Quarantining brings back old gender norms

Sophia Gibson, Features Editor

With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, much of the world’s population has had to restructure their daily lives. In the Bay Area, the shelter in place order has forced adults to work remotely from home, and children to learn online. As families are constantly forced together, change in family dynamics and roles can occur.
Rachel Herbert, Director of Learning Services at Urban, said, “when everybody’s in the same place all of the time, the responsibilities that need to happen in a family have the potential to be much more visible to all involved… I do see a lot of situations where the burden has fallen more on the woman.”
Laura Hawkins, an Urban Math teacher, has experienced something similar. “I, as the mom, am planning out the day and making the schedule [for my children],” she said
In a national poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “four in ten Americans said that their life had been disrupted ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.” The survey also showed that “parents of children under 18 reflected disproportionately among that group.” In addition, the poll found that compared to men, women were more stressed, more likely to say they’re concerned about their income and more worried they might have to put themselves at risk because they couldn’t afford to stay at home in order to provide for their families.
“I’m the one whose out with the kids, trying to manage them, while also trying to teach a class,” Hawkins said. This is due to the fact that her husband is a therapist, so he legally cannot have their children in the same room while he is working.
However, in other families, women are taking over the responsibility of childcare simply because it has been the societal norm.
Herbert said, “I wonder if in a state of crisis, if people go to the roles they grew up observing, in ways that they have actively tried not to embody themselves.”
However, there are consequences to reverting back to traditional gender roles. When mothers take on the majority of house-related responsibilities, which includes childcare, burnout is likely to ensue. “I think if parents aren’t sharing this burden semi-equally, the parent who’s got more of that burden is gonna burn out,” said Hawkins.
Herbert believes Urban is doing its best to ensure that Urban’s faculty and staff are able to balance professional and family life. “I felt incredibly empowered by how Urban said we want to be family-friendly in this process [of transitioning online during the pandemic],” she said.
Yet, Hawkins has her concerns and believes that there is still room for improvement within the Urban community. She said that the school could do more to ensure that both fathers and mothers are given equal treatment to certify that both parents carry the burden equally. “I think Urban is more focused on mom parenting. I think dads [are] not so much a part of the conversation,” she said.
Another inequality that has come to light amidst the pandemic is that of single parents. It is vital to remember that not all parents have the luxury of co-parenting. In fact, according to 2019 US Census Bureau Data, “80 percent of single-parent households are headed by single mothers.” This puts a disproportional burden on women amid the pandemic. “what kind of support will be provided to those moms who might’ve had to quit their jobs? What are they supposed to do,” said, Herbert. Although she admits she doesn’t have a perfect answer, she believes the country could be doing more to help women. She said, “there should be a massive flood of societal support to those moms and those families and I don’t see that happening.”
Though many aspects about the future are uncertain during the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is crystal clear: the pandemic has had rippling effects on American family life. How the United States chooses to fight the inequalities that have been brought to light, may help pave the road to more equitable policy change after the passing of Covid-19. “If we had universal health care and really good childcare options, not just [wealthy] families that could afford a nanny, I think that would change this dynamic quite a bit,” said Herbert.