‘WHAT’S the one thing nobody told you about adulthood?” The tweet did the rounds for days. I didn’t have to grope around for an answer. In the finest Blue Peter tradition, I had one ready to go: just how much work it takes to run a house. If someone had given me an insight into how taxing and chaotic it could be, I would have given serious consideration to the hermitic or monastic life. A life with relatively few possessions, less mess and specific, static responsibilities.

It sounds pretty appealing right now as I look at the crumbs on the sofa, the nose print Gilbert just left on the French doors and the clothes that need ironed as soon as I stop typing. (Note to self: don’t stop typing)

Hot on the heels of the glorious Repeal The 8th victory, Ireland has another constitutional clause in its sights. Article 41: The Family. In it, the role of women (read: domestic duties) is evinced as something without which “the common good cannot be achieved”. Women should not be forced to work outside the home, it says, to the neglect of her duties within it.

Duties within the home. Duties. Yuck.

Beyond the visceral reaction I have to this word, it remains an interesting one. It touches upon a feminist front that’s still in dire need of attention. We talk a lot about rights and equality, but less about responsibilities and equality; the things that aren’t enshrined in the law necessarily, but embedded within the culture.

So while Ireland still has this vestige of the 1930s (though plenty of women thought it was a regressive and frankly asinine idea at the time), and getting rid of it is in some ways a cosmetic exercise, it’s a reminder that women are still expected to do the heavy lifting where home and family are concerned. Those gender roles will not die. But that’s because they are perpetuated by people.

Article 41’s central theme is the importance of “the family” as the fundamental building block of society. Ergo, the sanctity of marriage. Ergo a woman’s “special role”, including but not limited to diligent papering over the cracks, cultivating a sunny and servile disposition and artfully concealing the cost of endless draining or downright boring work done on behalf of the family. Oh yes, she has a “special role”. She’s an appliance. She’s furniture. She’s xpected to give, perform and never ask.

Over time, each of the pillars of Article 41 has buckled as society lurches forward. Notions about the unimpeachable import of the marital unit have been disrupted by a general (and long overdue) softening of social attitudes towards marriage, the family and the roles of men and women. Yet, like loathed but somehow significant family heirlooms, it persists.

Question: is a bucket still a bucket if it’s so full of holes that it can’t hold water? When is it time for a new bucket? The integrity of the Article doesn’t hold up in the 21st century. Today, the idea of the nuclear family as a societal unit requiring protection is disturbing on many fronts to the socially liberal: it’s egregiously traditional, conservative, heteronormative and antiquated.

Families take many shapes. Unconventional does not mean bad. Crucially, it can mean better, as the shape of a family does not determine its ability to function. Assuming the standard template of man, wife and kids is the best by default is parochial and deluded.

The template is a trap, even for heterosexual couples. Even when it’s not coddled and protected within the law, wherever you look, women overwhelmingly do the majority of the unpaid labour.

(A man, shocked/enraged/appalled drops the laundry he’s carrying. The soup pot boils over. The toilet bowl remains glaringly unbleached.) I know, I KNOW there are plenty of men who can load a dishwasher, who do the school run and do their share around the home, but statistically, women in the UK still do 40% more work around the house. For all you chaps picking up the slack, there are those that vacuum the floor, leave the chamber full and sit down having “done their share” or waiting to be reminded of the next task by their significant other.

The thing is, chaps, when we do it, we’re not thinking about a portion or even an endpoint. It’s an endless cycle of things that need to be done, remembered, taken care of, fixed and then done again. The bin never stays empty. The washing is never complete. Windows, toilets, bannisters are not magically self-cleaning. And not only do we have to remember; we’re expected to remember.

Women go out to work, sure, but they’re likely to be paid less than their partner, and then come home to a second shift of invisible and even more devalued work. However egalitarian society seems as a whole, the amount of unpaid work still falls dramatically along gendered lines. And it’s not just the domestic tasks I’m talking about; it’s the expectation that we’ll keep everyone feeling content, looked-after and entertained.

Again, it’s not that we are required to do this, but we’re expected to, and know – often wearily, grudgingly, maddeningly – that if we don’t do it, it just won’t get done. Or it won’t get done to the standard that’s burned into our psyches by generations of expectation, as women often feel their self-worth is tethered to their ability to keep a tidy home.

Let’s be real: there is only a small percentage of people who think women should stay at home and be responsible for picking up everyone else’s shit. Mercifully, their numbers are dwindling. But it’s not the law chaining women to the sink or to the laundry hamper – it’s assumption – and we’ve not found a way to cut those chains yet.

When some women leave their homes to go out to work, domestic workers often fill the gaps left behind; work that globally is overwhelmingly done by women of colour, women from specific ethnic groups and social classes. Work that is not only naturalised as feminine but racialised, as the work is seen to be more suited to minority women and their perceived capabilities and place in society at large.

The problem, encapsulated within the outdated Irish constitution, speaks of a common issue. Women are still burdened by being the default familial glue. Not just the woman at the centre of the family, but the invisible network of women who fill in when a woman steps out of her place at home.

In 2018, no woman should have to depend on a man to take care of her financially, and neither should any man expect to be taken care of domestically by a woman. No woman should rely on other women filling in when she chooses something different to devotion to the “special role”.

The Irish constitution is clearly in need of cosmetic surgery to align it with the already lived values and qualities of modern Ireland. But it’s a reminder for those outside of the republic: until the special role is attractive to and expected of men too, women will pick up the pieces, whatever the law says.