For many working women, a nine to five workday is merely a fantasy. So much work is done before nine and after five such as changing diapers, washing dishes, cooking meals, setting tables, and more. Yet, as we know, this isn’t the kind of work that translates into GDP figures or economic output. Rather, the aforementioned chores are considered the private duties of women. Consequently, far too many women in M|F couples spend their after-work hours toiling away in a vicious cycle of thankless labor.
Across varying cultures globally, it has been estimated that on average, women spend twice as much time on household work as men and four times as much time on childcare.
Scholars in past decades have studied the lives of working women, both in the professional and domestic sector. They’ve termed the phenomenon of women’s over-extending labor, on and off the clock, the “double work burden” or otherwise, “the second shift.” Unlike women’s professional jobs, which may also have their own difficulties due to workplace misogyny or lack of equal pay, their “second shift” at home is not compensated. As a result, working women are crushed under the weight of this invisible labor, which is hardly ever acknowledged and rarely appreciated.
So where did this inequality originate?
The “double shift” phenomenon is based on stereotypical gender roles: men are the hardworking breadwinners while women are child-bearers and homemakers due to their inherently “nurturing” nature. Now, however, the gendered division of labor fails to serve as an efficient economic system.
Previously, women used to mostly cater to domestic responsibilities because they were not permitted to work outside of their household. Men, on the other hand, were tasked with wealth accumulation for their family unit. However, since World War II, the global economy has seen an exponential rise in working women. Therefore, social and economic institutions should also evolve in correspondence to the progressing societal role of women.
In many cultures, such as mine, it is believed that men are still primary breadwinners, since only two-thirds of women are employed in the workforce, and women only bring additional income to the family. In such cases, it is thought that men are not to participate in domestic chores because they bear the sole responsibility of being “providers.”
But for a minute consider a couple that works equally. In that case, do men step up and take charge of household duties? Not so much. According to research conducted by PEW, about half of parents in households wherein both the mother and the father work full time say, in their family, the mother does more in terms of managing the children’s schedules and activities.
The social construction of gender roles is such that it projects women as inherently domesticated individuals who are more than willing to undertake household responsibilities. For example, most household and cleaning products are advertised to women. This is because capitalistic, patriarchal structures simply expect women to undertake housework in lieu of the males within the home.
And sadly these advertisements also depict daughters helping mothers, whereas the sons and fathers of the family aren’t shown participating in traditional household chores. These frequent portrayals of only having women acting out tasks and chores within the house, risk perpetuating these stigmas onto future generations of women.
On another note, the idea that household chores are “labors of love” gifted for the entire family on behalf of mothers, has debilitating consequences for the mental and physical health of women. Women, on average, lose up to thirteen hours of sleep per month due to fulfilling domestic duties.
Additionally, if you are a working woman and feel you don’t endure the second shift because of financial privilege, check again. Even if you have delegated household help or staff of nannies and cooks, consider who is managing your employees. Who trains the staff, orders groceries for the family, or manages the finances at home? Even the seemingly simple task of managing household chores takes up ample mental space- which is what feminists refer to as “the mental load.”
Ultimately, the double work burden is a by-product of oppressive gender roles coupled with capitalistic evaluations of labor and value outcomes. Sometimes, demanding household chores are more physically demanding and emotionally draining than office work. But somehow, the household chores is the work rarely appreciated.
Why? Probably because there is no economic compensation for household chores nor does capitalism value work that doesn’t benefit the economy. Just think about the amount of money that is saved by women undertaking tasks that would otherwise be costly, such as caring for sick family members. Many countries don’t even invest in social care; instead, these countries completely bank on women to do domestic work.
Working women, next time you find yourself stuck in the oppressive monotony of household chores, please know that you are not alone. Many women around the world feel and relate to the weight of domestic chores on top of working full-time. So, if no one has told you already, the work you do is, in fact, valuable and very much appreciated!
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