This past Sunday, more people in the U.S. usually go out to eat in restaurants than at any other time of the year. Why? Mother’s Day is when we are supposed to recognize the women in our lives, especially mothers. To eat out means to give many women a day off, at least a day off from cooking breakfast or dinner. For a lot of women, it is one of the few days that their contributions are acknowledged. And businesses, from Hallmark cards to the candy companies and the flower growers, promote it for their profit.
For many women, having meals ready, the clothes washed and the house cleaned is expected – along with many other household duties. Many men do help out but it is a fact that, on average, women do the majority of the work. Even when both a man and a woman earn money for the household, the woman does the majority of the housework. This unpaid “second shift” often includes childcare, food preparation, laundry and other so-called “women’s work.”
At home we can share the work. But even when dads are stay-at-home dads, they tend to work ten hours less a week than women who stay at home. Why? Because the women take over when they get home from work.
There is still the false belief that stay-at-home moms have it easy, sitting around watching soap operas and talk shows. A recent study done by Salary.com showed that stay-at-home moms work an average of 60 hours a week, and working moms put in more than 96 hours per week when you include the extra unpaid work of being a mom. The study found ten regular activities that resemble paid jobs like: day care workers, housekeepers, cooks, janitors, psychologists, drivers and so on. If this were paid work, the average salary would be more than $117,000 a year.
Who really benefits from this unpaid labor? The people in the household, of course. But it goes way beyond this. The ones who benefit the most from this arrangement are the bosses. They get the final product of all this effort – healthy, well cared for, educated workers who are ready to work. And they have not had to spend a dollar in the process of maintaining today’s workers, nor in preparing the next generation of workers.
In addition, in the workplace, women are paid less than men. What is called “women’s work” is usually lower paid work. There is the false idea that women can’t perform certain work like skilled construction work or specialized medical jobs. But often, construction work, like operating cranes, or earthmoving equipment – highly paid “men’s work” – doesn’t take a huge size. It takes coordination and concentration. Women have both. Why are there more women nurses and general practitioners than surgeons? Is it because men’s hands are more delicate and better able to perform surgery than women? Of course not!
Overall, women earn less than men. One year after finishing college, women typically earn 80 percent of what their male classmates are paid. Ten years after graduation, women are paid only 69 percent of what men get. Often this is because higher paying jobs are viewed as men’s work. As a result, it takes the average woman 16 months to earn what an average man earns in a year!
The wage gap between men and women is a reality. Women’s struggles over the years have closed it somewhat. But today, working women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. On top of this, racial discrimination means that African-American women earn about 68 percent of men’s earnings; Hispanic women earn 57 percent of what men are paid; and Asian-American women earn 88 percent of men’s earnings.
So, whenever we gather to honor the women in our families, it should not be about the commercialism of the holiday or appreciating women for just one day. The fight for real women’s equality is a question for all of us. It goes hand in hand with freeing all workers from the exploitation of the bosses’ system.