Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Do Men Do Less Housework Because They Have A Different Standard Of Cleanliness? Chait v. Marcotte

   I've often wondered whether that might be part of the explanation...though speaking for myself, it's pretty clear that it's not the whole explanation...
   Anyway, Jonathan Chait suggests that it is at least part of the explanation.
   Guess what Amanda Marcotte thinks? Is it, even in part, a difference in preferences? Or is it...teh menz = eeeevil?  No...go on...guess!

9 Comments:

Blogger The Mystic said...

How about a different standard of laziness? Speaking for MYself, it seems that just might be the whole explanation...

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chait goes wrong is in casting these standards as a preference, as though the primary motivator behind, say, vacuuming daily is a personal satisfaction derived from there being never any crumbs on the floor. That is not how the great majority of women experience doing housework. The primary motivation is a negative one: the feeling that crumbs being on the floor for any length of time is shameful, that your (notional) mother-in-law is going to judge you to be a bad wife or mother should there be crumbs on the floor. After all, if high-standard cleaning were primarily about positive aesthetic preferences rather than the avoidance of guilt and shame, then the people doing it would not experience it as drudgery but more like a hobby, with all the wide range that such activities have. But the amount of "extra" housework done by women fits into a very narrow range. This suggests strongly that the motive is conventional, input based, and negative: that avoiding shame for women (and primarily for women) requires an unvarying toll of drudgery.

Further proof of this is the way that standards of cleanliness have shifted in response to technology, ensuring that the "third shift" doesn't shrink. Take the vacuum. In 1900, a carpet would be cleaned by being taken out back, hung over a line, and beaten until the dirt stopped coming out. For a dining room size carpet, this is at least a 30 minute operation, a once a week type job that can't even take place in the rain or winter. With a vacuum, the same level of clean can be achieved in 3 minutes of back and forth. So what happened? Standards shifted such that vacuuming every day is considered normal. Some evil genius invented wall-to-wall carpeting, and millions of people installed it - some, God help them, in white. Carpet cleaning got to remain a significant time suck, and middle class homes are now so dust free that kids are developing allergies. Similar dynamics can be seen in response to other labor-saving devices.

In many ways, the housework issue is the "privilege" issue in miniature. Chait doesn't find daily vacuumed floors desirable, and figures that many other men do not. Yet, he observes that statistically, women are vacuuming the floors daily (more or less). He reads off their behavior that the women doing the vacuuming must find clean floors idiosyncratically valuable. This puts the extra housework on a par with a hobby and relieves the man of the accusation of free riding, since he is not getting anything out of the extra work. Meanwhile, most women do not actually find daily vacuumed carpets so desirable that they would vacuum every day if they could get away without it. They experience daily vacuuming as compulsion and as drudgery. But where Chait reads subjective value from the woman's behavior, the (hypothetical, philosophically sophisticated) woman reads objective value in her activity off its qualitative aspects: either Marx style as value arising directly from the activity as drudgery and labor, or in the Foucault style as the compulsion being an exercise in positive, value-bestowing power. Either way, the activity of daily vacuuming must have objective value, precisely because doing it is unpleasant yet done anyway. (Chait grazes this point when he expresses puzzlement at how feminists who decry the third shift seem to take the validity of cleaning standards for granted.) Since value of the activity is objective, it doesn't matter whether the (hypothetical, Chait-like) man professes to enjoy the benefits of daily vacuuming for him to be actually benefiting from it. The presumption, in fact, is that his subjective comfort depends upon the good produced by drudgery, and that his profession of indifference is self-deception at best. Since the man is not equally sharing in the burden of producing the good that he "enjoys", he is privileged. Just correction of the situation requires that the drudgery continue, but be equally shared.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

A,
I really only have personal experience to go on, but that leads me to disagree with your first paragraph. Every reasonably long-term gf I've had has had higher standards of cleanliness than I have...and none have felt compelled to clean every day, nor been motivated by guilt. They just weren't godawful slobs like me... So make of that what you will.

Also, though, I think it's worth noting that, even if you're right about the motives, it doesn't affect Chait's larger point: that men aren't necessarily just exploiting women by doing less housework. Whether women are (hypothetically) motivated by a desire for a cleaner house or guilt, it still would give dudes a kind of excuse.
As for the second para, I'm not sure how changing standards would be relevant here...
As for the third para...well, it doesn't really have much to do with the "privilege"issue...which is good, b/c that concept is pretty confused... And Marx and Foucault are more likely to add confusion than clarity... Nothing you write seems to really affect Chait's point. If women have a higher standard, and they aren't objectively right about it, then all it is is a difference of opinion. Whether that's caused by what we might call mere preference, or by irrational feelings of guilt doesn't matter. The Foucault-speak doesn't do anything to change that point.

The very last point, however, I think is right--at least speaking for myself. I eventually came to realize that a cleaner house (within reason) *is* typically, objectively better than a messy house. (Of course there are limits: I can't live comfortably in a house that's irrationally spotless and orderly...) But, within reason, I came to realize that I do enjoy a higher standard of cleanliness. Now, if this were a mere market arrangement, I think I'd be justified in free-riding...but it isn't. So I'm not.
However--Chait, so far as I can tell--is still largely right. *If* there are widespread differences of opinion b/w males and females on this issue, then *at the very least* the issue is more complicated than just "guys suck."
Which, of course, is what Marcotte is objecting to: she wants the conclusion "guys suck" in ever case, and will use any available rhetorical path to give the appearance of supporting it...

Thanks for the thoughts, even though I seem to largely disagree...

7:58 AM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

Like the man said: it ain't a standard that f cleanliness if you are a slob. It's a standard of laziness. That suggests Marcotte is more correct than Chait on this issue.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

PM,
Looks to me like Chait is way more right than Marcotte...but, then, he seems to be trying to establish a pretty weak conclusion: at least some of it (might?) be different standards. His evidence for differing standards is pretty good--better than anything Marcotte offers...

Is the Mystic right that laziness is a factor?
I was wondering...I mean, if we see it as a cost-benefit question, then Chait's suggestion is that dudes think that housework has fewer benefits... But then the Mystic's suggestion is that, basically, dudes think that the costs are too high...right?
Or is the laziness explanation more like: dudes know damn good and well what the cost-benefit calculations are like...they're just too weak-willed to do what they see needs to be done?

Well, however that comes out, I don't see that anything Marcotte says in any way weakens Chait's case that *at least some of this business is plausibly explained by different estimates of the benefits of a clean house.*

10:01 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Regarding the cost-benefit analysis:

I like to think of myself as having a whole lot of better things to do than clean the house. In fact, I honestly think I'm right about that. However, do I always do those things instead of cleaning the house? No.

I frequently find myself finally sitting on the couch after a long day only to watch my wife continue to run about cleaning the house. The woman is a machine compared to me. I simply have not the energy/desire to match hers in any easy manner. Could I get up and join her? Yeah, but I would be far more miserable than she is (verified fact - she is not miserable doing the work she's doing, though she does become unhappy with my lack of participation every once in a while).

Lest I suggest that she simply has greater stamina than I (and I don't actually think that's true), I'm forced to suspect that I am more vulnerable to my lack of energy. That is, I am lazier.

I agree that it's nice to have a clean house. I don't think she's going to unreasonable extremes. But, I feel unfortunately that I am terribly overextended in life and I can't tolerate it as well as she can. If you were to track our activities and compare, you'd find that my wife almost never does anything with her non-professional-work time other than practically valuable work for the home and family. If you look at mine, I am a bit more constrained than she on the basis of my 11-hour work/commute time expenditure - she is at about 9.5. Though she watches the children during the hours where I am at work while she is not, she has summers off...and spring breaks...and winter breaks...and holidays, etc.

But if you ignore all that and even it out (and it roughly evens out during times when we're both working given her watching the children), you'll notice the following most predominantly:

I try to scrape together an hour or two here and there to just sit down for a bit. She simply does not do this.

Maybe this is an uncommon experience (I do think my wife is something of an inhuman industrial machine when it comes to labor), but it's mine. I am but a mortal wed to a goddess, and though I would never trade my experience, it is a constant prompt to reflect on my decisions to relax.

Given the women I know in my life and the men, I would be very surprised if it weren't the case that time expenditure is roughly similar to my wife's and my own (I actually expect men to be far worse than I on average, but that might just be unwarranted optimism regarding myself). My guess is that women spend far more time invested in activities which practically benefit the home and family whereas men spend that time otherwise (probably largely sitting on one's ass, but not limited to it).

Or maybe I really am just lazy? I'd be very interested in others' reports of their time expenditure. I have spent a lot of time on these sorts of life questions, actually. For nearly the past two months, I have tracked every minute of my life to see what sort of answers I can come up with.

For the past 1272 hours of my life, these are my records:

Chores: 102.25 hours
Contemplation: 10 hours
Exercise: 12.5 hours
Family Time: 325.75 hours
Recreation: 59.5 hours
Sleep: 400 hours
Work: 362 hours

That's every hour of my life back through March 28th. Basically, my life is comprised primarily of sleeping, working, and spending time with family (90% time with kids and whomever, ~5% time alone with wife, ~5% time alone with other family members). After that's accounted for, I have a mere 14.5% of my life left. Subtract the 8% devoted to chores and I'm left with 6.5% of my life to do something else.

Here, my wife and I diverge. I spend this time relaxing and she does not.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

From a sample marriage of one (mine), and a calm discussion (ie one that occurred not during cleaning) 1) My husband simply doesn't see mess where I do, 2) He doesn't care about neat and clean as much as I do and 3) he doesn't have the compulsion to clean that I do.

Let's take laundry as an example.

As long as he has clean clothes to put on, he's content waiting to do laundry until he runs out of clothes.

I see the laundry baskets filling up, and think "I don't want to spend an entire day doing laundry, so if I do a load or two now, I'll stay ahead of it."

Are those innate gender differences coming from the way we were raised or are they personality differences?

I think it's both, but as I said, this is coming from an N of one. :)

11:32 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

So, it sounds like every difference we've enumerated, more or less, is present in lots of cases. Men tend to have a lower standard of neatness, they judge the benefit of neatness to be low, they judge the cost to be high, and they are less likely to feel any desire/compulsion to attain neatness for any other reason.

If all of those statements are true, even if the differences aren't that great, the stacked consequences are probably pretty powerful.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my n of 1, the husband is much more concerned about a clean and tidy house and does more of the laundry and house cleaning. We also hired a cleaning service to come in every three weeks. Throwing money at a problem often solves it.

7:33 AM  

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