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Men aren't couch potatoes, after all

By Carey Roberts
web posted May 14, 2007

Over the years I've earned a tidy sum debunking the assorted gender myths that are regularly floated by the media. (Well, maybe I exaggerate about the tidy sum, but you catch my drift.)

Did you hear about the latest urban legend to bite the dust?

Back in 1989 Arlie Hochschild wrote a book called The Second Shift. This was Hochschild's conclusion: Compared to men, "women work an extra month of 24-hour days a year." Basically she was making the claim that while wives cook, clean, and sew after a long day at the office, His Royal Highness was chillin' in front of the TV set.

Women began to howl and the mainstream media jumped on the bandwagon, as Warren Farrell documents in his book Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say.

Newsweek ran an article that claimed, "Woman's Work is Never Done." Time tweaked men with the caustic headline, "The Myth of Male Housework." And People magazine chimed in with this screamer: "For Working Women, Having It All May Mean Doing It All."

Even Senator Dianne Feinstein of California publicly berated her own husband, saying, "I haven't taught him to hang up his bath towel yet, but rather than nag I don't bother any more." (Can you imagine Bubba confiding to a reporter that he'd once told Hillary to stop using the F-word to scold her security detail, but rather than nagging her, "I don't bother any more"?)

But it turned out that Hochschild's conclusions were flawed. First, her data about men's contribution to household chores was 25 years old. Then she interviewed mostly part-time women -- some of them married to men who clocked 60 hours a week. Apparently Hochschild expected these men to come home and do the laundry between shifts, all in the name of gender equality.

So when other researchers tried to replicate Hochschild's results, they found the numbers didn't come out right. Their solution? Cook the books!

Case in point was the United Nations report called Human Development 1995, which purported to show that women worked more hours than men. But Farrell did a little gumshoe work and discovered some behind-the-scenes statistical shenanigans.

When the UN bureaucrats found that men often worked more hours, they went back to the original researchers and asked them to "amend" their study to include the estimated time that women devoted to "basket making, weaving, knitting, sewing," and similar unpaid work – yes, really!

But they didn't bother to find out about unpaid work by men.

So when newspapers ran headlines like "U.N. Documents Inequities for Women as World Forum Nears" (New York Times, August 17) and "Women's Work is Never Done" (Washington Post, August 24), little did readers realize they were being duped.

How could the UN justify this trickery? Well, we all know the matriarchal utopia lies just around the corner. So why not speed things up a little by making people think that men are slothful belly-scratchers?

Recently economist Michael Burda and colleagues issued a report called Total Work, Gender, and Social Norms. The researchers combed through dozens of studies conducted around the world and tallied up the number of hours devoted to work for pay, housework, and childcare. They found that in the United States and other affluent countries – surprise! -- men and women work an identical amount of time – 7.9 hours a day

But there's more to the story.

Around the world, women retire at a younger age than men. That happens both by custom and by law. In the United Kingdom for example, the ladies collect their full pensions at age 60, while the lads have to work five more years before they're entitled to that gold pocketwatch.

Then there's the question of the work itself.

Having done manual labor myself in 95-degree temperatures, I know how physical work can take its toll. So take the average Joe who works a construction job in the summer heat -- is it fair to expect him to do as much housework as his wife who spends the day doing clerical work in a climate-controlled environment?

The report also highlights the widespread, but faulty belief among researchers and the public at large that women outstrip men in terms of their work activities. Which begs the question, Why would anyone take it upon themselves to besmirch the good reputation of men?

So for now, guys, kick back and relax after that long day at work. Enjoy a tall, bubbly one. And don't let anyone unload their guilt trip on you. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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