Women to blame for global warming?

Energy-saving bulbs just don't pass the "wife test," say experts.

Published April 30, 2007 11:40PM (EDT)

How many people does it take to screw in an energy-efficient light bulb? Only one -- providing a meddlesome woman isn't around to hamper the whole process. Ba-dum-chh ...

Today's Washington Post article about women's resistance to switching from incandescent to energy-saving bulbs is a comedy gold mine. That is, assuming you find humor in broad generalizations drawn from largely anecdotal evidence or "How many [blank] does it take to screw in a light bulb?" jokes.

The piece is framed around the assumption that women are domestic divas -- or dictators -- unwilling to make the switch because fluorescent light isn't aesthetically appealing; however, men are all too eager to make their homes energy efficient in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The result? A marital melee in which husbands sneakily replace all incandescent lights with compact fluorescent light bulbs, only to have their wives strike back by re-replacing the bulbs. Are they kidding -- do real life, non-sitcom families actually engage in this kind of domestic warfare? Well, at least one couple does; the Post piece relies entirely on Alex and Sara Sifford for documentation. And one example is ... certainly better than none.

The evidence of men's greater inclination to go the energy-efficient route (they seem more likely to purchase compact fluorescent bulbs than women) is used to cast the Siffords' experience as the domestic standard. But you can't reasonably make the conclusion that light bulbs are a common source of domestic conflict from the cited evidence -- including that an energy consumption expert calls the struggle to outfit American homes with fluorescent bulbs the "wife test." (But it does make for a cute headline: "Fluorescent Bulbs Are Known to Zap Domestic Tranquillity.")

Sure, it's possible women are generally more aesthetically inclined and, as a result, less likely to buy the bulbs (even though fluorescent lighting is becoming less and less garish). It's also believable that the division of domestic roles makes men more likely to tackle an energy overhaul. But there just plain isn't any evidence in the Post piece to suggest that the struggle to make households more environmentally sound is ultimately one against women's principal aesthetic concerns; even the expert with the "wife test" theory admits he based it on his "gut feeling."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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