Next time a woman drops her dishrag and claims she's not recognized for all her labors, her husband can drag out his lawn mower and unfurl a price list of his own.
The leaders of a men's-rights group argue that if a housewife is worth $60 a week as a cook, $12 as a laundress and $250 as a child psychologist, then her husband can claim he's worth $22 a week for car maintenance, $1,080 for home security and $13 for taking out the garbage.
It may be stretching a point, but Lou Filczer and Emil Benitez, of the American Divorce Association of Men (ADAM), insist that if a price tag can be placed on a housewife's work, a dollar value also can be assigned to traditional male work done around the house.
Filczer and Benitez recently devised a "value-of-a-husband" chart to counter the well-publicized "value-of-a-housewife" chart created several years ago by Chicago divorce attorney Michael Minton.
Minton, who calculates a homemaker's worth in determining property settlements when a marriage dissolves, says a man would have to pay $51,029 a year in the marketplace to buy the services his wife provides. Borrowing his reasoning, Filczer and Benitez respond that a husband is worth $86,115 a year for his duties at home.
"They always talk about the dollar angle for women. It's about time we let people know that men are worth something, too," says Filczer, president of the 11,000-member organization based in Arlington Heights, Ill. Filczer says he uses the ADAM chart when counseling men about their rights in a divorce settlement.
After consulting employment experts and co-opting some of Minton's information, Filczer and Benitez came up with 18 duties that make a man worth $1,656 a week -- aside from any salary he earns outside the home.
Some of their examples:
For 72 hours of "home security" work, $1,080 a week; $22.50 a week for changing tires and fixing the car; $12.32 for cutting the grass; $44.10 for work as a plumber; $14.84 for running errands; $17 for repairs around the house.
Filczer admits that the ADAM chart--which credits a man with working more hours than there are in a week because certain tasks overlap--is meant partly to be taken tongue-in-cheek to discredit Minton's assertions.
But Minton, who calls his chart the "great equalizer," is dead serious about his own calculations.
"We are using it almost daily in courts throughout the country," says Minton, who has been called a "token darling of feminism" and represents women in 90 percent of his divorce cases.
"We no longer hear in court a man saying, 'What did she do?' to contribute to a marriage. We've countered that argument by saying what she did at home has true economic value."
Minton first used his theory in 1978 to argue that the wife of a Sears executive should be compensated in a divorce settlement for the housework she did during the 32-year marriage. The concept was based on personal-injury lawsuits, in which lawyers attempt to place a monetary value on a wife who was, for example, killed in a plane crash.
Eight years of research and the findings of 10 major studies went into his chart, Minton says, which he updates annually for inflation. He says he consulted economists, job counselors and employment agencies to come up with data on how the average housewife with two young children spends her time.
Minton argues that a housewife is worth $48 for three hours of food-buying each week, $16 as a tutor, $6.45 as a nurse, $30 as a cleaning woman, $40 as an interior decorator and $10.65 as a gardener. Lovemaking isn't included on the chart, says Minton, because there's public policy against putting a monetary value on sex.
Like the ADAM chart, Minton's work week exceeds the number of hours in a week because "a woman does a number of job classifications at the same time. She may be watching the kids while washing the clothes or sweeping the floor."
Minton acknowledges that his chart follows traditional sex roles, as does the ADAM chart, but he contends a woman still does all these chores even when she works outside the home.
"A General Mills survey found that when a woman opts to work outside the home at a second job," he notes, "the amount of time contributed to household chores by her husband and children decreases.
"Why? A man's home is still his castle and he expects the center of his wife's existence to be him and the home."
Minton has talk-showed his way across the country with his chart. "It's been called the most cut-out chart in America," he says. "It's pinned to pillows, taped to shaving mirrors and Scotch-taped to the refrigerator door."
About ADAM's counter-chart of a husband's value, Minton says, "Their chart is more whimsical. It's not in tune with reality. It's like a child with a crayon: they're drawing a picture and it's very creative, but there's no basis to it.
"Our research shows most men spend one hour and 15 minutes a day doing chores at home. Even in the so-called liberated household, where the tools are marked 'his' and 'hers,' there is no real household work done by men. And the average male only spends 36 minutes a day with his children."
Minton laughs at the ADAM notion that a man should be credited with 72 hours weekly as a bouncer. "A man isn't even home enough to protect the home."
Filczer and Benitez have yet to introduce their chart in a courtroom, and Filczer says he doesn't expect the male version to be a major factor in property settlements. Instead, he says, they "hope to debunk the claim that a woman should be paid for her services after a marriage ends.
"The tradeoff in a marriage is that a man produced income and a woman did her things, such as cooking and household chores. They exchange those duties as part of the contract.
"Minton says 'Now that the marriage is done, let's get some payoffs for the services.' My premise is that it's ridiculous to deal with the issue because you already got paid by the exchange of duties."
So long as divorce lawyers and judges refer to Minton's chart to figure a woman's worth, Filczer says he will continue to hand out his own version for men.