By Julia Gumm

Ok ladies. I’ll tell you straight up, I’m a feminist. At least I’m pretty sure I am. I dunno, I never went to college and took a women’s studies class, but I did grow up with a strong, working woman in the dominant role in my household. I never for a second believed my ovaries to be a hindrance to anything I should want to do, besides maybe pee on a wall. I’m in my late twenties, don’t have much interest in renting out uterus space to any would-be dependents and I see no problem whatsoever in demanding my boyfriend wash the dishes. In fact, I expect it. I have always encouraged my girlfriends to assert their independence within their relationships, which, I can assure you, has earned me the ire of more than a few of their gentleman callers. In fact, were I drunk enough, you could probably talk me into getting a tattoo proclaiming “Down With The Patriarchy” in huge letters across my bosoms. You know, if it was tastefully done. 

So it’s because of that that I feel weird about what I’m about to tell you, but I’ve got some bad news, girls. That spare tire around our collective mid-section? It’s probably there because we aren’t doing enough housework. So get in the kitchen and make your man a sandwich. That’s right, hop to it, Toots. Put some muscle in it. I know you’ve got it in you.

 As some of you may have guessed, I’m referencing a recent study led by University of South Carolina fellow Ed Archer that was recently reported on by the New York Times – “What Housework has to do with Waistlines” and ABC News “Study Tying Women’s Weight Gain to Housework,” among other media outlets. The study looked at the amount of time spent on housework, leisure time physical activity and non-work related screen time, based on a collection of “time-use diaries” kept exclusively by women.The conclusion of the study is as follows: 

“From 1965 to 2010, there was a large and significant decrease in the time allocated to Household Management (HM). By 2010, women allocated 25% more time to screen-based media use than HM (i.e., cooking, cleaning, and laundry combined). The reallocation of time from active pursuits (i.e., housework) to sedentary pastimes (e.g., watching TV) has important health consequences. These results suggest that the decrement in Household Management Energy Expenditure may have contributed to the increasing prevalence of obesity in women during the last five decades.”

Get out the pitchforks, huh girls? This jagoff obviously wants us barefoot, pregnant and beating our wash against a rock! And not only that, but the whole reason he wants us to do these things is because he thinks we’re fat! 

Of course, the Twitterverse has been ablaze with outrage over these sentiments. A few standouts:

 “And in other news, the 1950s called and they want their article back.” 

“WOMEN: You’re fat because you don’t do housework anymore. (Nice double whammy.)” 

And from Jessica Valenti, contributor to The Nation and loud and proud feminist: 

“Am I fucking hallucinating or did @nytimes just tell me American women are fat because they don’t vacuum enough?”

Hashtags accompanying these Twitter responses ranged from #whyweneedfeminism to #whywasthisevenastudy. A few even referenced my impending chest piece with the hashtag #patriarchy. 

A lot of nerve, huh? Fat women need to clean more so they can stop being fat? As one Twit (or is it Tweeter?) put it “Oh yeah? Then how come MEN are fat too?” Good question! Why all the focus on women’s weight? It’s not like every man is sporting six pack. This is obviously another attempt by men to fat shame us! 

Actually, as it turns out this was a follow-up to a study published in 2011 examining the increasingly sedentary nature of jobs in the U.S workforce over the last 50 years. That study concluded that American workers were on average, burning 150 less calories per working day than their parents did, “thus materially contributing to the rise in obesity during the corresponding time frame, especially among men,” as quoted by the New York Times.

The trouble with the study on employed workers was that it mostly ignored women, as so many worked inside the home, not the work force. That prompted some researchers to give us gals a second glance. Even employed women tend to do the majority of the brunt work around the house (unjust as that may be), and it has a significant impact on energy expenditure that the labor-only study did not account for. 

It appears that though women continue to bear the burden of most household chores (and childcare*), they are spending far less time actually doing said chores now than they did in 1965. In 1965, women were averaging 25.7 hours per week on housework. By 2010, that number had whittled down to just 13.3 hours. Now hold on, nobody is accusing you of whiling away the hours with your hair in curlers while you watch the soaps (yet). Continuously advancing technology has played a huge role in making housework infinitely more time-effective and easy to complete. Think of your grandmother’s ancient vacuum cleaner- that thing probably weighed as much as your average adult in 2010! Now consider your itty bitty Swiffer thingy, or better yet, your Roomba. Hey, I know managing the on/off switch can be exhausting, but you gotta admit: You’re expending less energy to get the same jobs done. 

Think of how much more we go out to eat than our predecessors did. Sitting down and being served is a lot less tiring than standing up in the kitchen while you prepare and clean up a meal. Even if you are preparing meals at home, it’s no doubt less exhaustive to do so with the aid of food processors, microwaves, and for clean up, dishwashers. Boy, those things are awesome. You just load it up, press a button, then sit down and relax. Right? According to the calculations put forth by the author, non-employed women in 2010 burned an average of 360 fewer calories per day than their 1965 counterparts. For working women, the number is 132 fewer calories burned. 

So what are we doing with all the extra time technology has won us? Well, it appears us dames are spending a lot more of it in front of the tube and all incarnations of the screen than we used to. Double the amount we did in 1965, actually. (It’s not just us, men do it too- ironically, more so when they hang around the house doing chores.) Now listen, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Information, entertainment and whatever you’d classify Honey Boo Boo as are all great. But spending your time online or in front of the TV is simply not physically active. Everything you currently do is displacing something you used to do, and unless you used to spend all your free time in a coma, no doubt the increasing hours you sit with your eyes glued to a screen use up less energy than whatever you did in the past. Or it’s cutting in on your sleep, which of course has health consequences as well. These are sobering thoughts. As soon as I’m done writing this thing I’m unplugging the computer, I swear. Perhaps I’ll even do a little laundry… or maybe I’ll go clean the gutters and make my boyfriend do the laundry. Boy do I hate housework. 

Besides more time spent watching T.V, over the years there has also been an increase in leisurely physical activity, such as playing sports and time spent at the gym. Hey, we’re not totally lazy. Technological comforts simply afford us more time to do the kinds of activities we like to do, not just drudgerous things we must do! Trouble is, it’s only been an average increase of 1.2 hours per week. For the most part we tacked it all on a few decades ago, no doubt an allowance for some spandex and leg warmer required aerobics routine, whereas sedentary screen time just keeps going up. We just don’t move around as much as we used to, and that probably contributes to our increasing weight. I don’t think this is exactly a groundbreaking study.

I personally find it relevant that housework, while physically demanding, is usually done at a fairly relaxed and even pace, and unless it’s a hot day, you probably won’t break a sweat. This is significant because it means that housework is less likely to be such a drain on the body that it slows the metabolism. This stands in contrast with the effects of excessive exercise, something that many of us engage in attempts to make up for the sedentary way we spend the rest of our lives.

Another interesting thing to consider is that while the average woman of 1965 was indeed less heavy than women today, the average 1965 centerfold would be laughed off the pages of today’s magazines. She was heavier, hairier and far fleshier than anything the current culture would dare to celebrate. When we look at ourselves and see how far off we are from the cartoonish ideals of today, it can be easy to become depressed and decide to do something desperate, like go on a bajillion day juice fast or make yourself lofty promises of many grueling hours to be spent at the gym. These efforts are extreme, and not usually sustainable. We end up on a yo-yo, punctuated by periods of elation and shame, depending on which way the scale is sliding. Perhaps it’s because we’re heavier than we used to be that we idolize women with figures that are nearly impossible to maintain. Or maybe we associate a softer figure with a weaker person, and so to prove our status as more-than-a-homemaker, we aspire to eliminate all renegade traces of body fat that dare to reside somewhere other than our breasts. Whatever it is, I think we’re making things a lot harder for ourselves than we need to. 

So ladies, I think we can save the outrage for a more worthy cause. The take-away from this study isn’t that you need to quit your job, don some June Cleaver pearls and make more work for yourself around the house in order to lose a few. The point is simply that there is a clear correlation between more sedentary lifestyles and weight gain. Housework was singled out merely because it is a laborious activity women have traditionally engaged in, and on average, none of the activities we’ve replaced it with are as rigorous. But if you don’t like housework, fine! Get someone else to do it, get the Roomba to do it, or just let the place rot, who cares! But by all means, try and do something in your daily life that necessitates regular activity. Take a dance class, start a dog walking business, grow a garden, coach a softball team, chop wood, become a meter maid. Hey, whatever gets you moving. 

So long as your hackles are still raised in indignation, get a load of this…COCA-COLA actually funded the study! Clearly that makes the whole point moot!* 

Read the whole study here.

*The study didn’t take into account the effect of child-rearing activities. Apparently, the way the subjects recorded their activities made it impossible to distinguish between child-rearing and other housework. This is probably because so many women are doing both at the same time.

*Coca-Cola probably funded this study because it aims to do a little blame-sharing on the obesity problem. Soda and all processed foods are currently being branded public health enemy number one, and while I don’t doubt that dietary changes play a part, there is a whole picture to consider when looking at the generational weight gain we’re experiencing. The study concludes with “Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the world and yet is all too often under-emphasized in clinical, educational and public health settings. While the attraction of simple causation in the etiology of obesity is powerful (e.g., economic forces cause obesity), the development of effective strategies and tactics to ameliorate the effects of NCDs and obesity necessitates a broad understanding of the complexities of human behavior and energy metabolism, inclusive of energy intake, energy expenditure and physical activity.” I can’t argue with that.