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No, the “Second Shift” Isn’t Feminism’s Fault

No, the “Second Shift” Isn’t Feminism’s Fault December 9, 2020

Patriarchal blogger Lori Alexander recently posted this comment, from a reader of one of her posts:

Gaining rights through feminism is a lie. What rights did we gain in the past few decades? We gained the right to work like a dog trying to make enough money to live, only to come home and work again by cleaning the house, cooking, and taking care of children.

Interestingly enough, feminists are more than aware of the “second shift” and they actually see it as a roadblock to women’s rights, and as something that needs to be fixed. Namely, when both a husband a wife have jobs outside of the home, the husband should contribute an equal share to the childrearing and housekeeping. It’s absolutely true that that such shared labor does not always occur. My objection here is that Lori’s commenter does not seem to understand that the second shift is the result of patriarchy, and not feminism—and that it’s something feminists recognize as a problem.

Now, I understand that the argument being made here is that the second shift would disappear if we stopped expecting men to help with the housework and childcare at all and instead had married women quit their jobs to take on this part of the family labor entirely. However, I think this, too, is naive. Surely Lori’s commenter must know the old saying, “Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.” Think about it: when a mother stays home, she works all day just as her partner does—caring for a small child is exhausting work—and then, when he comes home, he gets to take a break from all of that work, but she doesn’t. Her work continues: dinner, cleanup, bath time for the little one, the bedtime routine.

And lest you note that a man can help with all of those things—that they can split the labor once he’s home from work—I’d note that that is absolutely not what supporters of patriarchy say. On the contrary. They argue that the home should be a place of peace and tranquility for the husband, and that he should be waited on hand and foot by his wife.

And yet, here’s how Lori’s commenter describes it:

My mother only had to cook, clean, and take care of the children. She did not need an outside job because my father brought in the money. Is having to work an outside job in addition to taking care of the home and children some sort of improvement over my mother’s lifestyle?

Here we go again…

First note the assumption that women should be expected to have an outside job and do all of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. I do not know a single feminist who holds this position. This is a straw man.

Second, things were not oh so wonderful on the halcyon days Debi’s commenter thinks she’s describing. As I already noted, a woman’s work was never done, and in addition, there was a big problem with men casting off a wife in middle age and taking a new, younger wife. In fact, this problem was so big that one of the earliest feminist battles was an effort to ensure that, in this case, the cast off wife would still receive a portion of her husband’s social security, because otherwise she would be destitute. 

Feminists argued that housewives did labor: that their work in the home should be seen as valuable, and should entitle them to receive social security in their old age. Lori’s commenter seems to have completely forgotten about any of this.

Back to Lori’s commenter:

I remember when men would give up a seat for women in a crowded room. I remember when women were allowed to go first in line. I remember when men opened doors for women because they respected them. It was nice to be treated like a princess or queen. Feminism has caused us to lose that respect. We have lost our privileged status in order to be “equal.”

Oh boy.

First, a woman who is pregnant or has small children with her is still given a seat in a crowded room, and is still allowed to go first in line—the same is true of old or infirm persons of any gender. I see no reason why an elderly man should be expected to give up his seat to a woman with no infirmities or encumbrances.

Second, exactly where does date rape fit into being “treated like a princess or queen”? How does marital rape being legal—or women being unable to divorce an abusive spouse unless they could prove infidelity—fit into being “treated like a princess or a queen”? How does being unable to leave one’s husband without being rendered destitute fit? Women were “privileged” as a way of masking all of the ways in which they were harmed, mistreated, and disadvantaged.

Women weren’t even allowed to sit on juries, meaning that they were tried and convinced by men, and not by their peers! So much for being “treated like a princess or a queen.”

Okay, one last bit from Lori’s commenter:

Feminism has led to gender confusion. Women want to be just like men. Now we are even gaining the right to use men’s bathrooms in some public places. Is that really an improvement over women having a bathroom only for women? Women used to have easier lives before the feminist movement began changing the way we live in an effort to be “equal.”

Uh … okay then.

First, that’s not what’s actually happening vis a vis bathrooms. I wish bathrooms had never entered the popular discourse. But second, if women had such easier lives before the feminist movement, why exactly did the feminist movement happen? At the very least, it’s clear that there was disagreement among women over whether the patriarchal order actually served them well. And yet, Lori’s commenter states that things were better before the feminist movement as though this is settled fact.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the rhetoric used by Lori and her supporters is that it’s rife with misunderstandings and factual mistakes. It would be nice if they took some time to learn what feminism actually is before trying to refute it.

I could also enter a long digression about how women’s entrance into the workforce was more the result of changing economic pressures during a de-industrializing economy that forced families into seeking a second income without the incumbent changes in gender norms necessary to ensure that women wouldn’t be saddled with both paying work and the housework, and I could further enter a digression on the reality that women of color always worked, even in the 1950s, but that would make this a much longer post. Suffice it to say: this topic is far more complicated than Lori has ever acknowledged.

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