Let me start by saying that I believe there have been great strides made in how heterosexual relationships divide the domestic stuff. More men are cleaning, cooking and organizing than was ever imaginable even 30 years ago.
There’s no denying that women are doing even more of it, as a new study from Oxfam, “Unpaid and Underpaid Care Work and the Global Inequality Crisis,” makes very clear. Not only is the act of care — for kids, for elderly and sick people and those with disabilities — an essential part of a community, it’s also work the organization estimates is worth $10.8 trillion each year.
It’s an issue that challenges women across the world, and I spoke to HuffPost Canada Parents editor Natalie Stechyson about what she related to about the study, which prompted her to assign an article about it.
“The topic of unpaid labor, mental load, and the often unfair distribution of child care responsibilities is a topic that comes up in my professional life as well as my personal life pretty much daily,” she says. “To see a number put to this was pretty staggering … and validating, if I’m being honest.”
She notes that although her husband does plenty around the house, it’s frustrating that it doesn’t even occur to him that certain things need to be done.
“Up until last week, when I finally snapped and said I was too tired to do it, my husband had actually never bought any clothes for our son,” said Natalie, who is 36 weeks pregnant. “He’s three and a half. Maybe clothes don’t seem like a big deal, but given how fast a kid grows, having a wardrobe for every size and season — and then packing it away and replacing it with new items — takes so much work and planning. Did you know some of the best snowsuit deals happen in August? This is the kind of information I now store in my brain.”
Of course, the issues can be even more pronounced in countries where gender equality isn’t front of mind, and as the Oxfam report points out, the answers will likely have to come from “ordinary people,” rather than less affected (and let’s face it, more male) politicians. Examples include paid leave, investments in child care, challenging sexist legislation, and supporting the care of older adults and people with disabilities — “since the unpaid labor women do isn’t just about chores and child care,” as Natalie notes.
“In Canada, I think we’re making good progress in some of these avenues, such as our new shared parental leave program. My husband will be taking advantage of this and I think sharing the load with our new baby is going to make a world of difference in how we divide the labor. When he doesn’t have to wake up for work, he can help with night feeds and I won’t get so batty from sleep deprivation. He can go to mommy-and-me time at the library (haha!) while I rest or take time to myself (imagine). While I’m taking care of baby, he can handle some other household responsibilities like groceries. And when it’s time to transition baby to daycare in a year, he’ll be able to help and save me some emotional turmoil this time. I think shared leave is going to be great for both of us, as parents and partners.”
The article about the study is fascinating, filled with breakdowns on how it is that women worldwide find themselves in these impossible situations. It reminded me of a piece from a couple of weeks ago, “I’m a Mom Who Nearly Died Of Sepsis Because I Didn’t ’Have Time To Be Sick,’” and how often some women put their own needs and yes, hopes and dreams, aside to make sure everyone around them is cared for.
So here’s my assignment for the week: If you know a caregiver, send them a text telling them they’re doing a good job or email them a gift card to grab a coffee for themselves. Let them know their work is seen.
And if you are a caregiver, for whatever it’s worth, I want you to know that what you’re doing is important. And essential.
Thanks for reading.
Reading this Q&A with Megan Twohey, the co-writer of “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” is nothing short of invigorating. By now it might feel to some (like, uh, me) that we’ve heard just about enough about Weinstein, but the way Twohey describes the investigation she and Jodi Kantor did, and what she believes it means makes it feel like real hope and real change might just be on the horizon.
It was hard not to be affected by the death of Kobe Bryant over the past week, with emotional social media posts everywhere and real-life instances of #24 jerseys worn worldwide. But sometimes it takes a truly personal account to drive home the loss of the person — not the hero, not the larger-than-life figure, but the man, and this woman’s essay about her own experience with sudden grief absolutely brought me to tears.