Thursday, April 16, 2020

But Who Should Do The Laundry? Solidarity versus Gender Norms in the Age of Coronavirus

An excerpt from my article at FemCatholic --

In recent weeks, a torrent of new stressors has impacted families around the world -- kids in need of schooling, limited food options, restricted mobility, sharing home work space, loss of resources. 

This influx of work introduces overwhelming logistics: 

Who's planning the kids' schedules, now wide open from dawn to bedtime? Who's overseeing their schoolwork? Who's figuring out what's for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks with a pantry short on staples -- and dealing with the manifold dishes and silverware that result? Who's troubleshooting how to get groceries? Whose coordinating home workspaces? Who has the phone numbers for the pediatrician, urgent care, and county health hotline readily available? Who's stocking the medicine cabinet? Who's clearing the clutter constantly collecting in a busier-than-normal home? Who's vetting contractors' safety protocols for unexpected house problems, like plumbing, HVAC, or pest control? Who's sewing facemasks? Who's in touch with extended family, preparing emergency contingency plans? Who's communicating with the normal caregivers, teachers, and extracurricular leaders in this indefinite interim?

Unfortunately, due to the cultural assumption that kids and households are "women's work," the lion's share of daily stress resulting from this pandemic quarantine has fallen on the shoulders of women. (n.b. not all women, not all families, not all men...) 

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis addresses the fallacy that household labor and care for children might be emasculating for men: "Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame" (286).

He echoes the counsel of St. John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio: "Family, become what you are" (17). This admonition is followed not by a list of household responsibilities divided by gender but by a call for fathers to actively involve themselves with the daily work of family life, too often ignored as women's work:
"Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance" (25).
For families to grow stronger through this unprecedented challenge, we must rely on the "partnership of the whole of life" to which Catholic marriage commits (CCC 1601). We must commit to teamwork, because it's too much for one spouse to carry alone.

Erin Brigham, writing on the effects of coronavirus on family labor at Catholic Moral Theology, suggests solidarity is the solution: 
"Part of the revolution in thinking about home, work, and gender means recognizing the unique value of this work and allowing solidarity, not rigid conceptions of gender to guide how we organize work and family in our homes and society."
What does this look like, practically?

In our family, it means... 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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