Lockdown has exposed some hard truths about the way we’ve been living. Tube, work, gym – rinse and repeat – feels like a past life, and, for many of us, that’s a welcome change. But as radical as this period of necessary and important adaptation has been, I’m still patiently waiting for an overhaul of our gender roles at home.
Despite the majority of the workforce now clocking on from home, too many women are still being forced to shoulder the lion’s share of the housework. Tales of juggling Zoom meetings and client emails, while simultaneously getting a load of washing on, child on hip, are landing in my inbox daily. Others tell me they are spending hours cleaning, while husbands shut themselves away in studies. Worse, some women are being forced to take the difficult decision to quit work all together while they pick up the extra responsibility of homeschooling and caring for the kids.
Of course, it would be unfair to say that All Men are guilty of not pulling their weight in the home. But even in normal times, women shoulder, on average, 60% more unpaid work than men – so it’s hardly surprising this has been exacerbated by lockdown. But it is perplexing – and frustrating.
Why aren’t we sharing these tasks? What barriers are there to dividing the labour equally now that we’re all in the same choppy waters?
Naively, I had imagined that this pandemic could have been the great leveller between the sexes. But lockdown has compounded what many of us already knew – women are still too often relegated to a supporting role.
It doesn’t matter that we’re all now at home all day, or spending the same amount of time with the kids – care work is still seen as women’s work.
Of course, this isn’t a new problem. It’s just more visible. These are roles that are normally outsourced to other women – poorer, working class, often BAME women, who clean our houses and look after our children.
But lockdown has succeeded in exposing the lies we tell ourselves about gender equality. Yes, the pay gap does need fixing. Yes, more women need to get into STEM. Yes, men need to “do better” at being allies. But ultimately, as maddening as this sounds, homemaking is still seen as a woman’s default position, whether we’re conscious of it or not. And while care work – both paid and unpaid – remains chronically undervalued, we will still be shackled to the outdated notion that a man’s job comes first.
This pandemic will have far-reaching consequences on the way we live our lives moving forward – that much is now abundantly clear. Let’s hope that it won’t signal a decline in women’s worth.
Lucy Pasha-Robinson is Opinion Editor at HuffPost UK.