Housework and gender fairness

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.”

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/12/saving-potentially-good-arguments-from-stephen-marche

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.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/i-choose-my-choice/306847/

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!).

http://salary.com/how-much-should-moms-be-paid/slide/13/

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.

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2 thoughts on “Housework and gender fairness

  1. Oh, my GOD, what a piece-of-shit response. Good job ignoring the ACTUAL 800-lb gorilla in the room: That the work women do isn’t valued, which is why it’s not paid.

    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.

    Yeah, it’s not like men have ever barred women from these professions, right? Oh, and ever hear of this job called “sex work”

    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.

    HAHAHAHA.

    “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.”

    The plural of anecdote: Data!

    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!

    Which single working women, chucklehead? Because I can tell you, a l ot of us don’t want that. We don’t want to have to pick up after your whiny slovenly ass.

    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.

    No, cupcake, it’s men who pretend to be incompetent at housework, then whine, “I can never get anything done right around here!”

    she is the one with the cleanliness fetish.

    It’s not like cleanliness contributes to good health or better home maintenance or anything, does it?

    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!

    Aaaaand we have a bonus reference to sex as something the woman provides to the man, not as an activity people happily enjoy together. (In addition, of course, to the usual presumption that your sexist ass speaks for all men.)

    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.

    Got nothin’ to do with all that cultural enforcement from male advertising executives, does it?

    I’m skipping the rest. Too stupid, sexist, and mendacious; didn’t read.

  2. First of all, thanks for commenting. I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that you are the first commenter on my blog. Congratulations!

    Taking it from the top….

    “Oh, my GOD, what a piece-of-shit response.”

    Off to a calm, reasonable start. How nice!

    “Good job ignoring the ACTUAL 800-lb gorilla in the room: That the work women do isn’t valued, which is why it’s not paid.”

    Not even sure what this is supposed to mean. Women do work for wages. And, if “the work women do” is supposed to mean housework and child care work, that is paid work too, when it is done for other folks and other folks’ children.

    Women who do not do wage work, but are SAHMS, are indeed paid. They are paid in kind, as in their food, shelter, clothes, shoes, vacations, furniture, etc, etc, are all paid for out of their husband’s salaries. Moreover, under the laws in many, if not most States, the actual money that their husband earns is half theirs as well. The work of being a SAHM is most certainly valued. But who would pay a SAHM, in wages? Her husband? But doesn’t he already do so, as I said, in kind? Plus, who pays a single mother or single father, for that matter, for doing this work? Taking care of one’s dwelling space and one’s children is not paid for directly because it is work that one does for oneself and for one’s family. Who pays a man to cut the grass in his own yard? Or to change the oil in his and his wife’s car? Is that work “not valued” too, or simply seen, by society at large, as work that one does for oneself and one’s family, and thus compensation should be worked out within the family, as long as it is intact.

    You are simply repeating a feminist canard. While being a SAHM is not worth a salary of 113, 000 dollars a year, it most definitely has value. As any man whose SAHM wife has died or gone on the lam can tell you. Unless some family member or new girlfriend steps in, someone must be hired to do her work, or some of it, at least, while the man continues to work for wages. And that housekeeper/governess does not work for free (even if, again, the real salary will probably not even be half of that 113 k). And no one claims otherwise. No one claims it has “no value.”

    And, while you may disagree with me about the identification of the issue and its treatment, I think it would have been more fair of you, as a commenter, to at least address the issue which I, the blogger, identified as the unspoken of eight hundred pound gorilla, ie that all work should be considered, not merely housework or housework plus child care.

    Moving along, on wage work, which men do more of and also more of the higher paid variety, you say:

    “Yeah, it’s not like men have ever barred women from these professions, right? Oh, and ever hear of this job called “sex work”

    On the first point, I have heard of those bars. But, de jure, they were long ago removed. Moreover, special inducements, special efforts, have been made to attract women to those jobs. De facto, there may be some lingering discrimination, but I doubt it.

    Basically, the reality is that, even in the paid work force, women gravitate to the less risky, less stressful, less specialized, less tougher commute, less physically dangerous, less remote or isolated, etc, etc, occupation, specialty and sub specialty. Women are less likely to work graveyard shifts, or overtime, or, indeed, even full time. All of which means men, on average, earn more than women. But not because of any discrimination, much less bar.

    Why then? Because gender roles, while culturally and socially determined at the margins, actually have a biological basis. Women bear children. Women breastfeed children. Women have a strong urge to have and raise children. Men have a strong urge for sex. (Of course, both genders have the other urge too, just not as strong.) In the classic setup, a man earns a lot of money or garners a lot of prestige in his work, this makes him attractive to women who are looking for a good provider for their children. The deal is the woman grants the man access to regular sex and the man grants the woman access to his money and prestige. That’s what heterosexual marriage, in the past, and even mostly today, is all about.

    Women simply don’t, again, on average, have the sublimated drive to succeed “at work” that men do. A woman can find a good spouse without having to do so, and, in any event, really cares more about having and raising kids anyway. Whereas a man cares less about having and raising kids and more about having access to regular sex with a desirable woman. So he works and works hard to make that possible.

    And all the radical feminist claptrap in the world is not going to change that. Affirmative action and otherwise pleading with women to put their careers first has some effect, but not all that much. Women most desire to have and take care of kids. On average, for the most part. That is evolution talking, not society or culture. Same with men and their sex drive.

    On the sex work, again, not sure what you are driving at. Sex work is predominantly done by women, reflecting men’s heightened sex drive. But what is its importance here, in this discussion? If anything, sex work is simply another opportunity, another “choice” that women can make that men cannot. Sex work takes no special skills or training. And while it may be emotionally difficult for some women, it is available for many women, including pretty much all younger women, if they have nothing else to sell on the labor market. Men with nothing else to sell on the labor market are SOL, and must go work a minimum wage job, if they can find one.

    I said this:

    “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.”

    To which you responded,

    “HAHAHAHA,”

    which is not very persuasive.

    I wrote a detailed, lengthy paragraph explaining the salient differences, and why wage work was harder. To which you have no real answer.

    Beyond that, again, why do you think so many women want to be SAHMs, because it is “the hardest job in the world?” No, most women, most people in general, are not martyrs. Being a SAHM is a good deal, and women know it. Hell, Betty Freidan thought that being a SAHM was too easy! Her claim was that housewives, although not fulfilled by their housework, did keep busy with it, but, she argued, that was because SAHMs stretched their work to fill the time available! (Which, by the way, fits right in with the female fetishization of cleanliness, discussed below.) Friedan’s whole pitch was that women could, and should, do more! And, mind you, this was before dish washers and relaxed standards of cleanliness.

    Working in the wage world, particularly in the pro employer, anti union USA, to put it bluntly, sucks. Most jobs suck, and most people, men and women, have jobs, not careers. Even many, if not most, careers, are not what they are cracked up to be. Outside of a few artists, writers, and very, very few professionals and business executives, most people’s experience of the working world is one of underappreciated, underpaid struggle. Just finding and holding a job is hard. And one must live a good portion of one’s life in a hierarchal, dog eat dog, nasty, anti democratic environment. All of which constitutes another reason why women want to be SAHMs.

    Laugh all you want, but I dare you to prove me wrong!

    Next, in response to a quote from a SAHM, you say this:

    “The plural of anecdote: Data!”

    Fine, then why don’t you supply some data? Take a look at some polls, and find out how many SAHMs are just itching to get back into the work force. If you can’t do that, try reading the whole Atlantic article, from which the quote was lifted. The whole point was that women, women with choices, Harvard educated, professional women, much to the chagrin of radical feminists, often prefer to be SAHMs than doing wage work. Again, why do you think that is?

    When I mention that many (not all) single women long to be SAHMs, you said this:

    “Which single working women, chucklehead? Because I can tell you, a lot of us don’t want that. We don’t want to have to pick up after your whiny slovenly ass.”

    Leaving aside the ad hominem, wasn’t somebody just saying something about anecdotes and data? Hmmm, I swear I remember…..

    Anyway, here’s what one recent poll said:

    “…84% of working women [said] that staying home to raise children is a financial luxury they aspire to…What’s more, more than one in three resent their partner for not earning enough to make that dream a reality…”

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2012/09/12/is-opting-out-the-new-american-dream-for-working-women/

    Go and read the rest of the article, if you are actually interested in data. And take a look at this too:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2012/09/12/forbeswoman-and-thebump-com-parenthood-and-economy-2012-survey-results/

    “Approximately half of working moms agree their overall happiness would increase if they didn’t work….On the other hand, only nearly one in five (19%) of stay-at-home moms admit their overall happiness would increase if they worked outside the home.”

    You said:

    “No, cupcake, it’s men who pretend to be incompetent at housework, then whine, ‘I can never get anything done right around here!,”

    First of all, any data for that, cupcake?

    Secondly, men do not act incompetent. Men, if anything, pretend to know how to do things they don’t know how to do. Still, men clean up well enough, but very few women are going to admit that. No, housework is some mystified, mystifying endeavor, that requires two X chromosomes to do “right.” Again, housework is simply no big deal, as demonstrated by how cheaply it can be hired done. Men who live alone, or with other men, what do you think they do? Whine and act incompetent? No, they clean the toilet and the sink and the tub and the kitchen floors, just like Madame does. OK, maybe they skip the doilies and potpourri, but that’s the point. Going those extra miles just isn’t necessary, and for anyone to insist that the person doing the housework go them, genders aside, is unfair.

    “It’s not like cleanliness contributes to good health or better home maintenance or anything, does it?”

    Sure it does. Reading comprehension? Look at the beginning of the post. See? See what it says, cupcake, about NECESSARY housework? It is the fetishization of cleanliness that, while perhaps not wrong per se, does create problems when one tries to foist it on others. NOT basic cleanliness.

    “Got nothin’ to do with all that cultural enforcement from male advertising executives, does it?”

    Please. Are women children? The fact that the big, bad ad man says that women should clean too much means that’s why they do it? Women are not capable of seeing the self interest at play here? Funny, guys have no problem seeing through fake ad campaigns. No, drinking such and such beer is NOT going to make you the life of the party, the guy with all the women, and so on. And if a man claimed that he was a drunk because of all those beer ads which claim or imply the opposite, what would your take be? Shut up, stupid, and stop looking for excuses, I would guess, and rightly so.

    Ads may play on underlying issues, but they don’t create them. Women in competition with other women, or women looking to please their mothers, these are the underlying dynamics of the “clean” fetish. Or, perhaps, Friedan was right, being a housewife just doesn’t take all that much effort, not to do all the work that actually has to be done. So, some housewives go batshit crazy overboard, and try to make a virtue out of necessity.

    “I’m skipping the rest. Too stupid, sexist, and mendacious; didn’t read.”

    Again, very persuasive.

    All in all, I have to say I am disappointed in your comment. Pretty much not at all did you address the points I was making. Not even the main point, which was that all work should be considered when one is assessing the fairness of the respective workloads of the parties in a heterosexual couple. Even if everything that you claimed was true and valid and correct, and everything that you scoffed at that I wrote deserved it, still you did not deal with that basic issue. To raise that issue was the reason why I wrote the post in the first place, and it troubles me that you chose to respond so negatively without even acknowledging that central issue, much less addressing my treatment of it.

    You also produced no data (and you hypocritically complained that I had done the same), your provided no cites or links to anything. Basically, you went in for a lot of unsupported feminist catch phrases and jargon, that and ad homonyms and arguments from incredulity. The latter, of course, are logical fallacies and not at all persuasive or constructive. The former don’t and won’t work in this environment (unless proven), where everything claimed by feminists is NOT automatically held to be valid, truthful or correct. I will grant you one point: I should not have brought sex into the housework discussion. I thank you for that and will leave it out in the future. Otherwise, you were kind of a bust. If you comment again, please try to do better, or I will have to delete or edit you.

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