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Inequalities in income and household chores disappear when you account for a few relevant facts. So why all the feminist clamour?
Grant Brown - August 15, 2008
A female colleague liked to tell the following joke:
Q: Why are women so poor at judging distances?
A: Because all of our lives we have been told that this [holding her index finger and thumb 1½ inches apart] is six inches.
That’s okay; men have a sense of humour. We can laugh at ourselves.
But by the same token, many men wonder why women have such a poor grasp of equality. I think it’s because all of their mollycoddled lives women have been told they have been oppressed. They are so used to being put on a pedestal and complimented and sheltered from harm or disappointment, that they have no idea what life in the real world is like for most men.
I say this only half-jokingly.
Feminism is the theory that men and women are equal in every respect--except for those in which women are superior. The trick is to interpret every social indicator as though it demonstrates arbitrary male privilege or genuine female superiority. Fortunately, a little bit of ignorance is all it takes to accomplish this feat.
For example, when studies show that girls perform less well than boys at advanced math, it is due to systemic discrimination in favour of boys; but when the same studies show that boys’ under-performance in the language arts is four times as great as that of girls in math, well that is due to girls’ innate superiority.
Government bureaucracies whose role it is to promulgate these attitudes have been entrenched for a generation now, so it comes as second nature to most people these days. Two favourite analyses in this vein that the public is treated to every year illustrate this mentality perfectly. One relates to the “gender wage gap;” the other to the division of household labour. I will briefly critique the standard shortcomings of these types of analyses presently; first, I wish to show how they illustrate the theme of my joke.
Studies of the gender wage gap show year after year that full-time employed women earn on average only 70 to 75 cents for every dollar earned by full-time employed men. The conclusion we are inevitably invited to accept is that men discriminate against women in employment and we need stronger laws to improve wages in female-dominated sectors of the economy.
Studies of the division of household labour show year after year that women spend on average an hour or two per week more than men doing household chores. The conclusion we are inevitably invited to accept is that lazy men are not pulling their weight in the home.
Admittedly, when you add up time spent on work both inside and outside the home, the gender differences in time spent on work disappear. Thus there is no significant difference in the amount of discretionary or “leisure” time enjoyed by men and women. But somehow we are left with the impression that self-sacrificing women are getting a raw deal.
Of course, an equally valid interpretation of these studies would conclude that lazy women are sitting at home watching soap operas and eating bon-bons while pushing around a feather duster or rocking a cradle, instead of getting out and pulling their weight in the paid workforce. That’s just silly, of course; but why isn’t the ubiquitous feminist spin seen as equally silly?
Surely any fair-minded person would realize with a moment’s thought that there is no useful artillery in these studies for the battle of the sexes. All they demonstrate is that the traditional division of labour between men and women persists to a degree in our society. Women continue to be more likely to stay at home and look after the children for a period of time; and men continue to be more likely to intensify their efforts in paid employment after marriage and especially after having children. As long as women choose older men who are higher on their career earnings path, this will be the most rational way to divide their labour.
In fact, this is precisely what the studies show, when looked at carefully. It has been said that the gender wage gap is not a measure of discrimination; it is a measure of ignorance. The more you know about the determinants of income, the smaller the gender wage gap becomes, to the point of insignificance.
Controlling only for crude time factors--number of hours worked per week, weeks worked per year, and years worked in a career--will account for all but about five or ten percentage points in the gender wage gap in most occupations. Willingness to travel, and to relocate for a promotion, are also important. So is field of work, educational qualifications, and--importantly--risk of injury or death. About 95 per cent of occupational deaths in Canada occur to men; even if that isn’t an employment opportunity you want to see equalized, at least concede men a risk premium for the kind of work that makes that statistic a reality.
Another way to illustrate that there is nothing insidious about the gender wage gap is to remove from the analysis the effects of marriage and children by comparing the earnings of single men to single women. There you will find no differences, or even differences favouring women--in large part because women are now entering most professional schools at higher rates than men. Even though women now outnumber men in those entering many professions--law, medicine, veterinary, ophthalmology, etc.--it will take a generation for attrition to equalize their numbers and their earning differentials due to age and experience. (Meanwhile, what is being done to reinvigorate boys to pursue these professions in school in numbers equal to girls? Sadly, nothing.)
Studies on the division of household labour are also subject to a number of criticisms. For one thing, they tend to ignore chores that are characteristically done by men, such as family transportation and home repairs. This is especially true of jobs that are required only periodically, such as shingling the roof, putting up a deck or fence, or changing the timing belt for the car. Methodologies that focus on relatively short time-frames--“In the past week, how much time did you spend on each of the following activities?”--will miss a lot of the major household maintenance jobs that men do.
More philosophically: Women get credit for time spent making dinner; but if a man puts in overtime or gets a bonus and uses the earned income to take the family out for dinner and a movie, does he get credit for the time saved on these household chores? If men do half of the housework that they consider to be necessary, and women put in extra time to bring the place up to what they consider to be ideal, should women get credit for the extra time they choose to spend on housework? How do you account for hobbies that also benefit the home: quilting, gardening, car restoration, woodworking, etc.? Classifying something as “personal interest” or “household chore” is often a subjective matter.
Equality is an elusive concept, but men and women will get along a lot better when women cease to be encouraged to tout every tendentious social indicator as a sign of their oppression. The “poor me syndrome” wears thin after a while. To cite the title of Cathy Young’s very helpful book on the gender wars, “Ceasefire!”
Very well put and really nothing more to add.