Living or just surviving? That is the question…
Numerous feminists have deplored the challenge represented by combining full time employment with housework and raising kids. The famous argument goes as follows: financial liberation and proper fulfillment require women to have their own career. But full time work does not mean rest before and at the end of a hard working day. Women still have to assume a lot of chores and childcare, on top of their daily employment. This actually leads to taking on two jobs: for an employer and at home. For many feminists, the response is straightforward: the abolition of gender stereotypes will lead to gender equality, which will in turn liberate women.
This argument is generally too simplistic (1) but for our current topic the problem is the following: in more and more current households, men and women do share a lot of the childcare and domestic chores. This is often out of necessity rather than because of a disappearance of gender stereotypes. Unable to pay for a stay-at-home nanny or a cleaner, one parent often accomplishes chores when the other is still at work or busy dropping or picking up the kids. Therefore, the ‘working poor’ are reaching more gender equality in those everyday tasks. But this is mainly because their equally difficult material situation forces them to both bear the burden of domestic tasks. Even if gender biases persist, practices are evolving.
In other words: in many households, not only do fathers and mothers work full time but they also clean, tidy, wash up and look after their kids. Both fathers and mothers wake up at night to comfort and feed their babies, both play with their kids, feed them and dress them. Both of them clean, tidy, commute, drop their kids to school or expensive nurseries, then go to work, respond to demanding business targets and accomplish the tasks required by their positions. At the end of a tiring working day they then pick up their kids, come back home exhausted and still have to, again, clean, tidy, play with their tired kids, feed them and finally put them to bed… This is the average day of an average “working family”.
These working parents do not earn enough to live well, travel to comfortable holidays or buy expensive cars. They just work to pay the rent or mortgage, food, clothes and childcare. Maybe they will get indebted in order to enjoy one holiday a year in the sun or get a brand new car. Rather than properly living, they work to enrich the stakeholders of their companies and to pay other people to look after their children.
In theory, the solution seems simple: end austerity, invest in free or accessible childcare, increase wages, create career progressions, cap the cost of accommodation, build more affordable homes and reduce the working week. Among other things (2).
But what about the short to medium term? How can working families find a better balance within the existing unjust structures?
A potential solution is to focus on living rather than just surviving. This would require negotiating higher wages or homeworking whenever possible. When none of these avenues is possible because of a lack of bargaining power, then why not envisage a radical change of lifestyle?
Indeed, many parents decide to find a part-time job so that they can save on childcare and spend more time with their children and on their hobbies. The career progression might be less, the wage lower, the holidays and mortgage and credit card possibilities reduced…But this choice gives them the immediate satisfaction of using their time for more meaningful purposes. Cynically, this also reduces the amount of time they spend being exploited to increase the profit gained by a minority. Why not reduce this exploitation to only half or a third of the working week?
This will also allow those brave enough to take that leap to devote some of their creative energy to activities they truly value. Away from the draining, repetitive, and alienating tasks required by many jobs, they will be their own masters, at least a few hours per week. Finally yet importantly, they will get to spend beautiful and valuable moments with their little ones and actually see them grow.
Dr in Politics, author and consultant.
Latest book: “For a sovereign Europe”, Peter Lang : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sovereign-Europe-Sophie-Heine/dp/1789974585/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=sophie+heine&qid=1583930953&s=books&sr=1-1
(1) For a crititicism and alternative to the mainstream approach to gender stereotypes see some of my other publications:
(2) For more on the progressive policy changes that need to be implemented to reach more individual freedom, see my books: