Editor says: note the author’s name.
From The Atlantic:
Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility,” [Melinda Gates] writes in the letter, which is written for a teenage audience.
The article is cluttered with numbers about how women, even in so-called advanced societies like Finland, are burdened with the drudgery of housework. This type of analysis has been around for decades, and women’s magazines in the era of liberation were replete with conjectures of the astronomical amounts a stay-at-home mom would earn if she were paid for all the cleaning, chauffeuring, nursing, etc. she performed on a daily basis. Or the magazines would have fun with the analogy of mothers as domestic engineers or household CEO’s. Which is amusing, but really doesn’t fly on the old resume.
The fact is that there is women’s work, and the reason why there is women’s work is because men do it wrong. Just ask any man who has tried to help his wife or mother. He will do it, but he will fumble, and the plates will be stacked wrong, or the silverware will mysteriously find new homes, or butterfingers will chip the china or shatter the glassware. The cynic would say that he does it on purpose, to avoid being called on to help in the future. Maybe it’s true, and the average man is just too clever for his own good. But it could also be true that he is an untrainable dolt.
I am not completely convinced that the studies like the one Mrs. Gates chooses to cite take into account the breadth of what is commonly known as “men’s work.” Men’s work is mostly outdoor work. Cars need fixing, windows need washing, paint needs scraping, screens have to be put in or taken out. An imaginative man can keep busy with little chores that will satisfactorily fill up evenings and weekends. Just because he’s not running the vacuum doesn’t mean that he is not contributing to the cleanliness, safety, and comfort of the home environment.
When I clean the house, wash the dishes, and do the laundry, I get to live in a clean house, eat from sparkling dishes, wear fresh clothes, and sleep on immaculate sheets. When I cook a meal, whether it takes me 20 minutes or 2 hours, I get to enjoy the wonderful food that I prepare with my own two hands. I directly benefit from my labors. No one is doing it for me, and I can have the satisfaction of a job well done. That others—and possibly men—may benefit from my hard work is incidental.
The other part of the equation that never quite gets calculated properly is the joy and satisfaction one can get from unpaid work—whether making a quilt, mending clothing, replacing a lost button, or ironing the shirts. It is possible to buy quilts or have the dry cleaners do the mending, sew on buttons and take care of the shirts. Even though the actual work is outsourced, it takes time and energy to haul things to the cleaners and carry purchased goods from the store.
Personally, it would frustrate me to be obligated to pay someone to rummage through my things, paw through my drawers, and prepare meals that very well could taste like sawdust in my mouth. What is the going rate for home assistance? I don’t think I could afford it, especially at the Governor Cuomo-endorsed rate of $15 an hour.
My wages would have to rise considerably for me to enjoy my current standard living if I were to abandon all unpaid work. On the bright side, I could spend my increasing number of leisure hours at the office. Talk about drudgery.
What is surprising is that there isn’t public consternation about the hours and hours that women spend at the office, caged in a cubicle, tethered to a desk, under poor lighting, with their eyes riveted to Excel spreadsheets. Many of these women have expensive educations, and sometimes more than one degree, and this is their reward?
I’m not sniffing at earning a paycheck, and sometimes, it has to be done. But, there is unsung and uncelebrated satisfaction in doing work that is marginalized, undervalued, and yes, unpaid.