Today, women still do the bulk of the housework, and women who work outside the home put in an additional 2.6 hours of housework on top of their job every day. According to Think Progress, “on an average day, 19 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning or doing laundry–compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women”. So what needs to change for women and men to share the care and upkeep of their home more equally?

Equal Pay for Equal Work 


According to Jane Hood, “the more the wife is recognized as a coprovider, the more household roles will be shared” (169). If women are being recognized outside the home, then they also gain recognition inside the home. It makes sense: if women earn comparable salaries to men, then men are more likely to see them as their equal. If men see them as equal, they are more likely to share the burden of domestic labor.


Demand Truth in Media


It can be hard not to compare your life to the lives you see on the television. If we continue to let them feed us the message of the “happy housewife”, we will continue to measure ourselves against her – and continue to fall short of the ideal. Don’t let them get away with it! Don’t consume media that doesn’t reflect reality. Boycott products with particularly offensive adds.

Recognize Alternative Family Structures

Not all families consist of a breadwinner husband and a wife. Some families consist of two wage earners, and some families consist of a wage earner wife and a “house husband”. Some families are single parent. There are too many different ways to organize a family than I can list. Obviously not all of these can or will fall under the “ideal” male breadwinner model. We need to make space for them. Recognizing family structures different than our own opens us up to rethinking traditional, gendered assumptions about housework.

Recognize all women’s work

The most radical thing we can do is to recognize that women’s work is real work. Spending your day caring for kids and husbands and laundry and cooking is difficult! Doubly so if you are expected to come home and do it after completing a day of paid work. Recognizing housewifery as a legitimate job makes women’s work visible.


The Second Shift, at its heart, revolves around the male breadwinner model. Despite the fact that women now make up a significant percentage of the workforce, the idea of separate spheres still prevails. Men work outside the home to provide for their family, women work inside the home to  care for their family. Women’s work outside the home, therefore, is “extra income”, a secondary career that comes after her job as homemaker. Like with advertising, it creates a vicious cycle.

Because women still earn less than men, they feel they have to “make up” their earnings by doing more housework, and because they take on more household and childcare responsibilities, they are not taken as seriously in their job.

Recognizing women’s contributions outside the home is a start to recognizing, and relieving, her contributions within the home. However, the male breadwinner model is so ingrained in our society that it can be hard for many people to admit that women doing most of the household labor is unfair. Jane Hood has this to say, “Some [husbands] adopt the position that no matter how much money their wives make, the money is not really necessary and the wife must, therefore, continue to accept the responsibility of housework and child care” (114). Women’s money is “fun money”, if she does not like having a double day, well, she can just quit.

Except many women cannot just quit, many families depend on that extra income to survive. Even in two income families where they could survive on one income, that extra money provides for a higher quality of life for the whole family, and a safety net to fall back on if necessary. It is unfair to ask women to choose between paid work and family, or to suffer the consequences of the second shift if she does not.

The New June Cleaver

July 17, 2013

June Cleaver was a professional housewife, ever happy to vacuum the living room in pearls and heels. Thank goodness we have left that model behind in the fifties. Or did we? Turn on your Television, and you are likely to see the “new June Cleaver”. She has traded her heels and pearls for khaki’s and a sweater set, but she is still the woman who wipes up her family’s messes with a smile on her face.

In fact, when I try to recall advertisements for cleaning products that feature men, all that comes to mind are advertisements for Mr. Clean, in which a man “saves” a woman from drudgery. Two terrible stereotypes for the price of one!

Many advertisers claim that they are simply focusing in on their target market. Indeed, women are still the primary buyers of household goods (Librarian Karen). Women also continue to do the bulk of domestic labor.

Except ads that feature women focus on her role as homemaker at the expense of all other facets of her life. She is not shown rushing home from work to prepare dinner before washing up, or even asking her spouse or children for help with the chores. Media reinforces the idea that it is mother’s job to take care of the house, and we absorb that idea. It is a vicious cycle. Media says we are happy housewives because we buy their products. So we buy their products in order to be June Cleaver.

Factory workers from the Boing Plant

During the Second World War American women were called to enter the workforce in support of their country, and they answered that call in droves. The number of women employed in manufacturing doubled, and women’s participation in the defense industry in particular rose 460 percent (Woloch 461). The lack of men available to work civilian jobs meant that women now had more opportunities available to them.

Before the war, women working in factories tended to be young, unmarried, and unskilled. All of which made her easy to replace. During the war, employers had to open up more jobs to more women, by necessity. By 1945, 75 percent of new hires were married, and one fourth of all married women now had jobs. These women tended to also be older, three fifths were former housewives, and one third had young children at home (Woloch 463). Where as before, work had been a stop-gap for many young women between their parent’s house and marriage, women now had to learn to balance full time work with their responsibilities as wives and mothers.

Women rose to the challenge. Surveys showed that most women, even older married women, wanted to keep their jobs after the war ended (Woloch 467). Alas, this was not to be. The end of the war saw the closing of war-related industries and returning veterans to replace women in the jobs that remained. So what was left for women now?

Women’s job was now to use her skills to run a household.

Enter housewifery as a career. Both the marriage rate and the birth rate boomed immediately following the war. Like the era before the war, housewifery took a scientific turn and it became a legitimate, indeed the only legitimate, career option for women. Yet no matter how involved, for many women caring for hearth and home was not enough. Women found that they needed to find work outside the home. Unfortunately, the idea that caring for the home was both women’s work and a career in and of itself would be a lasting one.

A Home Economics Class

The origins of the second shift really rises with the Industrial Revolution. The rise of factory work sent men to factory jobs, and left women to care for the home. The Victorians reinforced the idea of separate spheres for men and women. The ideal woman was an “angel of the home” who would provide relief for her world-weary husband. Women’s work, therefore, was defined as housework.

The 1920s also marked the beginning of the rise of housewifery as a science. As new household technologies were developed, home economics became an degree. Women now had to be taught how to properly run a home, and running a home became a legitimate career. “Housekeeping and child care became specialized missions that required commitment, talent, training, executive abilities, and professional skills” (Woloch 292). Standards of housekeeping rose. But with higher levels of cleanliness, came higher demands on women’s time.

Now cooking, cleaning, and childcare is a full time job, and women who are able to stay at home are gaining recognition for their contributions to their family. Unfortunately, caring for the home becomes a full time job for those that have jobs outside the home, as well. This is the Second Shift.

The Second Shift

July 17, 2013

The Second Shift refers to the idea that many women actually have two jobs: their job for pay, and then their job of wife and mother within the home. The second shift specifically refers to women needing to come home after work to do household chores – laundry, cooking, childcare, etc. This blog so far has looked at the ramifications of women’s work, and how paid and unpaid work jostle for attention in a woman’s life. The second shift is the culmination of all of these ideas. Which is more important, her duty as wage earner or her role as wife and mother?

Sources for this series:

Hall, Francine S., and Douglas T. Hall. The Two-career Couple. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub., 1979. Print.

 Hochschild, Arlie Russell, and Anne Machung. The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. New York, NY: Viking, 1989. Print.
Hood, Jane C. Becoming a Two-job Family. New York, NY: Praeger, 1983. Print.

 Librarian Karen. “Not a Happy Housewife: Why I Don’t Relate to TV Commercials.” Gender Focus. N.p., 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 17 July 2013.

Strasser, Annie-Rose. “More Women Are Breadwinners, But They Still Can’t Get Out Of The Kitchen.” Think Progress. Think Progress, 25 June 2012. Web. 17 July 2013.
 Woloch, Nancy. Women And the American Experience. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Print.

After going through the pain of divorce, and the trials of establishing themselves again, no one would ever choose to remarry, right? Well, no. It seems that people feel that even though their first relationship failed, there is still hope for love, yet. In fact, more than three-fourths of divorced people choose to remarry or form a quasi-married relationship (Furstenberg). We are, it seems, a romantic people at heart.

The number of men who remarry is slightly higher than women, and this may be do to gendered assumptions about household labor. In a previous blog, we saw an example of a man who won custody, in part because he had a new wife who could provide adequate childcare. The assumptions about gender differences and roles often puts them in a privileged position when it comes to ideas about housework. Thus it works in their favor to remarry.

Women, on the other hand, seem to be more cautious. This has led to higher rates of cohabitation for those who still want a relationship, but perhaps do not want to remarry. Indeed, studies show that while cohabiting women still do a larger share of housework than men do, overall housework is more evenly split than amongst married couples. And further, cohabiting couples seek more gender parity when it comes to wage earning (Kelly). These women refuse to be placed in the same position in their new relationships as in their old relationships.

That position is one that undervalues their work as wives and mothers. A position where alimony is contested because a woman’s labor inside the home remains invisible even as it is recognized. Where women have to pick up extra shifts because child support does not go far enough. Then, because they work to provide for their families, they are villainized as bad mothers incapable of parenting. It is no wonder many women find themselves wary of remarriage.

Even though the majority of children end up in their mother’s care after a divorce, some do end up in the care of their father. As Susan Chira says, “It is important to remember that most mothers still get custody of children…yet reviews of custody cases have shown that when fathers fight for custody, they often win” (173). The court system, and society at large, still have negative feelings towards single mothers. 

Even with child support and alimony payments, most women find that they must work to support their families. There are two double standards at play here. The first is the fact that if a woman works while married, she is boosting the family’s standard of living alongside her husband, but after divorce she is now a terrible mother who does not put her children before her job. The second is that single fathers who perform a balancing act between work and family people see as heroic, while his female mirror image is demonized.

In A Mother’s Place, Chira recounts the story of a woman who had to work two evening shifts a week to make ends meet. She left her young son with her former in-laws those two nights. Her ex-husband worked third shift every night, and also left their son with his parents. He sued for custody and won, because “it was in [the child’s] best interest…because his mother is now working nights” (174). She recounts another story in a similar vein, where the ex-husband won custody because his new wife would be able to provide appropriate child care (176). He would not actually be taking care of the children, mind you, but his new domestic servant wife.

And so, women continue to be placed in a position where they are force to choose between their children or being able to provide for their children. These fathers are not necessarily being selfish, one would hope they want custody because they want to spend more time with their children. Yet they cannot see that their position as traditional bread winners provides the privilege to be able to work and be parents, all at the same time. If only they could see that women also need this privilege.

Child Support

July 9, 2013

If alimony is recognition and support for the sacrifices women chose to make within a marriage, then child support is recognition and support for one’s children. Unlike alimony, which often is awarded for “invisible” labor and “what if” scenarios, child support payments go towards something real, something tangible. Children are expensive, and they take money to properly care for.

While child support laws vary state by state, generally the payment goes from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Usually this also means that the parent with the most income potential pays support to the parent with the least income potential. The reason these often coincide is twofold; one, because women are still seen as the primary caretakers, they are more likely to be awarded custody. Two, as discussed in the last post, women often give up earning potential while married, to find themselves under employed when they divorce.

Women suddenly find themselves shouldering the entire cost of raising a child, or multiple children. Add to those costs the additional cost of child care which before was either free because she was doing it herself, or subsidized because she worked fewer hours or her husband provided some of the duties.

Child support is supposed to help cover the expensive gap left by divorce, yet in 2009 the Census Bureau reported that only “41.2 percent of custodial parents received the full amount of child support owed them”. Even for those who received the child support owed to them, the average amount was only $300 a month.

So what gives? Why do so many fathers seem not interested in the welfare of their children? Like with alimony, society brands women who receive child support as attempting to “trap” a man with a financial obligation, and therefore the child support does not really go to their children, but to fund her expensive habits. Unfortunately, this attitude both untrue, and harmful for the children involved.

To this day, women do a disproportionate amount of household labor and childcare in marriages that consist of one man and one woman.* Maintaining a household consists of large amounts of work. Work that often not recognized as work. So what does a newly divorced woman get for her years of unpaid labor? Enter Alimony.

Alimony is meant to be financial compensation paid from the breadwinning spouse to the spouse that had been financially supported. Although alimony laws are gender-neutral, the person receiving support is the wife, in the majority of cases. Further, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA) in 1970 stated that spousal maintenance and child support decisions were not to be based on marital misconduct (Wardle 87). Therefore, alimony is not compensation for wrongs done, but recognition for work done.

Alimony is more than a sort of back log of wages, but also recognition of the multiple ways many wives support their husbands. Jeff Flanders in Forbes list a few of these: the wife aided the husband’s career by caring for the home, which provided time to invest in his career. While he is increasing his earning potential, she gave up her ability to have a career by investing her time in the family. When the marriage comes to an end, the a housewife is left almost unemployable while the husband’s career has not suffered.

Yet women who accept alimony payments are looked down upon. They are seen as lazy because they had the luxury of being house wives, and now they are still taking their husband’s money, even in divorce. It seems to me that women’s work, even when being legally and monetarily recognized, is still being erased.


* More on this coming next week.