Women, Corona Virus and Gender Equality

Women, Corona Virus, Gender Equality and Home School

Today makes 8 weeks in lockdown. 8 weeks when all schools and childcare providers have been closed. And the world has changed considerably. 8 weeks ago the lives of parents across the country changed as they are now also responsible for educating their children, as well as juggling their own work commitments.

As the world changed and families retreated behind their front doors. Did the government consider what it might do for the very fragile gender balance?

Working parents now have to handle responsibilities in a way they never have before. Teachers are online, children are home, and if you have a toddler or baby the demands on your attention are almost impossible to juggle. But who is handling the childcare?

With interest I set about asking my social media followers who was home educating and the response was certainly an interesting one.

Who is Home Educating Mum or Dad?

I received several hundred replies to my polls. I also asked same sex couples to message me as I was genuinely curious as to how they handled the balance too. There’s was, as I expected really more of a balanced one:

“For us it’s a 50/50 divide due to our working pattern. I’m Mondays and Tuesdays and Kate is Thursdays and Fridays, and we overlap on Wednesdays. We also split the housework. It’s working surprisingly well as we respect each other’s workloads. ” Sharon, Lesbemums

Poll Results

Here are the poll results:

  • Twitter – 77% mother, 5% father, 18% 50/50 split
  • Facebook – 92% mother, 8% father
  • Instagram – 97% Mum and 3% father

Quite compelling stats is it not? It’s a clear picture that in the majority of homes across the UK women as responsible for educating their children during lockdown. An issue The Guardian has picked up on too with their article I Feel Like a 1950s Housewife.

Of course, women are more likely to work part time. According to the stats from the gender equality roadmap I attended last year, women are 3 times more likely to work part time. Usually, that decision to work part time is based around childcare commitments. But the picture when I asked people to message and share their stories with me is one of frustration.

My New Work Life Balance

In my house, it was clear cut that I would be educating the children. I earn very little in comparison to my husband. And while it is important to me, my work wouldn’t even pay the mortgage. He’s been working 12/13 hour days and often weekends too. He usually works from home so that much hasn’t changed. When I started to talk to him about this article, he looked at me and said my life hasn’t really changed has it? And the answer is no. Other than me calling him out for help with complex maths questions and more noise and bustle in the house, his work has carried on pretty much as it had before. His daily routine almost the same.

In contrast, my life has completely changed. I have 3 children at home with me all of the time. Two of which need home schooling and one that needs entertainment and stimulation. Our cleaner, a privilege I know, but a person who helps me manage the juggle, can no longer come and I am now responsible for this too. My work squeezed in the gaps between, or usually made up into the evenings and weekends when the children have gone to bed. If I have a really pressing deadline, the TV babysitter has been my friend. Dinosaur Train is educational… right?

I’m not resentful, exhausted yes, but resentful no. This is the right financial decision for us to come to as a family. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.

Life at Home for Mothers During Lockdown

I should state clearly of the messages shared with me it wasn’t all a negative picture. Some families are sharing it evenly. I read great stories of couples splitting the day in half. With one parent doing the child care in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Families where the father is furloughed and has fully taken over the childcare, while the mother works. Husbands who have taken on the childcare because the mother is not managing due to their health. It’s encouraging and great to hear about.

“Mine are younger than school age at the moment, but we are dividing the childcare equally. One of us has the morning to do whatever we need to (work, exercise, shower, even nap) and then at lunch we swap. It works really well for us.” Amy, Mum Full of Dreams

“My ex partner is homeschooling our children because I have an autoimmune condition and was already signed off work due to being very ill. So we decided it was better they stay with him whilst I’m in total lockdown. He’s doing a great job” Dicing with Life

However, the rest of the picture is disappointing. Women who are keyworkers and are still coming home to educate because their partner can’t or won’t in the day. Women left to do all of the childcare even though both partners work full time. Women who share the custody of their children, but only the women are home schooling and they’re doing nothing when they’re at their father’s house. Women exhausted, overwhelmed and emotional because not only are they expected to deliver in their jobs, they are expected to carry all of the childcare and domestic responsibilities too.

“Both of us are working full time from home and it’s falling all on me. So much that I was in tears last week with my parents. They have stepped up and now virtually teach/supervise play with the kids from 120 miles away for an hour or two daily so I can work. ” Cerys, Rainy Day Mum

An anonymous blog reader emailed in her situation to use in this blog post and I think it summarises really well the situation many women across the country are finding themselves in.

Case Study Alice*

(*name changed for anonymity)

“On paper we earn similar salaries. We agreed that whilst our son is small that I work a flexible pattern with shorter hours. My work involves travel and when it does I am supported and confident that all and everyone at home is well.

Feminism (and equality to a lesser degree) was not naturally occurring in the early days of our relationship. This has been worked on, tackled and redressed if necessary. That was until the combustable combination of motherhood and coronavirus came together.

For the first couple of weeks I had no choice but to take the lead as my husband’s employer where slower to respond to sending all employees home. Strangely enough these weeks were not too bad.  My son and I settled upon a pattern of play and work. 

Once we both started working from home, that was when the fun started. I quickly discovered ‘working from home’ is not the same with a toddler and a husband in the house, all battling for space and attention.

When faced with a conference call at the same time what is the right/fair way to handle childcare? My other half hit me with this stunning statement early on into lockdown; “I would look after him on my next conference call but I can’t be sure if he will stay quiet, so you will have to have him on yours.” 

He later commented that I looked like I had just been sick in my own mouth.

The face he saw was one lost for words, one that suddenly and sickeningly realised that everyday equality can be whipped away and that perhaps it was not that real in the first place?

Around about week 5, I found myself failing to balance family and work, and I sat down on the floor of my son’s bedroom and I cried. I cried hard.  I didn’t mention it to my husband as I could not articulate just how jarring I was finding having to fit everything in to the day.  How fighting for even a small amount of time and space to work effectively felt like an uphill battle.  And not a battle I thought we needed to have.

In a turn of affairs, my husband’s employer announced that he has been placed on risk of redundancy.  We are turned upside down by this news.  We are also facing what might be a long and painful economic recovery which will no doubt have an impact on employment opportunities.  So as I consider if the option is there for me to increase my hours, my husband considers that he may face a period of this time at home and potentially picking up childcare. The part of me that was angry that day with the conference call cannot help but wonder who should have taken their call with their toddler on their knee?

Like most bumps in the road faced in a relationship, we are dealing with them as best we can.I am happy to say that the way I felt at the beginning of all of this, is not how I feel now.  We have found workable solutions. Ones where we carve the day up into chunks; agreeing the morning of or night before who has calls or deadlines to meet and then fitting in chores/mealtimes and playtimes in and around this. “

Gender Bias

Why is still happening? Why are women still taking the brunt of the childcare even when both parents are working full time, or even when they are working and their partner isn’t?

We go back to our old enemy gender bias. The belief that it is and should be a woman’s role to care for her children. A belief that is not always a conscious one, one that can be buried deep inside of us and we don’t even realise it’s there. That even women themselves believe to be true. The guilt that sits in your stomach that if you choose work over your child then you’re a bad mum, even if that child has two parents.

What Does it Mean for Women’s Careers?

There’s still no decisive return date for schools, realistically it could not be until September, leaving most schools closed for 6 months. Who really knows at this moment in time when this will all end. So what does this mean for women who are juggling it all?

The women I have been talking to are also concerned for the future of their careers. How the juggle of working from home and caring for their children might mean they are not doing as good a job as their male peers. That the glass ceiling will become even more impenetrable because they have responsibilities. That they are expected to do it all and still be as brilliant as people who don’t.

Corona has shown that we still have a long way to go to reach gender equality. How childcare is still thought of as a woman’s responsibility. We need to fight until it’s not even a discussion in your house. It just is second nature that these things should be shared.

Women, Corona Virus and Gender Equality. How the pandemic and lockdown and highlighted how far we have to go to achieve true gender equality.

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