Scott Lemieux, over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, summarizes the “new” housework argument thusly:
“There are some domestic tasks — basic sanitation like cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, a minimum level of organization, childrearing duties where applicable — that are necessary, and there should be a presumption of gender equity in how they’re distributed.”
“It doesn’t follow from this, however, that the equilibrium every equitable household should reach is 50s-bourgeois standards of tidiness that presumed a full-time homemaker plus paid help. If it’s very important to you to dust every singe day or have all your clothes ironed or to never have an extraneous object on a table or floor that’s fine, but that’s like a hobby, not a fundamental household task. Just assuming that all kinds of pointless busywork has to be done is not only a non-sequitur, under current gender norms it’s especially bad for women.”
Taking it point by point….of course there are certain housekeeping and childcare duties that are not negotiable. They have to be done. No argument here. Except for maybe the “lumping.” Child care is certainly discrete from housework. (“Organization?” Meh, I’m not sure what he means. I think he means paying the bills on time, and so on. To me, that is also discrete from housework. And also no big deal at all. I think we can pretty much forget this one.)
So, where’s the problem? Well, the problem is that left out is the eight hundred pound gorilla, ie wage work. In reality, leaving aside the bill paying, a household has two main kinds of work, work for money and housework. Throw in kids, and there are three kinds, work for money, housework, and child care work. And, guess what, in most household MEN still do the majority of the wage work. Men bring in more money, and no, not because of discrimination, but because men choose (and that choice is usually just as culturally determined as the ones that women make that we will deal with later) the tougher jobs, with the tougher commutes, the longer hours, the overtime, the more physical risks, the more mental stress, the more rigorous and selective training and qualification regimes and so on. Even if the man and the woman work the same number of hours, there is work and then there is work. Forty hours a week at the factory, to earn the main salary and the health care benefits, is NOT the same thing as forty hours in the bookstore, to earn some supplemental money.
So what, you might ask. So everything. ALL of the work should be considered…wage work, housework and childcare work (if applicable). NOT merely the areas where, stereotypically and also typically, women do the most. And, indeed, studies show that men and women tend to work equal hours when all work is considered (but again, men do the hardest work, high wage outside work, which is much more difficult than either housework or child care work), although women tend to complain more. So, no, Scott, there should be no “presumption of gender equality” in how two, and not any old two but the two where women tend to do more now, but not all three, areas of work are “distributed.” ALL areas of work should be considered. As well as the difficulty of the work in question.
Again, the real issue is total work, and its distribution, not merely work in any one or two areas and their distribution. For years, folks who do these studies refused to count lawn work and working on the car as work at all. No, those were “hobbies.” The notion that raking leaves, cutting grass, cleaning out gutters, changing oil, and such like is a “hobby” came as news to most men, who saw those tasks as work, and a lot of them as pretty hard, physical work at that. Now, pretty much, that has been rectified, with this “yard work” either figuring as a separate category or as part of “housework.”
Beyond mere hours worked, as I mentioned, thought must be given to how hard the work is too. Women often say that men seem tired “too much.” Well, perhaps that is because wage work (which is still, even today, more “men’s work”) is harder than housework and child care, and takes its toll. Let’s hear from one SAHM:
“I dance and sing and play the guitar and listen to NPR. I write letters to my family, my congressional representatives, and to newspaper editors. My kids and I play tag and catch, we paint, we explore, we climb trees and plant gardens together. We bike instead of using the car. We read, we talk, we laugh. Life is good. I never dust.”
Does that sound so hard? Of course not. With the relaxed standards of cleanliness, with labor saving devices, and with nursery and pre school, being a SAHM is a good deal. Why, duh, do you think so many women choose it? Even women with professional and business careers, and not merely jobs. Why do women who can’t afford it long for it? Why do single working women wish that a man who made enough money, on his own, to support her and their kids, would come along, wine, dine and affiance her, marry her, impregnate her, and do just that!
Think of the benefits of avoiding wage work, either entirely or mostly. Work at home taking care of kids and a house is done in a non hierarchal, non competitive setting. One need not watch one’s every word and action, as one must do in employee at will, corporate and small business America. One is free to dress as one chooses, including comfortably and casually (think t shirt and sweatpants!, think sneakers–or barefoot or socks only–as opposed to uncomfortable “dress” shoes), one can work at one’s own pace, and there is no boss and there are no customers–so performance standards are self generated. One can take meal, snack, coffee, bathroom and other breaks as one chooses, when one chooses. One can listen to music or have the TV on while one works, and one gets to choose the music or show. One can take or make personal phone calls or go on the computer for non work purposes as one chooses. The work itself is mostly light. Throwing clothes in the washer, then the drier, then folding them (optional in many cases) is just not that hard, not physically, not mentally and not emotionally either. Neither is running a vacuum cleaner or a dish washer. No commute. Some of the work, like cooking and decorating, can actually be fun, arty and rewarding. And most parents, men and women, find being around their kids to be the most rewarding thing of all. And yet that is your “job” as a SAHM! The worst stuff? I guess it would have to be bathroom and kitchen cleaning, in that order. Somewhat dirty jobs, but hardly deal breakers. And the really nasty stuff at home, the gutter cleaning and the like, still gets done by the man!
That’s why even merely comparing hours is misleading. Difficulty must be considered too. And, of course, and contra Scott, so must all three main categories of work.
On to the next paragraph….Again, it starts out promising. Of course, hysterical, neurotic standards of cleanliness are stupid. And no one should have to meet anyone else’s standards, if they are crazy. Buuuuuut, under current norms, it is both women and men who suffer from ridiculous standards, even though it is women who make a fetish of housework, not men. It is women who find fault when a man has done the basic work, but has not gone the absurd, Felix Unger like extra nine miles. “Well, when I do it, I do all that,” she says. Which may be true. But that is because (1) she has more time and energy to do it, having done less and less difficult wage work, and (2) she is the one with the cleanliness fetish. The days of a Ralph or even an Archie coming home from work and finding fault with the dusting or vacuuming are long since over (if they ever existed). Indeed, most husbands, even if they do all the wage work and their wives are SAH wives or mothers, are more than happy if there is a hot meal awaiting them, and clean clothes for the next day’s work. That, and a little sex once in a while, and most husbands have no complaints whatsoever!
Women’s compulsions to clean excessively are either self generated or come from their mothers and sisters or are areas of competition viz a viz other women. Men, to put it bluntly, really don’t give a shit. And thus it is wrong for women to expect men to cater to their non sense. Doing the housework, the NECESSARY housework, is actually no big deal. Men, living along, or living with other men, either do it themselves, no biggie, or hire a cleaner to come in for an hour or two a WEEK to take care of it. For less than a hundred dollars. I know of some who get it done for fifty dollars a week, and that includes laundry, all floors, the bathroom and the kitchen cleaned, the beds changed and made, and the whole place dusted, in a two man, two bedroom apartment! Again, the work is simply not that hard, and does not require any special skills. And yet I have had on line discussions with SAHMs claiming that they had to work from dawn to dusk, and all night too. Vacuuming multiple times a day (the whole house). Never getting a break. Etc, etc. Some of them even cite the absurd, annual Mother’s Day Salary.com publicity stunt of “calculating” how much a SAHM is worth by comparing it to being a CEO for X amount of time, etc, etc, instead of the scientifically and economically and obviously more accurate method of considering replacement cost (current–2013–figure from Salary.com: over $113,000 per year for an “average” SAHM…LOL!).
But I digress…
Scott is correct here, when he says that doing a crazy level of housework is a “hobby.” The problem is that it is predominantly a woman’s hobby, not a man’s. And not only not a man’s in terms of what men like to do, but not a man’s in terms of what he thinks the designated housekeeper “ought” to do. Women are their own worst enemies, when it comes to excessive housework, and men’s worst enemies too, to the extent that their men do housework. So, yes it does hurt women, but that is their own damn fault. And it hurts men too, who are not at fault.