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Catherine Deveney: Alpha males need our sympathies in this difficult period of housework and chores

CHORES: Meryl Streep once said you can’t get spoiled if you do your own ironing – but would a very important man like Tony Blair or Boris Johnson agree with the movie star?
CHORES: Meryl Streep once said you can’t get spoiled if you do your own ironing – but would a very important man like Tony Blair or Boris Johnson agree with the movie star?

You have to feel for the nation’s alpha males right now, pestered as they are with trivial questions about how much housework they do and whether they are actively involved in childcare.

I wish people – female interviewers mainly – would understand that when you are male you have important stuff to do. So why would you bother with the unimportant stuff when you have a wife to do it for you? Why keep a bitch and bark yourself?

Catherine Deveney

Boris – in between prime ministerial press-ups on his (unhoovered) carpet to prove how fit he is – says that when it comes to his new baby, he is, “both present and involved in a detailed way”. How quaint! Even if he does sound a little panicky about the actual detail, as if he’s just passed off an M&S dinner as home-made and is desperately trying to read the sauce-splattered label when asked for his recipe.

Anyway, I think it’s admirable that he makes time for exercise in his diary and when you examine his physique, you can see those press-ups have definitely paid off.

Alpha males take note: Boris’s presenteeism is certainly a start. Though Gordon Ramsay, who had oodles of children but said he’d never changed a nappy, once told me that his wife didn’t want him at the births, and I said I would be surprised if, given his stance, she wanted him there at the conception either. Which afterwards I was told (by a male observer) was a little acerbic but as we all know, men are funny and women are bitter.

Then there’s Tony Blair who said recently that he hadn’t done any housework since 1997, which is understandable, given the importance of being prime minister and bombing Iraq without permission.

The irritating intricacies of international law take a bit of head space, though I could recommend to him the thinking time that ironing a week’s worth of starched shirts, three school uniforms, a hotel pile of bedding and an assortment of Minnie and Micky Babygro’s allows you. (Your own ironing? After that lot I’ll just wear the creased T-shirt, thanks.)

The actress Meryl Streep once said that you can’t get spoiled if you do your own ironing, but she’s not a Very Important Man so I doubt that mantra would hold water in the Blair household. Tony says life hasn’t been normal since Downing Street.

He’s now head of the Institute for Global Change which is great, though maybe they could work a little harder on gender issues – not that I’m one to criticise, because I think it’s a bit unappealing when women are mouthy.

“If you have police officers stationed 24/7 on the doorsteps of all of your various town and country houses (even if you’re not in residence),” Tony says, “and if you have a security detail following your every move, I suppose it’s difficult to consider yourself part of a world where the laundry needs doing or meals need cooking.” When he puts it like that, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Presumably it’s not correspondingly difficult to imagine yourself eating, or putting on fresh clothes, but I imagine that when you lead the charmed life of an alpha male, you just think the chore fairy flew by when you weren’t looking.

Tony says he’s been enjoying family time in lockdown, though when asked who’s been doing the chores he said something like uhm…Cherie, presumably, and the kids. But I think that’s very wise of him and shows that he recognises how important it is that his family benefit from his wisdom rather than his toilet cleaning skills, or his spag bol – though he did once make an omelette for himself and Leo.What a fabulous omelette that must have been given that it’s his one memory of domesticity in 27 years. Wonder what he put in it? My money’s on prosciutto.

I do wonder if Cherie doesn’t get a bit cross sometimes, what with her being a QC and international lawyer, but she just says that Tony has got into the habit of thinking that what he’s doing is more important than everything else.

I expect she gave an indulgent little laugh as she said it, steaming the kitchen floor as she went. Tra-la-la.

She’s not alone, of course. The deputy editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science says submissions from female academics have been “negligible” during lockdown and she’s never seen anything like it, while the co-editor of Comparative Political Studies says submissions by male academics have gone up 50%.

Meanwhile, researchers at Sussex University (were there any female ones left, I wonder?) discovered that almost 75% of women considered themselves the default parent during lockdown.

What’s amazing is not so much that this all still happens but that alpha males – who develop, and earnestly promote, equality policies – still think it’s acceptable to spout this stuff publicly.

Not a stutter. Not a blush. Just a full diary and an exercise regime.

Alas, it will take more than a global institute and a few press-ups to lick their (self-important) butts into shape.

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