The Stalled Revolution of the Gendered Division of Housework

“As [more] women have entered the work force, the hope was that men would make up the difference in household chores, said FHSS sociology Professor Renata Forste at a recent public lecture on campus. “Generally, this has not happened….resulting in a ‘stalled revolution.'” Forste said research shows that men have increased the amount of housework they do, and women have decreased the amount they do, but women are still doing more housework than men, even if they are working outside of the home as well. Why?

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Forste offered several possible explanations for this differentiation, including:

  1. the possibility that the person with more power usually has more power to argue to do less housework. In some households now and many historically, the man had more perceived power because he was earning the money.
  2. gender construction, or the perspective that women are viewed as more caring, so they will care more for the home.  A man’s fulfillment of his perceived gender role is not necessarily connected to how much he cares for his house by doing housework.

Family satisfaction is affected when house chores are not equal

But why does this matter? If a family has worked out an arrangement wherein both parents work outside the home full-time, the mother still does most of their housework, but she and the rest of the family are okay with that, is it a problem? It can be, said Forste, in that research shows that “family satisfaction depends on both partners contributing to housework. Gender imbalance is not seen as fair by either [gender], but it advantages men.” She cited research that said couples who believed each other was doing their “fair share” of housework were 60 percent more likely to say that they were satisfied with their marriage. Doing laundry, shopping for groceries, caring for sick children, and cleaning the house were the main chores that couples wanted to share equally.

Forste believes the underlying problem is that society does not value housework. She said it is valued “certainly less than paid income.” She suggested that housework is valued less because it is not visible in the public sphere. So what then, is the solution? If a couple or family is dissatisfied with their work/housework arrangement, what can they do?

  1. View all housework as regular maintenance work.“If we consider housework as work, and not women’s work, its value will increase,” Forste said. “There’s no men’s work or women’s work; there’s just work that needs to be done.” Throughout history, there was an attitude that if women could do it, it must not be that hard. She cited examples of actual commercial posters portraying this perspective:

 

Nowadays, one is most likely to find ads like this:

 

2. Develop career and housework skills. “We live in a complex world where economic opportunities are constantly changing,” she said, “and I think that young couples need a broader set of skills in order to manage family and work life in today’s labor market.” Addressing students, she continued: “I encourage [you] to develop both employment skills and homemaking skills as you prepare for your future. You will have more flexibility and options in an unstable economy.” Female students should get degrees and develop employable skills; unless a female student has a guarantee that she will marry and her husband will always be able to support her and their family, she should earn a degree. “It’s better to have employable skills and not need them, than to need them and not have them.”

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ISSP 2012: Family and Changing Gender Roles IV, Great Britain and US

 

Virginia F. Cutler

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Virginia F. Cutler

This lecture is part of a series of annual presentations dedicated to the memory of Virginia Farrer Cutler, who spent her entire life educating people on the home and family. While she served as the University of Utah’s Head of the Home Economics Department, she founded their Family Home Living Center. She later went on to become the dean of BYU’s College of Family living, now known as the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

Throughout her lifetime, Dr. Cutler served in many capacities and received a plethora of awards. These include: “United States delegate to the World Forum on Women, Brussels, 1962,” “appointed by President Nixon to the Consumer Advisory Council, 1972-1975,” “Utah Mother of the year, 1972,” and “distinguished service awards from the University of Utah and Cornell University.”

 

 

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