I just read an Atlantic article called “The Coronavirus is a Disaster for Feminism.” There are many important points the author Helen Lewis makes that ring true to me, especially when she writes:
“For too long, politicians have assumed that child care and elderly care can be “soaked up” by private citizens—mostly women—effectively providing a huge subsidy to the paid economy. This pandemic should remind us of the true scale of that distortion.”
I remember reading Linda Hirschman’s feminist manifesto Get to Work years ago and being really struck by her finding that most women can recover the career setback of having one child, but in general any more than that produces career setbacks such that women can never recover career parity with men. I want to say her metric was in terms of pay, but I don’t recall.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this both because of the nature of my own work, the ways in which I seem to not be doing it, and what I want to call the retreat to the domestic that I see myself engaging in.
I’m married to a man who has always supported my career. Indeed, I have the lead career in our household: I’ve had my PhD longer, I’ve authored books, we live where we live because of my job, and I make the higher salary. Yet, we were both raised in this society and he especially was raised in a more traditional slice of the culture where it is typical for women to cook, clean, and take responsibility for the children. With the exception of the parenting piece, at which he is terrific and better than I, he’s generally terrible at these domestic tasks. I still remember the first time I saw the man slice an onion. I have never seen something that was so simultaneously inefficient and terrifying.
In this time of coronavirus, especially because I’m having a hard time focusing on my work, which involves reading hard things, reflecting, and writing, I’ve found that I’m picking up more of the domestic work that is proliferating now that our 14mo and 4yo daughters are home all day, not to mention the parents: there are three meals plus snacks to prepare, grocery deliveries to coordinate, the dishes from all those meals to clean, activities to plan and lead, endless laundry to be done, toys and books to be put away, etc. etc. The frequent feminist call for working women to “lower standards” on household cleanliness doesn’t really hold up so well when everyone is working and living in the household 24 hrs a day.
And, in a shitty way, by retreating to the domestic, in a not-so-feminist claiming of womanly expertise, I buy myself a little free time. For example, twice this week, I’ve heard myself utter a phrase I’ve never before used: “get out of my kitchen.” My kitchen? Who is this woman?
The answer is that she’s a very tired woman, leaning into stereotypes and bad behaviors in order to have a moment of privacy to drink wine and listen to the news while cooking the family meal.
I worry about these and other bad behaviors. I worry about the loss of my brain work, my paid work. I worry that habits we develop during this time will extend past this period of shutdown.