The Pandemic Reveals: Home, Work, and Health Care Disadvantages for Women of Color

What do we miss when we don’t bring an intersectional lens to analyses of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we, as women of color, occupy crucial spaces and confront oppressive systems in multiple spheres of our lives on a daily basis.  

Gendered and racialized inequities have unfolded in front of ours eyes, bringing to bare the harsh and unjust realities that many women of color experience. These challenges have not changed due to the current pandemic; many of these inequities have simply been amplified.  In our recent article in Gender and Society we suggest that we must look at racism and sexism in tandem to understand the root cause of health problems and inequities facing women of color in the pandemic. We focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on three (3) important settings occupied by women of color: home, health care, and work.  

Women of color as devalued in the home.  

With shelter in place orders starting in March 2020, home was presumed one of the safest places for people to be to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus. Despite home being a safe place for many, this privilege did not apply to all. Reports of domestic violence increased dramatically, often in the presence of children and other family members. Talha Burki reports that “Some 243 million women are thought to have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point over the last 12 months”. These instances will have lasting impacts, introducing a number of public health implications. Even in homes without physical and mental abuse, home may not be a space of refuge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, women, especially women of color have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to an overburden of labor in the home. This labor includes traditional household duties (i.e. cleaning) in addition to homeschooling responsibilities. These added expectations coupled with social isolation and resource insecurity foster an unhealthy living experience. Finally, women of color have also experienced increases in housing insecurity and homelessness due to financial constraints (i.e. loss of income) and abuse.  

Women of color as disposable in work settings.  

It is evident that the pandemic has impacted jobs and employment. For example, we prioritized and encouraged workers in positions deemed essential to work outside of their homes. However, being essential was far less than equitable. For women of color, being essential did not mean increased pay, benefits, and respect; being essential often constituted increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and working under even more stressful conditions. Women of color in health care make up a large percentage of the COVID-19 deaths. For example, nurses of Filipino descent account for a shocking 31.5% of the workforce’s COVID-19 deaths, yet make up only 4% of the workforce. For women of color in non-essential positions, loss of job security, loss of income, and loss of health insurance were prominent concerns that have a direct impact on one’s physical and mental health. 

Women of color as dismissed in health care settings.  

There is a long history of women of color being mistreated, dismissed and ignored in health care settings. This has been no different during the pandemic, as we are presumed incompetent, even if we are in positions of perceived power and privilege. For example, many are again outraged after Dr. Susan Moore, a Black woman, filmed herself in the hospital and reporting on mistreatment and the rush to send her home: “This is how black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves”. Sadly, she died at another hospital after advocates pushed for her transfer—though perhaps “murdered by the system” is a more accurate description. Unfortunately, this example is one of many and we continue to see occurrences of neglect and silencing of Black women in health care settings. Access to quality and equitable health care disparities are visible on a daily basis and have been brought to light during this pandemic with testing, treatment and now vaccines.  

We as a community should continue to advocate for women of color in home, work, and health care environments. We challenge scholars, advocates, journalists, and wider publics worldwide to consider how we have embedded both gender and racial inequities into the very fabric of our society and the perpetually negative implications that has for women of color.  The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed already stark inequality… what’s our next move?  

Dr. Whitney Pirtle (sociology) and Tashelle Wright (public health) are researchers at the University of California, Merced (UCM). Their most recent work takes an intersectional approach to exploring and analyzing preventable health disparities among Black women and women of color. Pirtle and Wright address the implications of racism and sexism on women of color during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Whitney Pirtle was recently recognized as one of the newest John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chairs and Tashelle Wright was recently awarded a UCM Black Research Fellowship.  You can find Dr. Pirtle on Twitter at @thePhDandMe and Tashelle Wright @WrightTashelle.

Working Mothers and the COVID 19 Pandemic in the US

photo from Splash

Working mothers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Recent studies show that mothers are more likely to be managing their children’s remote schooling, are interrupted more when working from home, and have reduced their paid work hours or quit jobs to cope with their additional responsibilities (Carlson, Petts, and Pepin 2020; Collins, Landivar, Ruppanner, and Scarborough 2020). An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center shows that over 800,000 women left the work force between August and September 2020, compared to 216,000 men.

As qualitative sociologists, we wanted to investigate the gender, family, and work dynamics that were shaping this situation. In June and July 2020, with a Quick Response Grant from the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, we conducted in-depth virtual interviews with 33 parents (23 women, 10 men) in the Boulder/Denver area. The interviewees were mostly highly educated, married, heterosexual professionals with children under 18.  We coupled the interviews with a national online survey that received 300 responses.

The working mothers we interviewed felt overwhelmed by remote schooling and lack of childcare, and voiced frustration, anger, stress, and sadness. Many were concerned about their careers and some discussed tensions in their marriages. Yet nearly a third of the working mothers reported that their families were managing the additional labor more equitably. The interviews revealed that that the differences between working mothers who reported being substantially more burdened and those whose households seemed to be managing more equitably hinged on parents’ job flexibility, particularly for men in heterosexual households.

Most working mothers in our sample said their husbands were very involved in childcare and housework, yet when schools closed, these mothers found themselves handling more of these tasks. This seemed to happen for two reasons. First, in this emergency, couples often prioritized the higher paying job, and this is typically the man’s job. Husbands’ jobs were also usually perceived as more demanding in the sense of needing to work for longer periods of time without interruption. Second, some working mothers prior to the pandemic were working less than their husbands, often 25-30 hours per week. This was often because mothers wanted to spend more time with their children as well as because of the high cost of childcare. We found few working fathers who had made such a choice. In fact, several of the eight heterosexual men we interviewed called their jobs “more than full time.”  They described a pre-pandemic division of labor in which their wives handled most child-related tasks, and thus, not much changed during the pandemic except for the addition of remote schooling.

For a minority of working mothers, the household division of labor seemed more equitable. They reported greater satisfaction with how childcare and school related tasks were being shared (or in a few cases, done primarily by husbands or partners). These households tended to share one or more of several characteristics: the working mothers were more likely to be breadwinners or have jobs that they and their partners considered more demanding; husbands were unemployed; children were older and more self-sufficient; husbands’ workplaces were sympathetic to childcare needs; and in some cases, there was an existing commitment to gender equity in the household. Nevertheless, many of the working mothers who felt that their division of labor was more equitable said that they still did more of the emotional labor and school related tasks, both before and during the pandemic.

Conclusion

Before the pandemic, working mothers in the US were already disadvantaged by lack of family friendly workplace policies, the gender wage gap, and expensive childcare. The pandemic took away school and childcare, exposing the arrangements within households that childcare had previously alleviated.

In most of our interviewees’ households, the amount of unpaid labor has increased, but the gendered division of labor has not shifted greatly. The pandemic has amplified the inequities that already existed, including mothers doing more childcare. The scholarship on disasters and epidemics shows that such events tend to magnify pre-existing inequalities, and this seems to be the case with the current pandemic as well.

Research shows (Gerson 2011) that without structural changes, individual commitments to equity cannot necessarily be carried out. Many working mothers in our study were aware of the dynamics in their households but felt unable to resolve inequalities related to husbands earning higher wages and having less flexible jobs. As one interviewee said: “It’s not that he is not used to doing that type of work or he thinks that he is above that…I truly think that he thinks that he is participating and making that effort…I don’t believe that he is thinking that [its] my role…  but that’s how it plays out.”

Rachel Rinaldo is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research interests include gender, culture, religion, development and globalization, and qualitative methods, with a focus on Southeast Asia. 

Ian M. Whalen is a 4th year Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research interests include Gender, Men and Masculinities, and Virtual Methodologies.

Who does the ‘housework of the university’ during a pandemic? The impact of Covid-19 on precarious women working in universities

Several academic publishers in both the UK and US have revealed that since the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of articles submitted by women has tanked. Recent research indicates that while in lockdown, women in heterosexual relationships continue to provide the bulk of housework and childcare. However, it is not only at home that women do most of the housework; as Ann Oakley argued in 1995, they do it in the university as well. 

There already exists significant gender disparities within universities and most notably with regard to the valuing of work, career progression, pay and working conditions. Cleaners and caterers are typically paid minimum wage and work with few benefits. By contrast, senior managers – mostly men – are paid six-figure salaries. Teaching and the accompanying administrative and pastoral work is considered less prestigious and beneficial to career advancement than research and publishing. Frontline engagement  with students is the housework of the academy and it usually falls at the feet of women, women who are junior, women of colour and especially women who are precariously employed.  

The deeply gendered nature of this work is further exposed when we look to the academic ranks of the casually employed. In the UK, for example, women hold only 39 percent of full-time teaching and research positions but 67 percent of part-time research-only positions.

While part-time teaching is sometimes contracted on a sessional basis (similar to the US adjunct model), in Ireland and the UK there is a marked overreliance on hourly paid work (where workers are not paid per course but typically only per classroom hour) – a form of work that comes without any rights, protection, and is extremely poorly remunerated, with workers in our study often earning less than 10.000 euro (USD 11.000) per year. Official figures typically exclude many hourly paid workers, student workers and those employed through agencies and ‘partner’ corporations.

Our research in Ireland indicates that women experience precarity more acutely than male counterparts and for longer. They are trapped in the most exploitative forms of precarious work – work that earns less than the minimum wage comes with no job security, sick leave, or other entitlements.

Precarious Bloc at Dublin MayDay march, 2015 Photo courtesy of Third Level Workplace Watch 

The gendered impact of Covid-19 

As universities tighten budgets, they target the most vulnerable category of workers: the disposable, precarious workers on short-term contracts who can be dismissed without resource-consuming formal processes. Being over-represented in this category, women are heavily impacted. In the UK, many universities chose to dismiss rather than furlough teaching staff. As campuses in both countries were emptied of student populations, catering and cleaning staff – overwhelmingly women on precarious contracts – were made redundant. Furthermore, many hourly-paid workers were fearful of contracting Covid-19 with no sick leave or entitlement to pay should they be unable to cover designated hours.  

Secondly, ongoing gender equality campaigns have come to an abrupt halt. While gender inequality and casualisation were two of the ‘four fights’ UK higher education staff recently striked over, unions are now prioritising workers’ health and safety, fighting redundancies and spiralling workload inflation.  

Thirdly, due to imbalances in workloads and expectations, women – and often those on precarious contracts – have had to shoulder the bulk of the additional work of switching to online teaching. Creating online lectures is extremely labour intensive, yet hourly paid workers are not usually compensated for preparation. Pastoral care work has also increased significantly as those who interface with students must now support increasingly distressed students anxious about the completion of coursework in the middle of a pandemic. When this work falls to hourly paid staff it is often done without remuneration and at a personal expense as institutions do not pay for internet and phone charges, computer or office equipment.  

o photo description available.
Protest action against casualisation Photo courtesy of Third Level Workplace Watch 

The future  

As was the case in the last recession, women may also be disproportionately affected by austerity measures that even the wealthiest universities are likely to implement, such as redundancies, pay reductions, increased workloads and further casualisation.  

In the highly marketized and competitive context of higher education, it is likely that universities decide to offer face-to-face teaching to attract students while maintaining existing levels of fees and profitable campus accommodation occupancy rates. There are indications that come September, academics will be instructed to offer ‘blended learning’, a mix of online and small group face-to-face provision; with increased individual student support to make up for the diminished campus experience. This will increase workloads considerably – likely more than a full move to online teaching. Some institutions have curtailed unfunded research to increase teaching workloads, leaving only those winning large research grants time to conduct research and publish. Given the existing imbalance in the distribution of teaching, and systematic biases against women as well as against Black academics in the allocation of research grants, this will again disproportionately affect women, and Black women even more so. 

Questions also remain as to who will be assigned the administrative coordination and health and safety work necessary for a return to campus. Will this fall to the disproportionately female administrative staff? When campuses reopen will cleaners and caterers be brought back to do more risky work under the same exploitative conditions?  

Covid-19 brings into sharp focus existing injustices that shape the lives of women and especially women of colour, women who are trans, migrants, working-class or from other marginalised communities. The Covid-19 fallout reveals the fragility of the gains for gender equality in the university. It also shows the extensive damage done by decades of casualisation. Yet, in these bleak times there is still hope. Precarious academics are organising in many institutions in the UK and Ireland as the issue is more visible now than ever before.

Going forward, any conversations about gender inequality in the university must centre the most marginalised of women if we hope to affect real change. If we wish to de-gender the housework of the university, we must prioritise fighting for better working conditions for all, not just those in secure academic posts, and resist attempts to further casualise and outsource work in any corner of the university. 

Dr. Theresa O’Keefe is a Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at University College Cork in Ireland. Theresa writes on precarity, feminism in conflict zones, the gendered violence of the state and has published in a range of feminist journals including Feminist Review, International Feminist Journal of Politics and Women’s Studies International Forum. You can follow Theresa on twitter @theresa_okeefe.

Dr. Aline Courtois is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bath. Aline writes on precarity, higher education and elite schools and has published in the Journal of Education Policy, Higher Education, The British Journal of Educational Studies and other sociology of education journals. You can follow Aline on Twitter at @Aline_Courtois.

As long-term precarious workers, they founded Third Level Workplace Watch in 2013, a collective of precarious academics who came together to resist casualisation in Irish higher education institutions. Their joint publications on academic precarity can be read here (open access) and here (paywalled). 

Gendered COVID-19 Research

Almost immediately on the outbreak of COVID-19 and the world-wide spread of the coronavirus that causes it, research on how gender matters began. 

It appeared that men had a higher death rate from Covid-19 than women and were more likely to develop a severe illness. Why would men be more at risk?

Possibilities that involve their behavior include higher rate of smoking and less attention to washing hands. Most of the touted reasons were about chromosomes and hormones. The theory used to explain men’s higher risk is that women have two X chromosomes which carry 2,000 genes that interact with women’s cells. Cells can use genes on one X chromosome to destroy invading viruses, and genes on the other X chromosome to kill infected cells. Also, XX chromosomes produce estrogens which stimulate immunological responses, while testosterone seems to suppress them. The protective effect of estrogens led to trials of administering estrogen to men and post-menopausal women with COVID-19 as possible means to lessen the severity of the illness. 

An entirely different set of research studies focus on the effects of the lockdown that keep workers home and school closings that keep children at home. Employers had to adopt flexible work schedules and telecommuting for men and women employees, a policy for which many women have long fought for.

Another result of the lockdown is the availability of fathers for child care and home schooling. Where mothers work outside the home, as medical providers or grocery and pharmacy employees, fathers have to became the main child caregivers.  

Reports on sharing housework and child care by heterosexual cohabiting partners working from home were mixed. In one study men partners claimed to be doing half the home-schooling while women with heterosexual partners claimed that they were doing 80 percent.

Another study of 1060 heterosexual couples on their early COVID-19 experiences found an increase in sharing housework from 26 percent to 41 percent; similar results were reported for shared care of children. If men really do more during the shelter at home months, the continuance of such behavior would be a positive outcome of the pandemic

A serendipitous gender effect was that women were in the leadership role in countries that most successfully combated the coronavirus. The eight countries with the best outcomes of controlling cases and deaths thus far all had women leaders who acted early and decisively: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hong Kong, Namibia, Nepal and Singapore. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, also led strong and successful responses to the virus. There are other countries governed by women that have not controlled the coronavirus so well. What was different about the more successful women leaders?  A comparison of the two groups of women leaders might indicate what leadership skills mattered in this crisis. Leadership styles are often culturally gendered. Men leaders are prone to using war metaphors with the coronavirus as the enemy to be attacked aggressively and vanquished. The more successful women leaders focused on communal efforts and careful planning that demanded shared long-term  sacrifice, a leadership style that is considered “feminine.” 

We need more research to understand what leadership style works in national emergencies such as pandemics. Comparisons need to be made within gender as well as between them. Women leaders are not all alike, nor do they all use what is culturally considered a more consensus or “feminine” leadership style. More importantly, men too can adopt “feminine” leadership styles if that is what research tells us what most efficacious at keeping us all alive.  

Adapted from The New Gender Paradox: Fragmentation and Persistence of the Gender Binary, Polity Books, forthcoming. 

Judith Lorber is Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate School, CUNY. She is the author of Breaking the Bowls: Degendering and Feminist Change, Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics, Paradoxes of Gender, and Women Physicians: Careers, Status and Power. With Lisa Jean Moore, she is the author of Gendered Bodies: Feminist Perspectives and Gender and the Social Construction of Illness. Judith Lorber is the Founding Editor of Gender & Society.  

Revolution Unstalled?: The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on the Domestic Division of Labor in Hungary

Photo credit: Balogh Zoltan/ MTI

Parents of small children all over the globe must be extremely exhausted by now.  Since the COVID-19 pandemic induced closure of schools and childcare facilities in mid-March, parents have had to shoulder a vast amount of domestic and care work alone: without the contribution of state institutions, private child care providers, and kindly grandparents. 

Whether for wages or for free, childcare and domestic work are primarily organized and done by women.  The domestic gender division of labor has shifted slightly in the past thirty years as women on average reduced their workload and some men have started to pitch in some of the time.  But the changes have been small and uneven across social groups and countries.  Still, women in most countries spend at least twice as much time as men doing unpaid care work.

Will the COVID-19 pandemic change this or will it imprint existing inequalities in the domestic division of labor even more deeply onto the social fabric?  On the one hand, during the lockdown men are spending a great deal more time at home.  This could allow those who haven’t had the chance yet to develop a more intimate familiarity with the contents of the diaper bag or the operation of the washing machine.  At the same time, early projections of both the International Labour Organization  and the European Commission suggest that women are more likely to lose their paid jobs during the crisis, so perhaps they will take up the domestic slack instead?  Will then the crisis exacerbate the unequal division of care work or could it alleviate it?

In order to shed light on these old-new patterns of the gender division of labor, we conducted an online survey in Hungary between 6 and 14 April, 2020. Since Hungary closed schools and childcare facilities on March 13, 2020 and instituted serious lockdown measures soon thereafter, by the time of our survey our respondents had been coping with their new circumstances for 3 weeks. Our sample is representative of high school and college educated Hungarian internet users who raise children under 14 years of age in their households. 

In recent years Hungary introduced a great number of pronatalist measures along with an ideology which depicts women as mothers and wives first and as useful but strictly complementary participants in the labor market second. Hungary is thus the last country where we would expect to see a shift in the gender division of labor during the crisis- yet this is exactly what we found.

Findings

We focused our research on couples. They typically had 2 children at home and almost half were raising at least one child under the age of 6.  Most parents were working for wages at the time they answered the questionnaire, and 47% of women and 31% of men were doing so from home.

We asked respondents to tell us whether or not their share of various domestic and childcare tasks has increased since the closure of schools and childcare institutions.  Respondents typically overestimate their contributions to such questions, especially when the overall work burden has clearly increased.  But we were interested in differences among men and women in how they perceive this change.

Among at least high school educated heterosexual parents, men were significantly more likely to say that their share of domestic, child and elderly care work has increased since the closure of schools, while women claimed that their share remained stable or even decreased.  In terms of childcare, for example, 45% of men felt that they were doing a bigger share of the work during the crisis than they did earlier and only 38% of women claimed that they did.  This was true for domestic work and elderly care as well. The findings remained when we compared men and women who were similar in a number of important ways:  education level, working for wages, age, urban or rural residence and the number of children.

The picture is less rosy when we consider the fact that despite men’s increased share of household labor, they were twice as likely as women to feel no tension between their paid and their care work responsibilities, while many more women than men reported that they had to multitask in their home office.  Five times more women than men claimed that it would be helpful if their partner did a greater share of the household and child care work.

Take away

Contrary to expectations about women’s disproportionately increased care burden in academic and popular media, men seem to be stepping in, even in a country where neither the state nor employers are especially supportive of a more gender balanced domestic division of labor.  The majority of the unpaid care work is still done by women and this work burden has increased sharply.   But the inequality of the distribution of family work – at least among people with at least high school education – has decreased, according to both men and women in our sample.

Men’s participation in domestic duties is influenced not only by their social class, gender role attitudes and the national-institutional context but also by immediate circumstances. The sheer physical presence, opportunity, and possibly the emotional experience of emergency and need also matter.

We do not know if these small steps towards gender equality are long-lasting or will end as soon as societies return to some semblance of normalcy, especially if women have more trouble finding paid work in the aftermath of the crisis.  Yet these results at least represent a glimmer of hope on an otherwise rather bleak social and economic horizon.

Eva Fodor is a sociologist teaching in the Department of Gender Studies at the Central European University.  CEU funded this project.

Aniko Gregor works as a sociologist at ELTE University, Budapest, Faculty of Social Sciences. Currently, she is a research fellow at Freie Universität, Berlin.

Julia Koltai is a researcher at the Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence and Assistant Professor of Sociology at ELTE University. Currently she serves as a visiting professor at the Central European University.

Eszter Kováts is a PhD student in Political Science, ELTE University, Budapest.

Taking Risk, Taking Care During COVID-19

Early research on the social impacts of COVID-19 reveals that men and women are experiencing the same pandemic very differently.

Women’s jobs, for instance, may be disproportionately impacted by the impending recession. This, along with daycare and school closures that have demanded more of women’s time, suggests that the pandemic is likely to exacerbate existing gender inequalities in both the domestic and public spheres.

Our ongoing qualitative, longitudinal research with college students and their families sheds light on the gender differences in attitudes toward risk and experiences of isolation. Since April 1st, we have interviewed forty participants (26 identify as women, 13 as men, and 1 as non-binary) between the ages of 18-68 (median age of 23-years-old) to capture their changing experiences at three points in time over several weeks.

Preliminary Findings

Preliminary findings from our research indicate that men are not experiencing the same levels of stress and anxiety that have come to characterize the daily lives of women in our sample. Further, women are bearing an alarming share of the additional household labor and unpaid care work generated by this pandemic.

These findings tell a troubling tale of how COVID-19 is reinforcing existing systems and patterns of gender inequality by pushing women deeper into traditionally feminine roles. Simultaneously, men’s disavowal of the risks associated with COVID-19 reflects masculine ideals premised on confidence, power, and strength.

One of the most striking features of the COVID-19 pandemic is the rapidly shifting backdrop against which individuals are receiving information and assessing their personal risk of exposure to the virus.

As the U.S. struggles to control and manage COVID-19, new data on transmission, vulnerability, and mortality are updated almost in real-time. Although men and women assess similar risks of personally contracting COVID-19, they substantively diverge in their interpretation of—and corresponding response to—perceived risk.

Many women in our sample recounted narratives of intense anxiety, responsibility, and uncertainty. Filene, for example, lives with her mother and has stopped working as a market cashier as a cautionary measure. She expressed enormous distress about the future, stating,

“I don’t know if it’s going to end. I don’t know what to expect next. Will it destroy the earth? Will I get to see another year? Will I even get to see my mom through this thing? Where is it going? What is going to happen?”

In contrast, the majority of men reported personal efforts to follow public health recommendations but otherwise seem unperturbed by COVID-19, even when they evaluate their personal risk to be high. Our findings suggest that the current crisis is reinforcing gender norms that position men as confident, unfazed, and stoic.

Percy, for instance, works in a hospital, where he is responsible for sanitizing rooms. Percy said that he strictly follows safety protocols at the hospital, but outside of work, he inconsistently wears a mask in public because he thinks “it’s just a little outlandish” and that it “looks funny sometimes.”

The men in our sample recognize the risks associated with COVID-19, but their awareness of these risks does not translate into the deep-seated distress that women are experiencing. The tension between the men’s simultaneous awareness and disavowal of the risk is captured well in Arnold’s interview, during which he described the numerous hygiene practices he has adopted during the pandemic, but then emphatically noted that he feels the media have amplified the dangers of COVID-19, which he likened to the flu. 

Women’s experiences of fear and anxiety are partly driven by their relentless commitment to care work. For example, Valencia is responsible for cooking and shopping for her fiancé and mother, and she reported being on the brink of panic attacks when she contemplates the loss of her loved ones to COVID-19. Her narrative stands in stark contrast to Cameron’s, in which he expressed worry about his elderly parents’ refusal to stay home, but at the same time, reported being in a place of acceptance about their eventual positive diagnoses. He calmly stated that their contraction of COVID-19 was a matter of “when” and not “if.”

The salience of unpaid care work in the women’s lives is all the more marked because our sample consists of mostly young adults. Even though most are not wives or mothers, the women in our sample have become deeply affected by conventional gendered expectations centered on domestic labor and caregiving.

For example, Megan is tasked with helping her father file for unemployment during the pandemic. In addition, while her mother is at work, Megan must “cook and clean and still try and fit homework in.”  Similarly, Liniksha noted that she is entirely responsible for her younger brother’s care, even though they both live with their parents, an uncle, and an older sister. Although she was his primary caregiver even before the pandemic, Liniksha explained that she is now solely responsible for his homeschooling as well, which has been challenging. These narratives underscore the extent to which the pandemic has pushed women deeper into caregiving roles, even while other demands on their time and energy have not relented.

Our ongoing research is revealing a clear pattern of gender differences in attitudes toward and responses to risk and care work that have significant short- and long-term impacts. More immediately, men’s relaxed attitudes toward contracting COVID-19 may encourage behavior that increases their own—and effectively, their families’—risk of disease. In the long term, as the U.S. confronts the possibility that COVID-19 may permanently alter our social landscape, our findings highlight the need to examine critically the novel (and troubling) ways in which women are becoming entrenched in traditional domestic responsibilities.

Dr. Catherine Tan is an incoming (Fall 2020) Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Vassar College. She holds a PhD in Sociology from Brandeis University. Her research has been published in Social Science & Medicine, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Genetics in Medicine. You can find her online at www.CatherineDTan.com and follow her on Twitter @catherineoscopy.
 
Dr. Janani Umamaheswar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Southern Connecticut State University. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the Pennsylvania State University and her research has been published in journals such as Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology, Civic Sociology, Women & Criminal Justice, and Punishment & Society. You can find her online at www.jananiumamaheswar.com and follow her on Twitter @JananiU.

The current pandemic: what does gender have to do with it?

Photo by Managing Editor Mary Ann Vega

The current pandemic: what does gender have to do with it?

This is a call for insightful pieces for the Gender & Society blog.

Arundhati Roy has written that ‘the pandemic is a portal” and social scientists need to be documenting what is happening now and also envisioning a future beyond “getting back to normal” since normal was already riddled with inequality.

Do you have empirical evidence about how the gender structure is being impacted by, or impacting, the current global health crises?

Do you have a theoretically informed or evidence based proposal for a better future, one that embodies more equality?

If so, submit a blog post to Gender & Society. Blog posts should be 900 words or less and written for a non-academic audience.

Please send your blog posts to gendsoc@uic.edu ATTN: Blog Post Series