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July 2, 2013 / C H Thompson

Ann Oakley The Sociology of Housework (1974)

Women interviewed by Ann Oakley (“The Sociology of Housework”, 1974):

  • “To an extent you’re your own master…you can decide what you want to do and when you want to do it…it’s not like being at work when somebody rings you up and you’ve got to go down and see them or you’ve got to do this and that within half an hour.”. (Ex-computer programmer)
  • “The thing that’s nice about being a housewife is you have your own time -there’s nobody behind you with a punch card. You’re your own boss, like…” (Painter and decorator’s wife)

Oakley’s research findings:

  1. the major finding here is that dissatisfaction with housework predominates with 70% of the women interviewed came out as ‘dissatisfied’
  2. monotony is a common experience. Three quarters of the sample report it, and 80% of these are dissatisfied with housework
  3. loneliness is a frequent complaint. Most of the women who are dissatisfied with housework report a low level of social interaction with others.
  4. autonomy is the most highly valued dimension of the housewife role. ’Being one’s own boss’ – a phrase used by nearly half the sample
  5. housework is the most disliked aspect of ‘being a housewife’
  6. housewives have a long working week. The average in this sample is 77 hours
  7. experiences connected with women’s performance of jobs outside the home have some bearing on their satisfaction with work in the home. All the women who held high status jobs in the past are dissatisfied

Oakley herself points out: “Housewife’s autonomy [personal freedom] is more theoretical than real. Being ‘your own boss’ imposes the obligation to see that the housework gets done.  The responsibility for housework is the wife’s alone and the failure to do it may have serious consequences…the wrath of husbands and the ill-health of children.”.

From the above findings there’s a strong relationship between power and housework. Though respondents (those being interviewed) have a degree of autonomy (power) within the home this power is only over the daily routine (what Stephen Lukes’ terms as 1st face of power), whereas real power (Stephen Lukes’ third or radical face of power) resides with the male.


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