Most of us consider ourselves to be progressive, equal partners these days, and most of us would never say that we think women should be responsible for all of the domestic work around the house, and most of us would say that women have every opportunity that men have had for decades.
But apparently, most of us would be wrong.
According to their latest letter, Melinda and Bill Gates are cautioning us that unless things change, our daughters will spend thousands of hours doing unpaid labor simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility. And let’s be clear — just because something is unpaid labor doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. However, all of that work comes at a price.
The Gates pointed out that all across the world, women spend more time on unpaid labor than men, whether that labor be cleaning, cooking, or caring for elderly parents and children. In North America, that number is almost four extra hours a day while in the Middle East, that number approaches six extra hours, that are also usually a lot more arduous and physically risky.
That time spent is not only an unfair burden to half of the gender, but it carries a hefty price for the entire world.
“Economists call it opportunity cost: the other things women could be doing if they didn’t spend so much time on mundane tasks,” they wrote. “What amazing goals would you accomplish with an extra hour every day? Or, in the case of girls in many poor countries, an extra five or more? There are lots of ways to answer this question, but it’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.”
The Gates also touched on the real root of the problem, which isn’t necessarily the fact that unpaid work needs to get done, but that women are expected to do the bulk of unpaid work simply because their time is considered less valuable than men’s. And who can forget the infamous study that proved that just having a husband around the house actually creates seven more hours of work for a woman, while having a wife actually gives husbands an extra hour of leisure time?
Which is why a new commercial by Ariel India is trying to break the mold for antiquated gender stereotypes, especially those that affect women in poor countries. They created the campaign #ShareTheLoad to encourage men to get more involved in taking responsibility around the home, such as with simple tasks like doing a load of laundry.
It’s temping to describe this campaign as a way to inspire more men to “help out” around the house, but even language like that is telling when we realize that our automatic assumption is that females will take on the brunt of the domestic life. And bottom line? This movement is about freeing up both men and women to realize that all work, regardless of sex, is valuable and that the entire world benefits when women are supported.
Sheryl Sandberg shared the video (which, for the record, is totally a commercial for laundry detergent) on her Facebook page, commending the video as a way for dads to #LeanIn when they #ShareTheLoad.
“This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen,” Sandberg commented in her Facebook post. “Showing how stereotypes hurt all of us and are passed from generation to generation. When little girls and boys play house they model their parents’ behavior; this doesn’t just impact their childhood games, it shapes their long-term dreams. The real win is the way they are changing stereotypes and showing that a more equal world would be a better world for all of us.”
BBDO worldwide president and CEO Andrew Robertson, thanked Sheryl on (where else?) Facebook for sharing the project.
“Please note, Facebook friends, that the insight and inspiration came from Sheryl,” he wrote. “I once heard her say ‘Guys, if you want more sex, forget flowers. Do laundry.'”
And while I would hope that such a great message to inspire true partnership would not be swept up in a stereotype about sex, I think most women would agree that a man and a father who can give an example of doing household chores is always a good thing.
Also, for the record, my husband did four loads of laundry today. For which I can thank him, not because he was helping me out, but because he was helping our entire family out.More On