she's no desire to do what I do.” he shrugged.
“So Denise.” Janine said. “How do you react when people say he's under thumb or being taken advantage of?”
“I tell them he's my husband and I'll treat him as I damn well please.” she relied, somewhat jovially. More seriously, however, she explains that people don't really have a problem with him being a househusband, but some do have a problem with him being a feminised househusband. “...I think people dwell too much on gender. I'm not a fan of the woman's work means woman's wear mantra. I've never considered housework to be women's work, it's just housework and the person who does it is the housekeeper and housekeepers have worn a certain style of clothing since the Victorian era. Just because most housekeepers these days are husbands shouldn't mean they can't dress as a housekeeper should.”
“Hmm.” Janine responded. “Are high heels really practical for housework though?”
“They mean he doesn't have to reach quite so high with the feather duster.” Denise grinned. “...when he's doing the cornices.” she added. She glanced at her husband's feet. “They may not be practical but they're not impractical either.” she claimed. “You haven't gone over on them yet, have you hon'?” she asked.
“Err, no.” Robert replied, albeit somewhat hesitantly. “Been close a few times but, respect the heel and they'll respect you.” he said.
“My mother used to say that.” Janine exclaimed, before describing how her mother wore high heels all the time whilst Janine herself stuck to flats her entire life. “It's interesting isn't it though.. when you think that Louis the Fourteenth popularised high heels and cosmetics, fashions which, a hundred years later became exclusive to women, are now going full circle and back to where they began?”
“Absolutely.” Denise replied. “I've explained to Robert countless times how the pendulum swings one way then the other... and right now we're at the moment the pendulum stops and swings the other way. Women used to be subservient to males simply because they didn't have the earning potential. They were expected to clean the house and prettify themselves, to be obedient, loyal, dutiful whilst hubby went to the office then played golf. Now the males don't have the earning potential it their turn to do exactly what's expected of the subservient partner.”
“So... that's all good and well for a couple such as yourselves...” Janine responded. “...but what about same sex partnerships?”
“I said 'subservient partner' for a reason Janine.” Denise confidently replied. “As I said earlier, most partnerships have one who earns more than the other, and the same goes for gay, lesbian and even trans couples. One earns the money, the other earns their keep.” she bluntly stated.
Janine grinned. She enjoyed her guest's jovial bluntness but couldn't help but wonder whether or not she's just a controlling misandrist and that Robert is well and truly under the thumb. “So Robert.” she said, turning to her other guest. “What did you want to be when you were a boy?” she asked. “I can't imagine you grew up wanting to be a househusband.”
“I'm not sure the phrase had even been coined when I was a boy.” Robert replied, before timidly trying to answer the question. “I wanted to be all sorts of things; cowboy, astronaut, racing driver, fire fighter, ninja...” he chuckled. “But who knows... in years to come when everyone's dad is the housekeeper, boys may well grow up with that role as an aspiration.”
“Hmm.” Janine replied, clearly not convinced with Robert’s last suggestion. “Really?”
“Let's not forget Janine that when our mothers and grandmothers were little girls, they had dreams of being a princess and wanted nothing more than to find a prince, live in a castle and wear beautiful dresses.”
“True but... these days girls have so much more to aspire to.” Janine replied.
“We do.” Denise agreed. “And as I stated earlier, the pendulum is swinging. We're already seeing males taking on the domestic roles, donning their domestic clothes and even prettifying themselves.”
“Yes but... so far as I can make out, not through choice.” Janine said.
“It's through necessity... one partner provides the money, the other provides the labour.” Denise reiterated. “After a long day in the office, I want to come home to a nice clean house in which I can kick my shoes off and relax. I want the aroma of a home cooked meal and a husband who doesn't look like he's spent all day cleaning.” she said. “There's nothing worse than coming home to a husband with tatty hair and a dirty apron who's frantically finishing off the hoovering and still needs to clean the kitchen before even starting on dinner.” she added.
“I can just picture the scene.” Janine chuckled. “And does that ever happen Robert?” she asked.
“Er um... ha ha...” Robert nervously chuckled. “It has.” he admitted. “...when I was inexperienced.”
“You keep on top of things these days don't you darling.” his wife said.
“I try my best.” Robert replied. He described the frantic last hour before his wife returns home, when he's putting all the cleaning stuff away, giving the worktops one last wipe, quickly dusting a picture frame with his pinny before having a really close shave, applying his make-up, donning a dinner dress, removing his rollers and styling his hair... all in time for Denise to walk through the door.
“It sounds like a scene from a nineteen fifties TV show; the perfect little housewife in heels and petticoats, with perfect make-up and not a hair out of place... only you're the husband.” Janine smiled, before telling the listeners that they're running out of time. “Now I’m sure you're all dying to see what Robert’s wearing...” she enthused, “...so we're going to put a photo on the Weekend Woman's Hour page at BBC dot com... and don't forget the podcast where you can hear the entire discussion with our guests, Denise and Robert..” she informed the listeners. “Denise and Robert... I thank you.” she said.
“Thank you Janine.”
“It's been a pleasure.” Denise added.
Janine turned back to the microphone. “Next week's Woman's Hour drama will be the new adaptation of Peter Jackson's Conditions of Inheritance... in which a teenage boy is forced to become housemaid and servant to his domineering Aunt Agatha... until then, goodbye.”
A male announcer voice began... “Weekend Woman's hour was presented by Janine Murphey and produced by blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah."
I turned off the radio and looked into Denise's eyes. Her expression bore a pursed smile. "I think I came across as a bit of a dragon." she said.
"Noo!" I insisted, although at times, she did. "The presenter was sooo patronising toward me don't you think?" I said. "I'm sure you didn't want to grow up to be a mere househusband." I said, mimicking Janine Murphey's middle class radio four voice.
"She was." my wife replied. "But they often are on Woman's Hour." she claimed. "Are you going to download the podcast?" she asked.
"I wasn't planning on it... do you want me too?" I said.
"Absolutely!" Denise replied. "They cut out the entire discussion about your birdcage."
"Thankfully... I don't want that being aired on national radio!" I retorted. "In fact I wished you hadn't mentioned it in the first place." I moaned.
"If I didn't mention it she would have." Denise claimed. "I thought she was staring at my cleavage until I noticed that she was also a key-holder." she told me.
I glanced at the pendant that hangs in Denise's cleavage; a symbolic silver key denoting that my wife is my key-holder. The actual key to my chastity cage is kept somewhere safe, in a place unknown to me. I cast my mind back to last Tuesday when the Woman's Hour interview was recorded. I'd never felt so ashamed in my whole life when Denise noticed the presenter's distinctive pendant, and their excitable chat about the benefits of chastity that followed. In fact thinking about it, it's no wonder they removed that section from the main broadcast. For a moment I hold some hope that it's been removed from the podcast too... until I remember Janine's closing comment about the 'entire' discussion being available. "I only hope no one I know downloads it." I groaned.
"Loads of husbands are under lock and key Robert." Denise claimed. "You're certainly not unique in that respect."
"So you keep saying." I replied. "We'd just rather all and sundry didn't know about it."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of." she said.
That's easy for her to say.