How To Manufacture The "Career Women Love Housework" Story

Breaking news from this morning's online news churn: "Career women" love housework, and will resist all attempts to share it. Sorry, women's libbers! That none of this holds up to any rigorous scrutiny will shock you.

The headlines: Housework Not A Dirty Word For Career Women. (Sydney Morning Herald.) Career Women Enjoy Using Household Work." (Times of India.) "Career women happy to do laundry: survey." (Australian AP, carried by Yahoo Australia.)

Like many of the "studies" that come across the transom, this one sounded pretty suspect, from the vintage "career women" moniker to the allegation that "Over 85 per cent of the respondents said that they did most of the work at home and they did not begrudge their partners being comparatively less involved" to the fact that the study was called "Wringing Out The Future." Its origin is a case study in how shit gets made up on the Internet.

According to the AAP article, seemingly the fount from which all accounts of blissful housewifery sprang, the study of 600 women was conducted by one Gwyneth Howell in the University of Western Sydney. But you won't find "Wringing The Future" on the UWS news site. (Ironically, you will find word that a Ph.D candidate there is studying "how men in 'reversed-role families' perceive housework as well as their own masculine identities.") A look at Howell's bio shows that she is not a social scientist, but in fact a former marketer teaching and studying communications:

My current area of research relates to my doctorial research in commercial rumours. Blogs, e-mail, and Web sites have reached fever pitch for organisations, in responding and monitoring rumours. My current research experiment is exploring email message effect on attitudes, beliefs and opinions of key stakeholders for a rumour targeted organisation.

So maybe "Working Aussie Women Refusing To Share Workload At Home" was some sort of viral experiment in the credulity of news organizations who need to keep content fresh and no longer have time to vet it?

Not quite. Although the AAP didn't note it, the "study" was actually sponsored by a laundry detergent company, Biozet Attack Ecosmart liquid laundry detergent. You can download a pdf of it here. Its subhead is, "Working women say ‘Stay away from my laundry.'" And it kicks off its analysis with, "In 1902, Australian women set a global standard by securing the right to vote and they haven't looked back since....Across Australia women are leading the way; holding the top titles of Prime Minister, Governor General and State Premier."

Also, they happen to love laundry!

Funnily enough, I couldn't find in the "study" any indication that the women in the survey "did not begrudge their partners being comparatively less involved." There's this:

"Progressive women might aspire to ‘equality' in the household, but it seems men are not pulling their weight. Almost 85% of modern women believe their partners only do half the amount of housework that they do each week.

Separately, it says that among their most favored tasks "around the home" (presumably from a list of choices) are cooking (28%), parenting (24%) and the shopping (19%). It does say that 85 percent of women would prefer to do their laundry themselves and says, without quantification, "Due to prior negative outcomes, some partners were encouraged to lend a hand elsewhere, rather than the laundry." But it also says that 49 percent of women would relinquish cleaning if they could.

So how were these conclusions reached? This is all that's said about methodology: "The Wringing Out The Future report was conducted between December 2010 and January 2011 by the University of Western Sydney. The study consisted of both qualitative and quantitative research, canvassing the opinions of more than 600 women in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane." Howell's Twitter feed indicates that in her current, academic work, she uses Survey Monkey.

In short, a PR project for a cleaning products company issued a press release with dubious methodology which was then recycled into a pseudo-news item for a news wire, which was then sexed up into a convenient report on how you can't pry the broom away from working women's hands. If it's any consolation, so far no U.S. news organizations appear to have picked up on the "news," though Internet chatter knows no borders. It's a rather convenient conclusion, no matter how sketchily achieved, so set your clocks until someone tries to use it in an argument about women's progress.

Housework Not A Dirty Word For Career Women. [Sydney Morning Herald]
Career Women Enjoy Doing Household Work." [Times of India]
"Career Women Happy To Do Laundry: Survey." [AAP/Yahoo]
Biozet In The Press [Official Site]