by Vanessa Copeland
COVID-19, Coronavirus, social distancing, quarantine… When 2020 started out, who would have thought that these topics would quickly become our entire existence? I sure didn’t. I’m fairly certain I confidently stated to my friends that “2020 is going to be my year.” And if I’m being completely honest, it hasn’t been that terrible for me so far. Since my son’s school takes spring break earlier than other schools, my family and I were able to take our amazing vacation and make it back home just in time to quarantine. I am lucky enough to have a job that I can do entirely from the comfort of my own home. And I gotta say I don’t hate rolling out of bed at shuffling across the house to my office and working in my sweat pants. However, my situation is unfortunately not the situation for many.
We have all seen a gazillion tweets and shared memes trying to put a positive spin on social distancing: “William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton did their best work while being quarantined.” Here’s the thing, 1. William and Isaac were able to do their work from home and 2. Neither one of them had any child-care responsibilities.
The truth is that times of crisis tend to magnify the societal inequalities marginalized groups already face. For women, many cannot do their jobs from home and are now either risking an infection or not receiving an income at all. They are less likely to have salaried positions, which also means they are unlikely to have benefits. The harsh reality we find ourselves in is that this is not only a health crisis, but an economic pandemic and the people more likely to feel long lasting effects of this are women.
Many households are dual income households because families are able to place their children in daycare. A possible outcome of this pandemic is the permanent closing of many daycare facilities that are unable to reopen their doors once this is all over. If that is the case, childcare costs could skyrocket; couples may find themselves having to decide which person will have to leave work and stay at home to rear the children. While each couple’s situation is different, based on historical gender role stereotypes, and the still prevalent wage-gap, women are much more likely to be the one who takes on the care-giving role. Statistically, more women hold part-time jobs and in heterosexual relationships, women are more likely to be the lower earners. This does not even take into account single mothers. Many of their lifetime savings will never recover from this.
Something else to consider is the phenomenon of the “second-shift.” Generally speaking, women, including working women, do more housework and take less “me time” than their male partners. Again, this does not take into account single mothers. A single mother who is lucky enough to work from home still does not have a partner to help with child care, housework, or financial obligations. Female independence is taking a huge hit.
This pandemic has put the spotlight on many societal inequalities and shown us where we need to make improvements: the importance of universal healthcare, what is considered an essential job to keep society functioning in a shut down and what those workers are being paid, wage and gender-role inequalities. We do have a chance to have something positive come out of this pandemic. The scary reality is that future pandemics are likely. We need to start recording and studying the effects of gender differences as it pertains to the economy during this pandemic. Placing the burden of elderly care and child care upon private citizens, and more specifically, women has to stop. We must to stop letting past mistakes determine how we approach future pandemics.