The Strictly star and radio presenter talks to Lauren Taylor about ignoring mum-shamers on the internet and why gender equality starts at home.
Parenthood is partnership, or it’s supposed to be – many mums still feel childcare and the running of a family home is weighted much more heavily in their camp of responsibility. And it’s a subject mum-of-one Gemma Atkinson feels strongly about.
The actress and radio presenter says her fiancé, Strictly professional dancer Gorka Marquez, is “really, really great around the house”, but that many of her friends – and other mums – aren’t as lucky.
“I’ve had conversations with my girlfriends about it, and they’ve said, ‘Oh my gosh you’re so lucky, my husband doesn’t do anything’, or, ‘My boyfriend won’t even put a plate away’. There seem to be a lot of fellas who don’t do that much at home,” Atkinson, 36, says.
“I know a lot of people’s partners work really long hours so they take on a lot more at home, but for some women they’re working long hours, they’re doing the cooking and the cleaning and the kids stuff.”
Atkinson and Marquez, who met on Strictly Come Dancing 2017 and got engaged on Valentine’s Day this year, have a two-year-old daughter, Mia, together. She says they’re making a conscious effort to show their daughter from an early age to expect household chores and childcare responsibilities to be split fairly between mums and dads.
Boys, she says, are often “babied” more than girls. “I think us mums sometimes have a difficult time letting our sons go quicker, sometimes the tendency with lads is to over-baby them, do too much for them. Which doesn’t do them any good later in life because they expect everything at home to be done [for them].”
She continues: “[We should be] trying to teach them young that, yes, mum will be here when things go wrong, but in the meantime you can make your own bed, you can put your own washing away and you can turn the washer on yourself.”
Psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn agrees: “Gendered expectations, and ingrained beliefs about who does what in the household, are likely to play a role in both the development of behaviours in children and the perpetuation of behaviours in society. Children learn by observing the behaviour of their parents.”
Of course, lots of partners, husbands and fathers do pull their weight at home (or do the bulk) but outdated attitudes – whether consciously or not – are still very much present in many heterosexual relationships, particularly in households with children.
And it seems we don’t even agree on what’s happening; new research by home appliance brand Indesit found that 60% of men feel chores are evenly split, but 72% of women believe that they still bear the brunt of upholding most household chores (as opposed to only 35% of men). The data also showed that chores are often ‘gendered’ – with men in charge of taking out the bins and clearing out the drains, and women taking on the washing up, laundry and cleaning the toilet.
The study of 2,000 people found an even greater discrepancy with the hidden ’emotional labour’ associated with household tasks, which includes the planning, thinking about, preparing, anticipating, and keeping track of what needs to be done – what’s often referred to as the ‘mental load’ which, in many households, tends to fall more to women.
Hepburn describes it as “a combination of the cognitive load (the thinking and planning) and the emotional load (the worrying and anticipation of tasks)” – and it’s this additional responsibility that leads to women’s exhaustion, and can even impact on cognitive skills, she says.
It’s why Atkinson is part of the new #DoItTogether campaign to push for gender equality in the home: “I do think that the majority of men are happy to let the woman to do most of the work. I know so many women who get it done because it’s easier to just get it done – it’s easier for the household. But what’s easier for you?
“The thought of me in a formal dress with an apron on doing everything around the house, while Gorka works doesn’t appeal to me at all! I like to think that we’re equal – we’re both working, we’re both running a home, and we’re both contributing.”
The couple tend to set out and talk about the tasks for the week – “We sit down and think, ‘We need to do a big shop, we need to get the ironing done, we need to hoover the stairs – so we’ll say, ‘Well, if you go to the supermarket, I’ll do this, this and this at home’.” And they make sure Mia helps out too, “Once she’s had her breakfast, I ask her to bring me her plate. If the dogs finish their food, she gives me their bowls.”
But what about the ‘mental load’ of parenthood? “I think is it’s more equal now,” she says, “but for the first six or seven months of Mia’s life, if we were going out anywhere it was me who had to get the baby bag, me who had to make sure the nappies were in. I partly enjoyed doing it because then I knew I hadn’t forgotten anything, but sometimes with Gorka we’d be driving somewhere and I’d be thinking, ‘Oh I hope he’s packed everything we need!’ Sometimes I have to give him a bit more trust in doing things, but women feel like they have more of a responsibility, because we do that thing of making sure everyone else is OK before ourselves.”
As the drive time presenter of Hits Radio, Atkinson is at work 3pm – 7:30/8pm – and although it’s taken some frank conversations – they have an equal system for childcare too.
“I said, ‘Look I’m at home in the morning so I’m happy to do the breakfast and the nursery drop off, and I can do this, this and this – but when I’m at work in the afternoon [and when Gorka is not on Strictly] it’s down to you to do the afternoon stuff’. And he said , ‘Right I get it, I’m sorry, that’s how it will be.’
“Now I’m so lucky, I come in from work and tea is on the table, he’s done a great job – but we did have to sit down and have that conversation before that happened.”
The couple aren’t in a rush to have another baby but Atkinson says it’s “hopefully” part of their future plans. “I’d rather enjoy Mia for a bit longer, I’m loving [the toddler] stage. She does have her moments like every other baby, but so far she’s nice and chilled, fun, very polite and friendly.”
Atkinson has had to ensure her fair share of mum-shaming since having her daughter though. One recent video she posted showed Mia in the car without a seatbelt fastened on her chair: “The engine wasn’t on, we weren’t going anywhere, we were just sat in the car waiting for my step dad to come out of the shop – but because she didn’t have her seatbelt fastened, I had a lot of DMs from people saying how irresponsible I was for driving with her like that, and there was no driving going on!
“I always say, if I don’t know someone personally, I don’t take their advice personally. For me to be offended by someone, I need to value your opinion,” she says. “So it doesn’t bother me.”
Gemma Atkinson is a brand ambassador for Indesit’s #DoItTogether campaign, which aims to champion gender equality in the home by encouraging households to work together to tackle chores, made easier by the brand’s innovative Push&Go technology.