One of my earliest memories of my mother is seeing her cut vegetables while working on a presentation on her computer. I found it funny then, how frazzled she seemed. My father was sat on the couch reading the morning newspaper. At the time, I didn’t think much of it; I assumed this was just how life was for every household. Unfortunately, this is still the reality in many homes. If you don’t quite understand what’s wrong with this situation, it’s important to learn about the second shift.
The second shift, also known as the double burden, is a phrase first coined by Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist and academic. It is used to describe the workloads that women often have thrust upon them over and above men’s daily workloads. Most commonly, the second shift involves domestic labour, like cooking and cleaning, and childcare.
This phenomenon has become a cultural universal in society – no matter where you go, women are now expected to contribute to household income through a job and fulfil their double burden, whereas men are not held to the same standards. Think about your childhood for a second: were you born into one of the few households in which chores like laundry, washing the dishes, or mopping the floors, were shared equally? Or did your mom do most of the work? If your home was traditional and anything like mine, it was probably the latter.
Now, this isn’t an argument for why women should stop working and stay at home. Rather, the second shift questions why domestic tasks are often feminised and completed by women instead of being more equitably distributed between all members of the family – men included. Often times, it comes down to how we raise boys and girls differently, which proves detrimental in the future.
For instance, at your next dinner party, observe more carefully. Examine who is in the kitchen helping the grownups prepare the meal or who is serving the guests their welcome drink. If I’ve learnt anything as a young girl growing up in India, it’s most likely the hosts’ or guests’ daughters. Meanwhile, the sons will probably run around and play, excited for the meal that they would not have had to work for.
That is only one example of how we rear boys and girls differently in society. There are numerous situations just like this one that form a pattern through which women are held to different (and usually higher) standards that are impossible to meet. The next time you see your mom doing everything she can to run the household – cooking breakfast, preparing everyone’s lunch boxes, ironing the uniforms, heading to work, and coming back exhausted only to start helping the kids with homework and getting dinner started – don’t call her wonder woman. Instead, lend her a hand and hold your other family members accountable.
Don’t turn the second shift into something to be revered or appreciated, because it’s not. It is just another reminder of the gender bias and inequity that infiltrates our spaces, even our homes. Therefore, to make an impact, it’s important to call your family out for their unequal practices even when it seems scary or like it will result in consequences for you. The second shift should be everyone’s reality or nobody’s.