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6 Housework Myths


new internationalist
issue 181 - March 1988

6 Housework Myths

[image, unknown] 1. Labour-saving devices save time
In the 1920s women in the US spent an average of 60 hours a week doing housework. By the 1970s housework was taking up even more time: an average of 70 hours a week1. In 1925, when most clothes were washed by hand, women spent 5.5 hours a week doing the laundry. After the invention of the washing-machine the time had gone up to 6.25 hours2. By 1982 80 percent of UK households owned a washing machine and 95 per cent had a vacuum cleaner, but women are doing more housework than ever3. This is because families change their clothes more often, expect a cleaner house and a more varied diet - and because today's mother gets practically no help from the rest of the household.
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2. Cleaning keeps germs away
Housewives spend an average of two hours a day just cleaning. One study found that they clean the bath and the toilet, vacuum the living room and dust the house at least once a day4. But there is no evidence that anything other than extremely rudimentary house-cleaning has any effect on the health of the inmates - apart from increasing asthmatic attacks in women during bouts of dusting1.
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3. Housewives make the best mothers
Children of women with jobs outside the home are less likely to be delinquent than children of full-time housewives5. There are also some indications that babies are more likely to be battered by housewives than by women with jobs outside the home5 and that housewives are themselves more likely to be battered by their husbands than women in paid employment6. Moreover the involvement of a caring father has been found to be the most important factor in preventing delinquency5.

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4. Housewives have lots of free time
Men have an average of 33.5 hours of free time per week, compared with 24.6 hours for women7. Even at weekends, while men and children relax, housewives work an average of six hours each day2.

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5. Housework is natural for women
Hunting is no more natural to men than housework is to women. In one study of 224 different traditional cultures, there were 13 in which women hunted and 60 in which they fished. House-building was an exclusively female occupation in 36 cultures, while there were five in which men did all the cooking and a further 38 in which cooking was routinely done by either sex8. In parts of Indonesia and Zaire it is the father who is expected to care for his infant child5.

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6. Men are beginning to help
Married men in the US now do six per cent more housework than 20 years ago9. Only 55% of UK men in one survey had washed the dishes at all in the previous week10. One in four women in another UK survey said their husbands were more of a hindrance than a help4. No reliable study has ever estimated men's share of the housework at anything more than 1.5 hours a day11.

1 B Ehrenreich and D English, For Her Own Good, Pluto, UK, 1979.
2 J Vanek, Time Spent in Housework, Scientific American, November 1974.
3 W Faulknerand E Arnold, Smothered by Invention, Pluto, UK, 1985.
4 The 1,001 Dirt Report.
5 A Oakley, Housewife, Penguin, 1976.
6 R E Dobash and R Dobash, Violence Against Wives, Open Books, London, 1980.
7 HMSO, Social Trends 1987.
8 G P Murdock, Comparative Data on the Division of Labour by Sex, Social Forces, 1937.
9 S A Hewlett, A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation, Michael Joseph, London, 1987.
10 The Association of Market Survey Organizations, UK, Men and Domestic Work.
11 R Cowan, More Work for Mother.

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New Internationalist issue 181 magazine cover This article is from the March 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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