As we celebrated Women’s Equality Day* yesterday, we want to talk about one of the most enduring signs of the gender equality gap — the differences in how men and women spend their time on an everyday basis. Many of you have probably heard of the term the “double-shift” when talking about women’s work outside and inside the home, and anecdotally, we all have examples (“I came home from a 12 hour work day and had to pick up his socks.” Or “After work I had to pick up the kids, clean the house, and cook dinner.”) The recently released American time use survey proves what we’ve known all along: women bear the burden of household work.

A couple of snippets:
• At 5:10 pm, 17% of women are doing household activities – 11% of men are.
• At 7:40 am, 11% of women are doing household activities – 6 % of men are.

Really, do check out the link – they’ve done a cool interactive chart where you can compare time use according to age, gender, race, employment, educational attainment, and size of household. Categories vary from “household activities” to “eating and drinking” to (our favorite!) “relaxing and thinking”. The only downside to the chart is that you cannot compare by multiple qualities – for example, are black women doing more household activities than white women at 5:10? Then black men? What about black single mothers? And Hispanic women over 65? (You get the picture.)

Internationally, feminist economists have been arguing for the inclusion of household work into overall GDP estimates – where traditionally, the bulk of women’s work was uncounted, as it did not take place within the marketplace. For the past few years, the United Nations Development Fund has been tracking Gender, work, and time allocation in its Human Development Report. Although only 33 countries reported on time allocation in 2007, the results are nonetheless interesting – globally women aren’t faring that much better in balancing free time and personal care and family care.

Even the “wunderkind” countries of Northern Europe women seem to be putting more time into the children and the chores then men. In Norway, while women and men spent approximately equal amount of time on themselves, women spent more time cooking and cleaning (2:14) than their male counterparts (0:52). Women also spent double the time (34 mins) that men (17 mins) did on childcare.

In Nicaragua, a moderately developed country where interestingly even the one country where women and men have relatively equal free time women, women are the primary caregivers for the children (1:01 hours compared to the 17 mins men spent with the kids), the cooks and cleaners (3:31 hours to 0:31 mins) and less likely to be involved in market activities 28% to men’s 74%.

It is no surprise that the least developed countries have the widest disparities with regards to time. Women in Benin spend much more time (8:03 hrs) on market and non-market activities combined than men (5:36 hrs). Beninese women don’t have much time for themselves (1:32hrs) their children (45 mins) or their household chores (2:49 hrs) and yet they still spend more time on everything, except themselves, than their men. I’m exhausted just blogging about it.

Virginia Woolf spoke of the need of one’s own room and time (and of course money) when writing fiction. And truly, all of these things are needed for most successes. Who knows how much more the world could gain from women if more men got more involved in activities beyond the market? There are signs that times are changing, however: although recent studies do not indicate more equality in household chores, they do point to a shift in younger men’s (Gen X) attitudes and behaviors around fathering. Looks like we are one step closer to taking ALL work activities seriously, whether inside the market or out. And that’s what we call equality.

* Don’t miss the National Council for Research on Women’s tribute to Women’s Equality Day on their blog, The Real Deal. (Full disclosure: both Tonni and I have posts up! We did them in our personal time.)

I believe in equal marriage rights for all – I am absolutely infuriated with the Obama Administration’s recent stunt defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, and I cried like a baby when watching the Courage Campaign’s ‘Don’t Divorce Us’ video (come on, everyone did!). But something about the current same sex marriage debates is leaving me uneasy, particularly now that it is starting to hit close to home.

No sooner did New York Governor Patterson hold his press conference announcing a same sex marriage bill than did people start asking, ‘so when are you going to get married, then?’ Having been outside of the heterosexual societal expectation to get married for some time, it was shocking to have that pressure thrust back on me again.

The assumption that now that same sex couples could get married that we automatically should – or even want to – is presumptuous on many levels. And this is not to mention the language of “love” that’s been attached to the whole thing (an argument made by even the most well-intentioned hetero allies goes something like this: “Come on, how can we deny two people in love the right to get married?”) – as if two people can only express how much they love each other if they have a state-sanctioned document to prove it, a line of thinking which, in effect, invalidates many long-term, committed partnerships by both hetero and same-sex couples who chose not to marry.

The debates around same sex marriage are for me akin to some of the long-standing debates on feminist goals: should we be looking for equality with men (i.e. to be “just like everybody else”) or should we be trying to change the entire system? While I (and most feminist scholars) would probably argue that it’s the former “liberal” or “equality” feminist perspective that has been widely adopted in terms of fighting for policy and legal rights for women in the U.S., I’ve always been rather fond of the latter approach, even if the results might be a bit more difficult (and take much longer) to achieve. In any event, I think that it provides a useful lens though which to look at the current debates on same sex marriage. And I am not alone.

WOC, social justice, and other queer activists outside the “mainstream” gay rights movement have been talking about the same sex marriage issue through such a lens for a while now. In just one example, I went to a panel on same-sex marriage hosted by Queers for Economic Justice several years ago where panelists (including the amazing Lisa Duggan) discussed why state and federal benefits continue to be tied to the institution of marriage, and asked what this focus on marriage rights in the mainstream gay rights movement meant for non-white, poor and single-parent households, families without children, trans couples, and other “alternative” families. Makes you wonder – whose agenda is this anyway? (Hint: smells suspiciously white, male, and privileged.) Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore pretty much sums it up:

“Legalized gay marriage means only that certain people in a specific type of long-term, monogamous relationship sanctioned by a state contract might be able to access benefits.”

Therefore, as blogger Miriam argues, the main problem with the current marriage agenda is: “[t]here are few people fighting to reshape the institution of marriage and the state benefits attached to it.” So why not take the opportunity of having the issue in the spotlight to start to reshape the institution of marriage itself? And while we’re at it can we please move beyond this old school husband/wife (or even wife/wife or husband/husband) thing???

(Just a few resources to get us started:

Queers for Economic Justice, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships

Alternatives to Marriage Project