Will Covid-19 Lead to Men and Women Splitting Care Work More Evenly?Roundup
tags: gender, womens history, care work, domestic work
Sarah Keyes is an assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno. To learn more about her work visit www.pandemicpasts.com.
In 2020, the centennial year of the 19th Amendment that secured women’s right to vote, covid-19 is threatening to deny or abridge women’s economic and professional advancement. The pandemic has hit the female-dominated service economy especially hard. Moreover, inside hospitals, health-care workers are struggling as never before to care for the sick — with inadequate PPE and pressures to physically separate from their families — which has also disproportionately hit women: In the United States today nearly four out of five health care workers are women.
In many states, covid-19 has sent children home for the rest of the school year, forcing parents to bear the double burden of a full-time job and full-time child care — something evidence suggests has affected women’s productivity significantly more than men’s. In this pandemic then, the face of care inside and outside hospitals is overwhelmingly female.
History tells us why that is. Today’s female care force is a product of persistent gender stereotypes that declare women to be more caring than men. These stereotypes have helped to funnel women into essential but undervalued jobs in fields such as health care and education and they have helped to sustain women’s disproportionate burden of care in heterosexual couples, even when partners have verbally agreed to a “50/50” split. Such inequities have replicated across generations. In many ways, our 2020 gendered world of care is little different from that of 1920 or even 1820.
This crisis can be different. In today’s pandemic, acknowledging and promoting humanity’s universal capacity and responsibility for care has the potential to give life to any number of reforms including paid family leave, free or subsidized early-childhood education and a more equitable distribution of household labor. The question remains whether we are actually willing to place gender equity above traditional norms.
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