When the Wall Street Journal published an article with the headline, How the Coronavirus Threatens to Set Back Women’s Careers, I thought about the journalism fellowship I had applied to back in May and how mainstream online learning could be my chance to finally go back to school, only to defer my spot thanks to Coronavirus’ impact on K-12 school.
If you multiply this scenario and that of other far more accomplished women across the country whose domestic support network fell out from under them, you’ve got thousands of women facing a rush of domestic duties, many of whom are struggling to stay afloat. True, coronavirus has impacted men too, but statistically, women still bear the majority of the burden when it comes to childcare. In a 2014 study, researchers found it to be true that among the Physician-Researchers studied, women spent more time on domestic duties than their spouses, and were more likely to take time off when childcare disruptions occurred.
In the article, the Wall Street Journal reports, “If employers don’t take more action to shore up mothers in their jobs, McKinsey and Lean In warn, they could see the percentage gains women have made over the past several years up and down the management ladder dissipate.”
Employers can do a lot, and many have yet to do very much. The same goes for the state. But what is to be done of the disproportionate share of childcare in the home that consistently leads to disruptions in women’s careers and aspirations more than men?
To blame is the idea that the domestic domain belongs to women. While this idea seems harmonious and harmless on its face, it draws a line based on gender that imposes additional disruption and demands on women that men do not face. Hence the rhetoric about “hard choices” for women when it comes to career or family as women drop out, fall behind, or choose alternative career paths or staying home. Hence the homogeneous makeup in the positions of influence.
Equality between the sexes is the state of being equal in terms of opportunity and status. It’s a qualitative definition, not quantitative. For example, if an alien landed on Earth and observed the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, it would find that things between them look quite the same in terms of wealth and status, though they are not identical. Equality is not about interchangeability. It’s about outcomes and potential.
When the director of the fellowship program expressed sympathy and a willingness to adjust the schedule for parents, it still wasn’t enough to sway me. We’re in a global pandemic, after all, and my kids’ education is at stake. It was one of those “hard choices” that always seem to land at my feet. If I were born a guy, there’s a good chance I would have pushed ahead with the program. Because like I told a friend via text message, if I were born a guy, I probably would not be remote schooling my kids right now anyway.