Zoe Fairbairns discusses a mother's life and work at home vs father's



Zoë Fairbairns talks about her awareness, from early childhood, of the unhappiness that her mother felt with her role as housewife and carer.

Who does the housework in your home? How much time do you think they spend cooking, cleaning or caring for children?

What do you want to be when you are older?

Do you want to live a life similar to that of your mother? Why or why not?

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Dirty laundry cartoon © Jacky Fleming www.jackyfleming.co.uk
Strange black ring cartoon © Jacky Fleming www.jackyfleming.co.uk



It was a semi-detached suburban house with I think probably four bedrooms, two downstairs room, one of which we called the sitting room, the other was the playroom, and then there was the kitchen which was sort of the family room where we spent most of the time, and then there was what we called the scullery, which was where the cooker was and when we got a washing machine, which we didn’t have for many years, but that’s where my mother did the washing and the housework. And there was a garden front and back. So I think it was a reasonably good-sized house for a family of four and later five. There are some people who would say I’m projecting backwards from my feminism to my childhood, I know I’m not, I know from a very early age that this house seemed like a place of total enslavement for my mother. She was a housewife, a fulltime housewife, she had virtually no domestic appliances, you know, people didn’t then, people like her didn’t. She didn’t have a washing machine, she didn’t have a dishwasher, no central heating, no car and she’s looking after, you know, at one point, three children under the age of ten and a man who, though he was a diligent and dutiful breadwinner, did not feel that he had any domestic duties at all, that as far as he was concerned when he got home from winning bread, that was it, feet up, fun time. And she never stopped, she just seemed to be on the go working, doing things that she really didn’t enjoy and that I knew that I would not enjoy, all the time, she never seemed to have leisure. And she did seem to be very fed up about this. And I think it was from that that I got a very early lesson of thinking she’s a woman, I’m a girl, girls grow up to become women, is that going to be my life? No way. No way am I going to live like that. But at the same time we knew a number of single women of her age, and it was very noticeable that all the single women we knew, they all seemed to acquire an extra name and the extra name was ‘poor’. Their names were always prefaced with the word ‘poor’. ‘Oh, poor Jennifer’, or ‘Poor Bridget’ or whoever it may be, and this was code for ‘Twenty-five and she’s not married yet’. And it was very clear to me that whereas marriage was a wretched business for women, failure to marry was a disgrace and that dilemma, that sense that you really couldn’t win, was something that I became aware of very, very young and it was a source of great anxiety to me.
Zoe Fairbairns discusses a mother's life and work at home vs father's
23 - 24 June 2011
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
© British Library
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