Unnatural Disasters

In the midst of the overwhelming societal and economic changes the world has undergone during pandemic times, one consequence is causing a somewhat invisible backwards force.

The Atlantic argues that pandemics affect men and women differently-that of all of the consequences of this new way of life, the economic effect will hit women the hardest.

“[one] of the most striking effects of the coronavirus will be to send many couples back to the 1950s. Across the world, women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic.

At an individual level, the choices of many couples over the next few months will make perfect economic sense.

What do pandemic patients need? Looking after. What do self-isolating older people need? Looking after. What do children kept home from school need? Looking after. All this looking after—this unpaid caring labor—will fall more heavily on women, because of the existing structure of the workforce. “It’s not just about social norms of women performing care roles; it’s also about practicalities,” Wenham added. “Who is paid less? Who has the flexibility?”

Look around and you can see couples already making tough decisions on how to divide up this extra unpaid labor. When I called Wenham, she was self-isolating with two small children; she and her husband were alternating between two-hour shifts of child care and paid work. That is one solution; for others, the division will run along older lines. Dual-income couples might suddenly find themselves living like their grandparents, one homemaker and one breadwinner. “My spouse is a physician in the emergency dept, and is actively treating #coronavirus patients. We just made the difficult decision for him to isolate & move into our garage apartment for the foreseeable future as he continues to treat patients,” wrote the Emory University epidemiologist Rachel Patzer, who has a three-week-old baby and two young children. “As I attempt to home school my kids (alone) with a new baby who screams if she isn’t held, I am worried about the health of my spouse and my family.”

Single parents face even harder decisions: While schools are closed, how do they juggle earning and caring? No one should be nostalgic for the “1950s ideal” of Dad returning to a freshly baked dinner and freshly washed children, when so many families were excluded from it, even then.”

Has anything radically changed, or is this just one event on the ongoing and unpredictable wave of feminist history?


Photo: Arsh Raziuddin, The Atlantic

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