The Second Shift

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A woman today is expected to ‘have it all’. We are expected to do well in school, be accomplished at work, bear children and also bear the bigger share of the household chores pie, which includes raising said children.

A long time ago, as a young fulltime working mother of toddlers, I remember telling a colleague that my job was my second shift and I still had one more shift to do after getting back home before I could finally rest for the day. At that time, I had no idea of the concept of second shift and what it means to a woman and a mother, but I did know that I was bearing up more than my share of both the chores at home, including cooking and cleaning as well as bringing up BB & GG.

In most societies, it is the woman who traditionally looked after the house and hearth while the man went out to work and earn for his family. When times changed and women started getting educated and getting into the workforce, this changed dynamics in the workforce. But in the homes, times have still stood still. Women are still expected to be the primary caregiver at home, the one who is still in charge of the household.

While times are changing and you do see exceptions to this rule, it is rare enough that when a father goes to a mum and baby class (another example of what I am talking, why can’t it be gender neutral), he is still looked at like something in a zoo.

The Second Shift, also known as the Double Burden refers to, “the workload of people who work to earn money, but who are also responsible for significant amounts of unpaid domestic labour.” The term Second Shift comes from Arlie Hochschild’s book of the same name.

This unpaid domestic labour largely falls upon the shoulders of women who work long hours outside of the home and are also expected to do the majority of household labour. These outdated ideals of women as domestic labourers are not solely influenced by tradition and sexism, but also capitalism. Capitalism inherently devalues domestic labour because it is not compensated, therefore placing it subsequent to work that is done outside the home. Not only this, but the false notion that unpaid domestic work is less valuable than paid labour creates a social climate that is that is not conducive to the equality of the sexes, rather, an atmosphere that does not allow women to readily overcome gender inequalities on account that domestic work is still largely seen as a “woman’s job.”

This idea that capitalism exacerbates social issues is easy to visualize. Imagine all the cleaning ads marketed towards women, all the cooking appliances marketed to female homemakers or advertisements about baby products that only feature women as caretakers. Capitalism markets sexist labour dichotomies because they sell, which in effect, only more deeply ingrains our beliefs about women in the home.

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While this thought is evolving and has evolved over the years to include men into bearing an equal portion of the household chores and the raising of their children, in Asia, where traditional notions of gender norms still prevail, this is still more of a ‘work in progress’.

In Western and Southern Asia, women represent only a third of the work force. Many of them, even women in more modernized Asian countries, are involved in the informal sector, in traditional jobs for women, such as caring or teaching, without benefits such as employee health insurance or pension plans. The issue of the double burden is exacerbated in Asian countries due to the large cultural norm of women doing care work held by both men and women. In many developed countries, women drop out of work when they have children in order to have more time to take care of them.

In countries where women have to do paid work in order to feed their family, there is a lack of regulation and safety standards regarding female workers due to the large amount of informal work available. In Thailand for example, due to the severe economic crisis in 1997, many women have jobs in the informal industry, and often do home-based work so that they can do their domestic jobs concurrently with their paid jobs. This increases the work intensity by women doing more than one job at a time, and has been shown to have deteriorating effects on women’s health.

This second shift where women work unpaid at home, with nary a word of appreciation from their spouse, family members and even children, where all housework is still considered ‘mum’s work’, is something that young girls are exposed to since childhood. I read of a study in America where girls aged between 10 and 17 spend two hours more time doing chores at home compared to boys of the same age. At the same time, boys doing the same chores are 15% more likely to be paid for them as opposed to the girls who are expected to do it for free because ‘it is something that girls need to learn anyway’!

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This could be the reason why there are so few women in the higher echelons of the corporate world. Because of all the additional work that women put in, they are probably too tired to schmooze and network their way to higher and more demanding positions.

This management gap has far-reaching implications, not just for a woman’s career development but for her salary growth and retirement security as well.

It’s not for lack of trying. According to a report, men and women lobby for promotions, ask for feedback, and negotiate salaries at the same rate. Yet employers and managers treat them differently: They punish women for being pushy, while showering men with tougher assignments, more training, and bigger pay checks. The study found that women who negotiate for a promotion or salary bump are 67% more likely than women who don’t to be labelled “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.” And they’re 30% more likely to hear that than men who negotiate. And women feel the disparity. 1 in 4 women feel they’ve missed out on a raise, promotion, or a chance to get ahead because of their gender.

So what can we do to mitigate this and make the world a more equal one for our daughters and granddaughters? The easiest way to change is to change thinking and the best way to do that is to educate our sons and grandsons and make them aware that the society they live in is one where women are just as equal as they are.

We also need to let our daughters and granddaughters know that they are in no way inferior to their male peers and there is no job which is meant specifically for each gender. This wat, we work towards developing a culture and society where equality is something that is taken for granted, just like breathing, where domestic work, rearing of their children is something that is shared between partners and no one person or gender takes on the lion’s share of what is supposed to be shared chores.

This is a long journey, but one in which we have to act today to see the results in the next generation.

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