Reader R.J. objects to my post yesterday on statistics cited by columnists Richard M. Leving and Glenn Sacks showing that the myth of the “second shift” for working wives is just that, a myth, and that when you count hours spent on a job outside the home to hours spent at home doing housework, it seems that husbands actually work just as hard as, if not harder than their wives. (see my “Actually, Husbands Work Harder Than Wives,” March 27.) I quipped: “Your guy is sacked out in front ot the tube because he’s tired.” That seemed particularly to irritate R.J.:
“I think these studies are a tad meaningless because the types of work that husbands and wives do (whether paid or unpaid) vary so widely from couple to couple. Some men have very demanding jobs (not in terms of number of hours worked, but other factors), some have less demanding jobs; some people have more flexibility in their work than others do, and some people work more efficiently and/or have higher energy levels than others. I don’t think it’s possible to control for all of these factors and come up with a definitive answer as to who works “harder.” Nor do I think it really matters. Each couple has to work out their own strategy for balancing work and leisure and meeting the needs of everyone in the family, and that can’t be accomplished with strict records and time sheets.
“That disclaimer aside–I, as a housewife, do take strong exception to the idea that men, in general, work “much harder” than women. Men, in general, do very different work than women do. I don’t consider myself an easily-offended person, but I suppose I am offended by the idea that my husband deserves to sack out in front of the TV when he gets home because he’s ‘tired.’ I don’t doubt that he is tired. I am also tired. The difference between his ‘tired’ and my “tired” is that his ‘tired’ earns money for the family, and any reasonable person would understand that he needs an occasional break from the work that makes him ‘tired.’ My work, on the other hand, earns no money. It also ‘earns’ no breaks. I don’t get to go home from work. My home is my work. If I am tired, I still have to work. If I am sick, I still have to work. If I go on “vacation” with my husband and we take the kids, guess what? I’m still working! I’ve just taken the same show on the road.
“No, my life isn’t one of constant drudgery. I wouldn’t be a housewife if I hated it. I have other options. There are many aspects of my work–and my schedule–that I like. But my husband feels the same way about his job. Yes, he works many hours. But he enjoys what he does, and he receives more than just monetary rewards for it. I’m very grateful that my husband has a strong work ethic, and that he is able to provide so amply for our family. But he couldn’t do what he does if I didn’t do what I do–work very long and hard, even when I’m “tired.” I don’t expect my husband to share the housework 50/50. That would be silly and unnecessary. I don’t expect him to come home and do ‘chores.’ I do expect him to show a minimal amount of respect for the work that goes into running a household. At the risk of sounding like a whiny housewife, I don’t think it’s respectful to come home and habitually fall asleep in front of the TV just because you’re tired.”
I agree with you completely on this point, R.J.: men and women in general tend to do very different kinds of work. But the studies cited by Leving and Sacks didn’t measure the relative difficulty, mental or physical, of the kind of work they do, just the number of hours they put in.
I’m with you, though, on this point: husbands ought to show even more than a “minimal amount” of respect for what their wives do around the house. Keeping a household, especially a household with children, on an even keel is demanding managerial work, and stay-at-home wives and mothers deserve to be honored, not to be subjected to the barrage of disdain that feminist ideologues level at them.