[Repost Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on Shakesville.]
So, there is a study going around the internet which makes the totally-fresh and completely-new claim that American women are fat because we spend all day working at desk jobs and all night watching television to unwind, as opposed to fifty years ago when life was just like Leave It To Beaver and women never worked outside the home and spent all day wrestling with forty-pound vacuum cleaners:
One reason so many American women are overweight may be that we are vacuuming and doing laundry less often, according to a new study that, while scrupulously even-handed, is likely to stir controversy and emotions.
..."Fifty years ago, a majority of women did not work outside of the home," said Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and lead author of the new study.
So, in collaboration with many of the authors of the earlier study of occupational physical activity, Dr. Archer set out to find data about how women had once spent their hours at home and whether and how their patterns of movement had changed over the years.
Right off the bat, I'm just going to set aside the whole problematic aspect of using the words "a majority of women" when what was actually meant is "a portion of the population, composed predominantly of upper-class, wealthy, married, white women" when discussing what kind of work women did or didn't do in the 1960s. I'm just going to put a little pin labeled "racist and classist assumptions" and set that to the side over there.
I'm additionally going to set aside the ridiculously terrible science of measuring one tiny aspect of the differences in the lives of American Women Of The 1960s versus American Women Of The 2010s -- specifically, how much time they report doing housework -- and using that one tiny aspect to try to explain a supposed trend of weight gain as though a correlation between the two implies any sort of causation and as though there cannot possibly be any other difference between these two groups of people, and as though controlling for those differences (which totes don't exist anyway!) is so much optional nonsense. And additionally as though self-reporting surveys are the epitome of accurate scientific measurement. I'm just going to stick a little pin labeled "horrifically soft science" in that bundle of awful and set it off to the side with the other.
And I'm also going to set aside the laughable choice of meticulously measuring how much time a selection of women spent on "housework" while deliberately choosing to ignore time spent doing childcare activities, as though the work done by women homemakers consists entirely of "cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry" and nothing else and as though the time that modern women save as a result of technological advances in laundry methods isn't and couldn't possibly be reinvested into other types of active housework beyond "cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry". That one is getting a little pin called "mendacious bullshit" and set off to the side with its cousins.
So, okay? I'm just going to put all that to the side for just a moment.
Because I want to share this anecdote from Barbara Ehrenreich (who I want to acknowledge is totally problematic in places, although that's not on-topic for this thread), who actually worked as a professional housekeeper as part of her research for her book Nickel and Dimed, and who specifically noted how painful and physically damaging housework can be:
So ours is a world of pain—managed by Excedrin and Advil, compensated for with cigarettes and, in one or two cases and then only on weekends, with booze. Do the owners have any idea of the misery that goes into rendering their homes motel-perfect? Would they be bothered if they did know, or would they take a sadistic pride in what they have purchased—boasting to dinner guests, for example, that their floors are cleaned only with the purest of fresh human tears? In one of my few exchanges with an owner, a pert muscular woman whose desk reveals that she works part-time as a personal trainer, I am vacuuming and she notices the sweat. “That’s a real workout, isn’t it?” she observes, not unkindly, and actually offers me a glass of water, the only such offer I ever encounter. Flouting the rule against the ingestion of anything while inside a house, I take it, leaving an inch undrunk to avoid the awkwardness of a possible refill offer. “I tell all my clients,” the trainer informs me, “‘If you want to be fit, just fire your cleaning lady and do it yourself.’” “Ho ho,” is all I say, since we’re not just chatting in the gym together and I can’t explain that this form of exercise is totally asymmetrical, brutally repetitive, and as likely to destroy the musculoskeletal structure as to strengthen it.
And I want to take a moment to note how truly contemptible I find the suggestion that activities which can destroy womens' bodies and which have been traditionally used by a misogynist society as a tool to oppress women and prevent them from gaining financial independence, social support networks, and meaningful work -- You can't hold a job, honey, because then how would the house get clean? -- should be held up to the reader as something that women have a responsibility to do in order to become more attractive and more healthy and above all more socially acceptable to the larger community.
That is some contemptible garbage.
(Hat tip to Shakesville Shaker Danielle.)