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WOMEN'S "INDISPUTABLE POWER" IN THE HOME
Published in Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Feb 27 1999 and in Tertulia, July 10 1999
A couple of months ago, a Danish study was published that showed
(unsurprisingly) that women tell men to do household work three times as
often as men tell women to do household work. This was ascertained by
recording the everyday speech of eighteen Danish families over a period
of time, and by interviewing all the family members.
However, what is more controversial is the interpretation that the male
sociologist behind the study, Torben Berg Sorensen, makes: he thinks
that this is an indication that women have the power in the homes.
"Women often say that they need to give orders, otherwise nothing gets
- In a way it is correct, but none the less it's an expression of power.
Because it is the woman who defines when it's time for the family to
clean or when she is of the opinion that the garbage bag is to be
emptied" he is reported as saying in an article in the Swedish newspaper
The journalist apparently did his best to reinforce this impression: the
title of the article is "Women still decide in the homes / Now it's
been proven! [---] The man and the children are obedient tools who, on
the orders of mother, take the garbage out or eat their vegetables.
[---] The report, which contains 222 pages, establishes that the woman
is the home's chief commander."
I have not read the report, but even so I feel pretty convinced that it
does not scientifically "establish that the woman is the home's chief
commander." Rather I would surmise that the male journalist, not wanting
to listen any more to feminist criticism of most men's failure to pull
their load in the household, saw the opportunity to make the power
relations look opposite from what they are - and so make men feel
righteous and dominated by women, helping men close their eyes even more
to the fact that most men escape from their responsibilities in this
respect. This was also the way it was used by a "men's right"-ist on a
Swedish mailing list I'm on: he told me "look, women DO have the power". An interesting
mechanism indeed - in a major Swedish newspaper.
I wrote a letter to the newspaper about it, which got published. It follows below.
Misleading about women's power
On February 3rd, there was an article in SDS about a study conducted by
Torben Berg Sorensen. It claims that "Women still decide in the homes"
(such was the title) and interpreted the result in terms of "the woman's
power in the home is indisputable".
This seems like a slightly bizarre interpretation to me. It's well
documented that women on the average perform more household work than do
men, that women wish that men helped out more and took a responsibility
for getting things done, and that women often need to tell men if they
are to do anything. Sometimes men answer with silence and a refusal to
work a the moment.
To interpret this situation, where the woman more often takes initiative
to household work than the man and often puts the man into work than the
other way around, as an expression of women's power seems very strange
to me. If women had real power in this area, it should at least imply
that women are not against their own will making the bigger part of the
In the article, it however seems as if a women's studies researcher
supports this interpretation. "Woman's power in the home being
indisputable does not say anything about her status in society, stresses
Karen Sjorup, women's study researcher at Roskilde University."
I contacted her, and it turned out that she - of course - never said
this. Neither the male researcher behind the study put it that sharply,
as far as I've understood. The shadow however does not fall directly
over SDS, since the "quote" here only was a translation from an article
in the Jylland Post. The journalist behind the original article,
however, gives me the impression of wanting to silence women's justified
criticism against many men escaping their responsibility in the home.
Småland Nation's Mens Group, Lund