Recession survival tip: Women will work for free!

"Insourcing" is helping people keep household costs down, but it's giving women a lot more work to do.

By Kate Harding

Published February 27, 2009 2:57PM (EST)

The Washington Post has identified and named a new recession trend: "Insourcing," or doing stuff yourself that you used to farm out to professionals, assuming you were rich enough to do that in the first place. Oh, and assuming you're a woman.

See, in practical terms, "insourcing" means things like dyeing and cutting your own hair, sewing or at least repairing your own clothes, dyeing your own clothes, starting your own vegetable garden, and baking your own child's birthday cake. Do you notice a common thread there? To be fair, the article also mentions that more people are changing their own oil and repairing their own cars -- not traditionally women's responsibilities, though the only person mentioned who's made a DIY car repair is a woman -- but the overall trend described is one of women pitching in more around the house. Because until now, of course, the ladies have been slacking.

Only one man is included in the anecdata, the husband of one of several women interviewed. Not coincidentally, I think, the "insourcing" task he describes is the only one where the time spent (seven hours) is mentioned alongside the money saved ($1,000). Either the author didn't think to ask the women how much time they were spending on these new chores, or the women didn't think to factor in that information themselves -- and either way, it reinforces a major problem at the heart of the persistent gender inequality when it comes to domestic labor: Time is money, except for women's time.

When a family "insources" more of the cooking, cleaning, childcare, gardening and mending, all of which are more likely to fall upon a woman's shoulders, we talk about how much money the household has saved, but we don't talk about what the woman has lost. What kind of paid labor could she be doing in that time? If she already has an outside job, how does all the extra work at home affect her performance -- and thus her chances for advancement -- there? If you believe domestic work is worth X dollars when you can afford to have professionals do it but zero dollars when you can't, what does that tell us about how much we value "women's work"? And if women are usually the ones who end up taking on that zero-dollar labor, what does it tell us about how much we value women's time?

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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