The phrase ‘the second shift’ refers to that whole second workday most women put in after they get home from their real jobs. I read a recently that nowadays men are doing just as much around the house as their wives. I certainly hope this is true.
They sure weren’t when Arlie Hochschild spent eight straight years conducting the research for her book The Second Shift. Observing daily life in the homes of 50 working couples with children, she found that only 20% of American men shared the extra work of chores and childcare while women put in an average of 15 hours a week on those tasks, which add up to an entire month of 24-hour days.
You could resent the heck out of your spouse living this way, but what many women do is create a ‘story’ that allows them to keep resentment at bay. One woman named Nancy explained that her husband Evan ‘did’ the downstairs while she did the upstairs – only in their house doing the upstairs meant doing all the work relating to the kitchen, living room, dining room, bedrooms and bathrooms, while Evan, for his part, handled the garage.
Oh, and the dog. He did the dog.
But this way of framing things allowed Nancy to think of Evan as pulling his weight. When asked by Hochschild to reflect on this, Evan said, “We don’t keep count of who does what,” quickly adding, “Whoever gets home first starts the dinner,” a statement which did not in any way line up with what Hochschild saw as a frequent visitor.
This was just their ‘story’, the ‘family myth’ as she calls it that they had devised to cover up the imbalance. “The truth was, Nancy made the dinner.”
Other husbands in her survey had stories of their own. One said, with a perfectly straight face, that he made all the pies.
“But I was brought up to do housework,” explained poor Nancy, in charge of every room in the house. “Evan wasn’t.”
And there’s the crux of it right there. As Hochschild puts it, “the female culture has shifted more rapidly than the male culture, and the image of the go-get-‘em woman has yet to be matched by the image of the let’s-take-care-of-the-kids-together man.”
Or as Gloria Steinem said a while ago to a standing-room-only crowd of fellow Smith College graduates, “The problem is that when I go around and speak on campuses, I still don’t get young men standing up and saying, “How can I combine career and family?”
The day will come though, I feel sure – provided we work hard on raising up strong and fair- minded little girls - AND get them the heck away from all that appalling sex-kitten apparel they’re showing these days in the stores.
Tomorrow I won’t be so crotchety, I promise.