The Pandemic Housework Dilemma Is Whitewashed
This period has exposed unequal domestic labor issues, but the centering is still on White, middle-class, heterosexual women
Since the start of the pandemic, an old dilemma has been revived: the unequal gendered division of housework in the home. For middle-class workers who have been working from home to avoid the coronavirus, the home now functions as an office, online school, gym, leisure space, and whatever else is necessary, which has doubled — if not tripled — the housework to be done. According to dozens of news reports and studies, this new dynamic has caused the gender gap inherent to household management to widen, overworking middle-class mothers and reducing the issue of housework to personal negotiations between couples.
Though these articles depict a relevant gender issue that shapes some women’s daily lives, they are also, frustratingly, often race- and class-blind, focusing on White, middle-class, heterosexual workers and their frustrations with work-from-home setups. There are many things missing from the picture painted by these articles that seem to be published every couple of months; housework seems to not exist or matter when it comes to working-class women, single mothers, women of color, and LGBTQ couples. But the most egregious erasure these articles perpetuate is the fact that most care and maintenance work — also known as housework — is done by underpaid and undervalued racialized women. According to the International Labor Organization, there are at least 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 80% of whom are women of color, but this is seen as a separate issue to White women’s housework load.
The original feminist critique of housework that animated the feminist movement in the 1970s was not watered down or whitened. Feminist theorist Silvia Federici has long argued that the first example of feminism in the United States was the struggle of Black welfare mothers who mobilized in the 1960s to demand a wage for simply raising their children. This laid the groundwork for the Wages for Housework movement, which was not focused on White middle-class women, but was an internationalist, anti-capitalist, feminist framework that demanded a reimagined structure of waged work and housework. In…