of the staple feminist claims heard every March during International Women's
Day and Women's History Month is that "women do the work of the world." This
myth was publicized by the United Nations during the 1970s ("Women constitute
one half of the world's population [and] do two-thirds of the world's work")
and reinforced in 1995 with the release of its "Human Development Report"
and the presentation of the report at the UN International Women's Conference
in Beijing. The report's claim that women do more work than men was reported
widely and uncritically by the US media with headlines such as "It's Official:
Women Do Work Harder" and "A Woman's Work is Never Done."
To judge who does "the work of the world" in a world of over six billion
people is a gargantuan task, but let's begin by asking two questions:
1) Who works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the average family unit worldwide?
2) Who does the most demanding and dangerous work?
The second question is much easier to answer than the first, so let's start
there. According to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 1.1
million workers are killed in industrial accidents each year, exceeding the
number killed from war, violence, road accidents and AIDS.
These accidents occur primarily in mining, logging, heavy agricultural
labor, construction, fishing, heavy manufacturing and various other overwhelmingly
male jobs. The ILO estimates that 600,000 lives would be saved every year
if available safety practices were used. The ILO also estimates that there
are approximately 250 million victims of occupational accidents and 160 million
victims of occupational diseases each year. The ILO doesn't keep figures
by gender, but in countries where such figures are available (such as South
Africa, England, Australia and Canada), the fatalities and serious injuries
are usually over 90 percent male.
The gender breakdowns in the US are little different. According to the Bureau
of Labor Statistics, there were over 125 million workplace injuries in the
United States between 1976 and 1999. Nearly 100,000 American workers died
from job-related injuries over the past decade and a half, 95% of them men.
Of the 25 most dangerous jobs listed by the US Department of Labor, all of
them are between 90 percent and 100 percent male. According to the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, more than three million workers a year
are treated in hospital emergency rooms for occupational injuries and nearly
50 American workers are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week. On
average, every working day 25 workers die, 24 of them male.
So there is no doubt that the most dangerous and demanding jobs are done
by men, in most if not virtually every society, and that men shoulder the
burden of dangerous labor in the US Let's consider the other question: Who
works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the average family unit
worldwide? It's a much harder question to answer but, as best as can be told,
the average man is doing at least as much as the average woman is.
As men's issues author Warren Farrell explained in his 1999 book Women Can't
Hear What Men Don't Say, the UN report upon which most claims of "women work
more" are based was deeply flawed. In fact, UN official Terry McKinley admitted
in February, 1996 that the UN misrepresented the study in several important
ways. For one, the information provided by the UN to the press only applied
to countries where women were found to work more hours than men; the countries
where men were found to work more hours than women were deliberately excluded.
Moreover, when the data provided by researchers in some countries (including
the US) did not fit the UN's intention to show that women "do more," researchers
were asked in a private communication to amend their studies. Researchers
were asked to include women's voluntary community work as well as hobbies
in order to increase women's perceived workload. Researchers were not asked
to include these items or new ones in men's labor. As a study of men and
women's labor, the UN findings are worthless.
Even if one could possibly do an effective study on how many hours the average
man and woman worked inside and outside the home worldwide, a finding that
women work more hours would not mean that women work "harder" or "more" because
such a study would still not account for the more difficult and dangerous
nature of men's work.
Feminists have made similar claims of "women do more" in relation to the
division of labor in the United States. The idea of what Farrell calls the
"second shift woman and the shiftless man" was brought into vogue in large
part by UC Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild's best-selling 1989 book The
Second Shift. In it she wrote (and the media uncritically repeated) "women
work an extra month of 24 hour days each year."
However, as Farrell notes, Hochschild arrived at her "women do more" conclusion
through a variety of disreputable gimmicks. For one, she compared the housework
burdens of full-time employed males with those of part-time employed females,
portraying men working 50 hour weeks as lazy and selfish for not doing as
much housework as their wives who were working a 20 hour week. Also, she
claimed that men did no more housework in the late 1980s than in the pre-feminist
era, but, with one minor exception, she used data on male housework from
studies done in the pre-feminist era, rendering it worthless. In addition,
she also defined "housework" to include chores usually done by women, ignoring
many of the household tasks generally performed by men.
In reality, objective, scientifically credible studies have shown that American
women are not working more or harder than men. For example, the UN's survey
on the United States showed that American men work three more hours a week
on average than American women. The Journal of Economic Literature reports
that the average man works five hours more, and a study released last year
by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the world's
largest academic survey and research organization, put the disparity at three
more male hours per week.
In addition, these surveys (both the serious ones and the feminist advocacy
ones) count only hours worked. A man doing eight hours of dangerous construction
work in the 100-degree heat is credited with no more "work" than a woman
who works in an air-conditioned office or who, in the comfort and safety
of her own home (and without a supervisor breathing down her neck), cooks
breakfast, takes the kids to school, packs her husband's lunch and folds
the laundry while chatting on the phone.
Nevertheless, as Farrell notes, negative references to men and housework
litter our popular culture. "The Myth of Male Housework: For Women, Toil
Looms From Sun to Sun" was a headline in one major publication, over a cartoon
depicting a woman juggling (and struggling) with a baby, a roasted turkey,
and a house pet, while her husband watches TV and "juggles" his beer and
his potato chips. Other major publications have highlighted women's alleged
burdens under headlines such as "For Women, Having It All May Mean Doing
It All," and "The Trouble with Men," with one even commenting, "A woman's
work is never done, a man is drunk from sun to sun."
Feminists are correct to be concerned about the plight of the women in the
underdeveloped nations of the world. Their error is that they blame men.
The enemy of most of the women of the world is not the man who works hard
to provide for his wife and children, but instead the grinding poverty that
wreaks devastation on everybody: men, women and children.
Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and radio talk show
host. His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers.
To learn more about his radio show, go to His Side with Glenn Sacks. Glenn's
website is GlennSacks.com.
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