Is the Female Chore Burden a Scourge?
Photo Credit: Alexander Dummer at Unsplash

Is the Female Chore Burden a Scourge?

2 Mar 2016

I just learned that Bill and Melinda Gates publish an annual letter on Bill’s personal blog. I only heard about it because a story entitled The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden showed up in Google Now under Stories to read. Pleasant title. Alarm bells. Obviously I had to find out about the scourge on society that was being alluded to, and it turns out that Melinda Gates wrote a section of the letter called More Time.

First, let me make it clear that I’m not addressing the issues in poorer countries. There are issues that come with different cultures, and poverty, that don’t need to be addressed here in America. I happen to agree with Melinda that culture needs to change in most impoverished countries, but until that happens first, no real progress will be made in other areas such as economics, equality, health, education, etc.

But things are different in “civilized” countries. I don’t think it’s fair to compare our culture with that of the culture in Tanzania, for example. There, it probably is considered to be the responsibility of the woman to do the unpaid stay-at-home chores. Melinda writes:

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.

While it may appear that way in the United States, I don’t believe that’s the way it really is. Generally speaking, I don’t think anyone assumes its the woman’s responsibility to do the unpaid housework. I, personally, know of two families where the father stays home with the kids, and does all the housework because the woman had a better job when the kids came along. It made sense to them, and quite frankly, it makes sense to me. I’ve never heard of anyone questioning that decision, except my wife who doesn’t understand how any mother could leave her kids all day. But even she, admits that it’s cool that the father quit his job to take on that role. To the best of my knowledge, no one makes fun of them. And why would they? A few exceptions aside, I think most people don’t care whether the man or the woman are the breadwinner… as long as someone is.

Now, this work has to be done by somebody. But it’s overwhelmingly women who are expected to do it, for free, whether they want to or not. [Emphasis hers]

There are actually two points I want to address in the statement. The first point I want to address is “this work has to be done by somebody.” The problem I have with this is that she’s using a rather narrow definition of work, because as she said, they are doing the work “for free.” If you look at it from a cold, hard, paycheck, cash aspect, then she’s right. But raising a family isn’t just about cash; it’s about providing for a family. And a lot of times, that means doing the work yourself.

Let’s use a politically incorrect, typical family as an example. Both man and woman work to provide for the family. In this typical family, the man goes out and gets a job in order to do the paid work, and the woman stays-at-home and does the unpaid work. Despite the fact that one is paid and the other is unpaid, both are contributing economically to the family. The man is bringing in money for the whole family, including the woman. It’s not just his. If you see this as the man’s money, and not the family’s money, that’s an issue. The woman, while not being paid cash for her housework, is contributing also economically. How is that, you ask? Because the family isn’t paying out money to have someone else do the laundry, or scrub the floors, or babysit, or whatever. Since the woman is doing this unpaid work, that’s cash in the pocket for the family to spend elsewhere. Because she’s doing the work, there isn’t a negative on the family finances, so in essence, you can say she’s not economically wasting her time. She may not get cold, hard, cash, but the very fact that there isn’t a negative drain on the checkbook… Yeah, that’s a positive economic impact on the family.

Steven Nelms wrote an article breaking down the costs of what he would have to pay annually for outside help if his wife didn’t do all that unpaid work. Tell me she isn’t making a positive economic impact on her family.

Here’s a thought. Maybe the man should pay the woman out of his paycheck, and then when they go out to dinner, they can go dutch.

The second point I want to address is “whether they want to or not.” I think there are a lot more women that want to stay home with their children as opposed to men. My wife, for example, finds the idea that a woman could carry a human being inside of her body, feel it kicking, and go through the trial of childbirth, only to finally drop it off for someone else to raise, absurd. How could any good mother possibly do that to a human being they were that close to for nine months? While generalizing because she knows there are good mothers out there that do just that, it raises an important point, because Melinda’s letter really doesn’t account for the women that do want to stay at home.

I do get the feeling, however, that Melinda doesn’t really think women should stay-at-home. While not as blunt as Hilary Rosen, when she said stay-at-home mom Ann Romney, “never worked a day in her life,” I think that Melinda sees a mother’s time spent better, economically speaking, by getting a paying job.

…it’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies

The irony of all this is that she also thinks that men should spend more time at home:

In fact, studies show that when fathers are able to take time off from paid work when their children are born, they spend more time with their kids and doing other kinds of housework for years to come. As a result, they form a stronger bond with their partners and children. That’s one reason why I think access to paid family and medical leave is so important for families.

Paid leave? If one of the benefits your company allows is paid leave, then more power to you. But, to be clear, it should not be a requirement, and no, the government shouldn’t pay for it. It’s your family. Plan for it. Save up and take unpaid leave. Didn’t plan ahead? Didn’t save? Too bad. Someone else shouldn’t have to pay for your poor planning.

As we continue to watch the family break down in the so-called civilized world, I question whether contributing to the well-being of society should be a priority. It’s apparent to me, that in a time when more women were stay-at-home moms, the family unit was a much stronger entity. While I don’t think it needs to be the woman’s responsibility, shouldn’t it be someone’s in the family?

Tagged: child care economics equality family feminism

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