I AM convinced my 76-year-old Pakistani mum was the creator of the now-withdrawn UK government Stay at Home advert this week. Four houses were depicted, three containing women looking after children, doing housework, and home-schooling and one containing a man on the couch with the family chilling.

Talking to her about how she and dad had managed to get to their 55th wedding anniversary this week after a totally arranged marriage without too much aggro along the way and still appearing totally loved up, she insisted that knowing what your role in the household was, made everything run smoothly. The advert, she said, simply reflected reality.

Cue much internal screaming, outraged tutting and incredulous eye rolling from me and no doubt from the entire sisterhood if they’d been on the same call.

“Reality, when?” I asked. “Maybe the 1950s and 60s, and the 70s as well. It got better in the 80s, and the 90s, didn’t it?”

But then I remembered recent late-night calls or Facebook posts with angry emojis, of some of my female friends complaining about how during this pandemic they are lumbered with the home schooling, housework, cooking and work commitments while their male partners worked in relative seclusion in a room upstairs, occasionally appearing to take the dog for a walk.

And the single mums saying “yup, excluding the first scene with daddy on the sofa, that’s pretty much our lives right now.” One particularly frazzled chum, whose husband – the nicest man – is no stranger to a gaming console, joked: “Did you never wonder in that advert why in the first scene hubby was there, then in the next three he was mysteriously missing. Check under the patio, I say.”

The men in my life didn’t really share my outrage. My 80-something dad said: “I don’t see anything wrong." Then quickly blamed his dodgy eyesight.

The 50-something said: “I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but now you mention it, it’s not ideal.” Then, proceeded to tell me about adverts he didn’t like because of how they portrayed men.

Then student son said: “That struggle was in the 1950s, mum, the world has moved on.” He’s clearly forgotten I left a decently paid full-time job in 2007 to look after him and his brother, whilst also running a small TV production company from home. My mum, meantime, tells me nothing has changed: Dad’s still on the recliner and she’s at the ironing board but she's actually plotting world domination.

During this pandemic many women have had to leave work because of a lack of childcare and others are suffering downright exhaustion. Globally, women’s finances tend to be weaker and their place in the labour market less secure. A survey across 18 countries by Ipsos in May 2020 showed on average women were 4% more likely than men to say their care load had increased during the pandemic.

But there is a ray of hope from a similar study by UN Women, in Western countries at least. In countries such as the UK, US and France we were doing less unpaid work pre-Covid than our counterparts in, for example, Egypt or Japan, so perhaps here we are creaking as slowly as a retreating glacier towards a better equilibrium when things return to normal, in whatever form that takes.

Which is why it’s even worse that an advert like this was allowed to be disseminated. With its modern, infographic feel, bright colours and even enough awareness to feature people of colour, it looked so zeitgeisty. But the unconscious messaging…oh dear.

Clearly, no-one read the rules implemented by the Advertising Standards Authority in June 2019 regarding gender stereotyping.

One scenario thought to be problematic was “one that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating a mess round, while the woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.” Someone in the UK Government’s marketing department needs a general talking to.

I do wonder if these ads were produced by some of the “weirdos and misfits” that Dominic Cummings recruited last year, now coming into their moment of power, but finding their grasp of the real world sadly lacking. Cummings did say in the job spec that it would be better if they didn’t have a boy/girlfriend, so that could make sense.

Thankfully after a backlash the Government withdrew the ad saying “it does not reflect the Government’s view on women.”

The good news is the Government, within the remit of the Women and Equalities Committee, has launched an inquiry to look into the true effect that Covid-19 has had on women, both from an economic and mental health point of view.

But I’d imagine there may have been a fair bit of tutting and rolling of the eyes on that committee when faced with the latest Stay at Home government advert.

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