By Tracy Walker
Canadian women work a double workday. Since the 1970s, getting women into the paid workforce was a priority for feminists who observed that “whoever has the gold makes the rules.” As women streamed into the labour market, feminists dreamed the impossible dream–that men would gain respect for their wage-earning partners and help out with chores. Husbands, however, do not meet wives halfway with the housework even though women are doing so with the chequebook.
How do double-income families manage housework? The 1992 General Social Survey revealed some distressing facts about the division of household labour. For instance, employed females do 60 per cent more housework than employed males. Husbands of working wives averaged about two minutes more housework per day than do husbands whose wives do not work. Women take 50 per cent more sick and personal days off than men to care for children. The 1996 census showed that women do two-thirds of the unpaid work in Canada. It is clear there is a sweeping gap that definitely needs to be ironed out.
Young, university-aged women should not be lulled into a state of complacency thinking that their professional employment will excuse them from the double workday. According to Dr. Sandra Pyke, a 1994 study of women in the academy, found that a woman’s employment status has little impact on the contribution of her husband to housework and childcare. University educated women are choosing fewer responsibilities in the workplace because they cannot keep up with the dual demands of a full-time career and full-time housework, including child and aging parent care. This yields decreased opportunity and promotability.
“It is not surprising that many female academics opt out of family structures,” Pyke says.
Attitudes about which partner is responsible for which household chores is the problem. It is more about power than ability to perform certain tasks. Women consistently do the time-consuming, tedious and recurring tasks, such as cleaning, cooking and shopping while men do sporadic, one time only tasks with a definite beginning and end, such as repairs and yard work. Certainly much of this situation can be attributed to traditional “separate sphere” roles for men and women. However, even though women constitute 42 per cent of the workforce, attitudes have been slow to catch up to those demographics.
Constructive omission is a tactic employed by men to excuse themselves from tedious chores. When it is Dad’s night to cook, take-out is usually the fare. Or men simply do the job so badly that women will take over in frustration. To resolve this, families are making tough choices–either lower their household standards or resort to the purchase of market replacements, such as prepared foods or childcare. Unfortunately, these expenses cancel out much of the second income, and this situation provides more incentive for the market to produce taxable goods and services. Women are working to generate more demand for products rather than to improve their status as individuals.
The double-workday woman will be doubly tired when retirement comes along. Can she look forward to a peaceful, restful retirement the same as her husband does, with beaches and naps? No, she’ll still be cooking, cleaning and nurturing. A woman’s work is never done, regardless of education. Watch out, it could happen to you.