HE is a stranger to the washing machine. Not even on nodding terms with the vacuum cleaner. As for scrubbing the loo, you are more likely to catch him singing The Red Flag.

Tony Blair revealed this week that he has not done a tap of housework since 1997, the year he entered Downing Street to the strains of Things Can Only Get Better. Not for his wife, Cherie, apparently. (Asked to verify her husband’s claims, Mrs Blair dated his domestic inertia to 1980, the year she married him.)

His excuse? He had “the whole security apparatus” around him, he told the Sunday Times, and life just changed. It reminded me of Peter Mandelson’s story about post-ministerial life when he would jump in the back of a car and be amazed that it did not go anywhere.

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Mr Blair still does no housework, leaving it to “Cherie, the kids” because he is too caught up in running his Institute for Global Change, or whatever he calls his make busy work. No matter that she has a career of her own as a lawyer, his time is still deemed too valuable to get his hands dirty with domestic tasks.

Mr Blair’s confession was soon seized upon by the chatterati. He makes me look good, said one gleeful male columnist. Another recalled the day he left dirty dishes by the sink and his wife, in turn, left him.

What does it say, other than something depressing, that this fusty old debate about housework is still going on? A study by University College London last year found women still do most of the chores – 16 hours a week, six for men – even with both partners in full-time jobs.

You don’t have to wander very far to see other signs that the great feminist revolution of which some of us dreamed is stuck on pause. We read, courtesy of Carl Bernstein’s reporting for CNN, of Donald Trump telling former PM Theresa May she was “weak” and “lacked courage”. He called German Chancellor Angela Merkel “stupid”.

Let us not forget that The Donald got his job despite the way he treated women (and crowed about it). Or that the current occupant of Downing Street refuses to tell the public how many children he has.

Elsewhere, one writer declared feminism dead on hearing the news that Kim Kardashian – she flogs make-up and her lifestyle, m’lud – had become a billionaire. A comedian, Katherine Ryan, confirmed what everyone knew, that television panel games are unbearably laddish, hence her refusal to go on Mock the Week.

The Covid-19 pandemic looks set to make women worse off in general. A UN policy paper published in April said “even the limited gains” made in gender equality in the past decades were at risk of being rolled back. It noted that women were doing more unpaid work; their economic position had worsened (more likely to be paid less and be first out the door when redundancies came around); and domestic violence had increased.

Time for feminism to have a makeover, perhaps, to remind us why its ideas are needed now more than ever. Or if not a makeover at least a sisterly whisper in the ear.

As serendipity would have it, there is a crash course in feminism, of the American variety anyway, arriving on television next Wednesday in the shape of a new drama, Mrs America. Created by Dahvi Waller (Mad Men) and starring Cate Blanchett as Republican and anti-feminism campaigner Phyllis Schlafly, it is the true story of the fight to amend the US constitution to ensure equal rights for women and men. (Spoiler alert: the battle was lost.)

Wince along as Schlafly, an expert in nuclear weapons, is asked to take notes at a meeting because she’s the only woman present.

Reel as she tells a Congressman: “I’ve never been discriminated against. I think some women like to blame sexism for their failures instead of admitting they didn’t try hard enough.” (Mrs Thatcher was of similar mind).

Slick, smart, and packed with acting talent, Mrs America digs up some of the arguments against feminism, the likes of which you can still hear today.

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There is a moment when Schlafly asks an audience of women whether feminism will leave them better off, or just with more work to do.

Any woman who has spent lockdown juggling a job, home schooling, and all the usual chores will say an amen to that proposition. They might agree with her, too, that feminism has tended to look down on women (and it remains mostly women) who choose to stay at home and care for children rather than join the 9 to 5.

Admittedly, it can sometimes feel as though the only gains to have been made in feminism are surface ones, easily erased when times get tough. It has often been that way: see the two world wars. I look at the younger women of today and they are still underpaid and undervalued; still afraid to claim their place in society as the equal of men; still afraid to walk home alone at night. If this is progress it looks dishearteningly modest.

Yet I also see the likes of the #MeToo movement and think of old Harvey behind bars. I see women going to court to enforce their employment rights. I see them speaking up, determined not to take the same sexist nonsense we often did. Saying you are not a feminist today is distinctly uncool. Women are out there, holding down jobs, looking after children and elderly relatives, keeping a home going. And they are doing so with partners by their side.

I’m enough of a vintage to remember when it was a rare sight to see a man pushing a pram in the street. Poor soul, must be widowed. Doing housework? Men were more likely to walk on the moon. Yet what do you know, those people, that generation, had children of their own. They did things differently, and bit by bit progress was made. A good parent of whatever sex changes nappies, pulls their weight domestically, offers support and love in all sorts of ways. All thanks to those parents determined to learn from the mistakes and omissions of the past.

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Whether you are a washed up Prime Minister like Tony Blair or not, doing nothing around the house is nothing to boast about.

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