Women work harder than men, and no one cares

A finding of particular significance was revealed in August last year — but drew hardly a sigh or a whimper from the media and the public.

The report, compiled by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), undeniably concluded what many of us have known for years — that women work harder than men.

Read full report here

It is common knowledge that a pay gap exists between the sexes — with a staggering 33% difference in pay between men and women employed for the same task, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report.

But it is far less spoken about that women do a lot more work outside their jobs than men.

Stats SA compiled its “A Survey of Time Use” report in 2010, but only released it last year because of a dearth of people in the department who could analyse the data.

It showed that employed women spend twice as much time as men (four hours a day) doing work outside of the office. This includes work in the home and looking after others, including the kids.

Men spend seven hours a day doing work that contributes to the formal economy, while women spend 5.5 hours a day on such tasks. However, this statistic is averaged out across the country, so the disparity comes from the fact that a million more men are formally employed.

When it comes to those who are not employed, women do even more work in the home than men. This takes up an average 5.5 hours a day, while men spend 2.5 hours a day doing jobs around the house. Men do pick up the slack by doing more community work, though — by 13 minutes.

Marriage is also a losing choice for women. Single and divorced men spend about 100 minutes a day doing chores around the house. Women in the same position spend twice as much time.

But when people get married, the husband’s contribution drops to 77 minutes, while women pick up the slack by having that time and more added to theirs.

All of this means men have more time to spend watching television, chatting to friends and doing other social and cultural activities.

First wave feminism might have given women the ability to enter the workplace, but the culturally ingrained idea that a woman should still do most of the household chores remains. In fact, it is so much part of our societal order that most women, who might see themselves as fairly modern, do not even question why they should be cooking dinner and washing up most nights while their husbands watch TV.

What we see now is women working upwards of eight hours a day, and still coming home to spend another four hours on chores.

Deafening silence
Why was so little said about these pretty drastic findings? There were no columns and opinion pieces written by South Africa’s thought leaders, there was no righteous indignation from the Twittersphere.

The Cape Times, sinking to new levels of bad taste, decided to do a spoof article on the issue with the headline “Cape women lousy at housework”.

IOL sent their coverage to their “Lifestyle” section, where it was pitifully read and stayed uncommented on.

Indeed, the silence was deafening.

Perhaps for some it was too much like stating the obvious.

Women might have read it, given a defeated sigh, and returned to mopping the floors. Men might have read it, shuffled their paper uncomfortably, and carried on with their 50 extra minutes a day of leisure time in their favourite armchair.

So why is this not seen as a big deal? Housework, being unpaid, is often not seen as “real work”. That might stem from the very fact that it is seen as women’s work.

And, as Simone de Beauvoir famously summed up, there’s nothing worse than the endless cycle of household chores: “Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

Sisyphus, of course, was the mythological Greek whose punishment in the afterlife was to push a heavy boulder up a hill. The rock was enchanted so that it would always roll down to the bottom as it was about to reach the apex of the hill.

Funny that the Greeks didn’t think to make Sisyphus a woman.

Perhaps the notion that housework carries a price tag is so far-reaching that it could completely upend a system of slave labour as old as time and as unquestioned as the air we breathe.

India’s Kerala High Court held in 2012 that putting a price tag for the work of mothers, wives, sisters and daughters is “an insult” to motherhood and womanhood.

The order was passed while dismissing a petition filed by Women’s Voice, a Sulthan Bathery-based association for women seeking directions to the state and central governments to evolve a scheme providing minimum wages for housewives for their housework.

An “insult” to pay a woman for her work, or acknowledgement that a massively unfair system of exploitation exists?

The importance of doing nothing
What are the implications of women having less leisure time than men?

Firstly, we need to reiterate just how important leisure time is.

It helps us relax, recharge, and regain a sense of balance, but having freedom away from work and chores has a significance not many realise.

It is the first mark of having climbed Maslow’s hierarchy. Of moving beyond fulfilling basic needs such as eating, sleeping, and pooping, to pursuing the higher ambitions of learning, and leaving a legacy.

It is in leisure time that we pursue our intellectual interests — that we become smarter.

So, while a couple may live in the same house and work the same amount of hours, the male in the relationship is still living a more elevated lifestyle than his female partner — learning more, reading more, and, in effect, becoming smarter.

And, even if he’s spending his free time doing “mindless” things like snoozing on the couch or playing PlayStation, he is recharging his batteries, meaning he has the capability to perform better at his job than she does.

Black vs White
Unfortunately the Stats SA report did not compare the amount of leisure time white women enjoy compared to black women, or the differences class would make. This is a vital piece of inter-sectional information that is sorely needed.  Tsitsi Dangarembga‘s Nervous Conditions springs to mind. In it she does the revolutionary — she describes the division of labour  between men and women within Zimbabwe’s rural community. The conclusion becomes abundantly clear — women work much, much harder.

In Dangarembga’s realistic portrayal of rural Zimbabwe, the farm work traditionally designated to men pales in comparison to the cooking, cleaning, sweeping, fetching water, fetching wood, child-raising and nursing that most women living in rural areas are expected to do. It would be no far stretch to imagine the same being true in South Africa.

This quote springs to mind:


The Stats SA report survey looks at how we spend our time, and through that has revealedquantitative, tangible proof of entrenched sexism in our country, the implications of which go beyond women picking up socks from the bedroom floor more often than men. The fact that it was ignored is even more worrying.

Image – AFP