Czech women spend significantly more time than men doing housework – on average, 2.5 times as much as men. Among economically active people, men spend 14.9 hours a week doing household chores and caring for children, and women 27.6 hours, which means 1.8 times as much as men. This double burden signifies that economically active women with children have one full-time paid job and another (unpaid) nearly full-time job (Vohlídalová 2012). There exist two options on how to solve this unequal distribution of free time between men and women. First, families can delegate their housework to paid domestic workers. Second, they can equally redistribute this unpaid work among family members (see Fraser 2000).
As only a small number of households can afford these services – in the Czech Republic less than 7 percent of households pay for housework (Vohlídalová 2012) – I believe that it is important to put emphasis on a more equal distribution of household chores between men and women. In comparison to outsourcing, the redistribution of housework is affordable for all households. Furthermore, men’s greater participation in the running of the household would lead not only to a more equal distribution of free time but also to the acknowledgment of housework as a real and essential task. Men’s involvement in this unpaid work would unseat the belief that household chores and care work are primarily women’s responsibilities and provide a better example for children.
What would happen if women stopped doing housework? “Nothing, only society would collapse” Austrian social democrat Emmy Freundlich stated in 1922 (Bahenská, Hečková, Musilová 2014: 8). Efforts by the women’s movement to gain recognition for unpaid domestic work as demanding and just as necessary as paid jobs outside the home has a long tradition. It is evident that a prosperous and highly productive economy is based on unpaid work that ensures workforce regeneration and reproduction. But today, domestic work has still a lower status; in the economies of industrialized countries, only paid work is considered “real” work (Wagnerová 2012).
Furthermore, not even technological progress during the 20th century – as some hoped – could eliminate the necessity for housework. Even with all the mechanization, someone still has to perform the work (Lutz 2002), and household chores remain an inseparable part of our lives – especially women’s lives. This unequal distribution of unpaid, reproductive work between men and women causes other inequalities – inequalities in the labor market, the wage gap or horizontal and vertical segregation in the area of paid jobs. That is because women more often adapt their labor trajectories to the duty to be a primary caregiver. Women more frequently leave their paid jobs because of parental leave and care for sick and elderly household members, experience unemployment because of return from parental leave, or work in part-time jobs to be able to harmonize paid and unpaid work. Also, employers often hire women only for such jobs they consider better suited for women – and worse paid – because of the stereotypes and social role expectations for women to be mothers and managers of households (Dudová 2012). All these inequalities influence further life situations – for example, retirement pensions (Wichterlová 2012). It is apparent that women suffer a double burden, leading to their high exertion and overworked status (Vohlídalová 2012), which negatively influence not only their wellbeing but also their careers and future social security.
The outsourcing of domestic work may seem like a possible solution to this “second shift” problem. Even though hiring a domestic worker can provide welcome relief, especially for partners with demanding careers, in fact, this choice is affordable only for a small number of households. Moreover, it is unfeasible to delegate all housework to someone else. Even if the family hires a domestic worker, someone must still arrange and coordinate the running of the household and this person is, in all likelihood, a woman. The significant fact is that domestic work includes not only performing the tasks but also the “mental” work (Vohlídalová 2012), planning and ensuring that the household chores will be done. What’s more, this alternative does not bring any challenge to the inequalities existing between the partners (Anderson 2004), and housework remains women’s work.
In comparison to outsourcing, the equal redistribution of housework among family members is a highly workable solution that everyone can “afford” as it avoids any additional expenses. As a result, men’s participation in unpaid domestic work could lead to the acknowledgment of housework as “real” work and change the low status of domestic work (Armstrong 2002). Since the prevailing androcentric norms devalue all activities coded as “feminine” (i.e., housework), if men start to do more housework, these chores will be acknowledged and recognized as other work traditionally perceived as “men’s” work (Armstrong 2002; Fraser 2007).
The disruption of the male/female division of labor could lead to a more equal distribution of free time (Fraser 2000) and disrupt the myth that women do this work incidentally without much effort. First, men’s participation in the running of the household would help them to realize how important and demanding housework is. As the magazine Naše domácnost (Our household) wrote in 1946: “The work of housewife is seen when it is not done.” Second, men’s involvement in housework would enable women to find more leisure time. Also, equal participation in domestic work between parents would serve as a positive example for children and, consequently, this family model could raise more egalitarian generations. Because children would see care work and housework as activities in which both parents equally participate, the division of labor between men and women and the perception of housework as women’s work would be disrupted. By comparison, the delegation of housework to the domestic worker, in all likelihood a woman, reproduces the belief that housework is “feminine” work.
In the end, why should men participate more in doing housework and caring for children? Statistics from the last thirty years (see Vohlídalová 2012) clearly show the overburdening of women with unpaid domestic chores, which leads to other kinds of inequalities. Because the outsourcing of housework is affordable for an only small number of households, equal redistribution of household chores between men and women remains the best option leading to equality. Men’s equal participation in housework and caring for children could lead not only to the egalitarian distribution of free time between partners but also to the recognition of domestic work and care as real, demanding and essential responsibilities.
Marie Láníková is a PhD student of Sociology
Article was written in Writing Sociology class
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