Sociologist Susan Walzer published a research article in 1996, called “Thinking About the Baby,” pointing to this household gender gap. Scholars had already documented that women, even those who worked full time, were doing the majority of what came to be called the “second shift”: the work that greets us when we come home from work. Walzer was interested in the invisible part of this work, the kind that occupied people’s minds. She interviewed 23 husband-wife couples, finding them through the rather quaint method of reading birth announcements in a local newspaper. All had brought a baby home in the last year.
More of the Mental Work
Walzer found that women do more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance. They do more of the learning and information processing (like researching pediatricians).
They do more worrying (like wondering if their child is hitting his developmental milestones). And they do more organizing and delegating (like deciding when the mattress needs to be flipped or what to cook for dinner).
Even when their male partners “helped out” by doing their fair share of chores and errands, it was the women who noticed what needed to be done. She described, in other words, exactly the kind of work that Seidman’s poem captures so well.
Seidman isn’t complaining. Her poem is funny and sweet and clearly driven by a love for her family, husband included. And, to be fair, while women who are married to or cohabiting with men do more domestic work than their partners, husbands spend proportionally more time on paid work. Today the amount of sheer hours that men and women spend in combined paid and unpaid work is pretty close to equal.
But that doesn’t count the thinking.
Like much of the feminized work done more often by women than men, thinking, worrying, paying attention, and delegating is work that is largely invisible, gets almost no recognition, and involves no pay or benefits.
‘Superpower’ or No?
Seidman suggested she had a “seeing superpower” that her husband and children did not. But she doesn’t, of course. It’s just that her willingness to do it allows everyone else the freedom not to. If she were gone, you bet her husband would start noticing when the fridge went empty and the diapers disappeared. Thinking isn’t a superpower; it’s work. And it all too often seems only natural that women do the hard work of running a household.
We have come a long way toward giving women the freedom to build a life outside the home, but the last step may be an invisible one, happening mostly in our heads.
Conclusion: To truly be free, we need to free women’s minds. Of course, someone will always have to remember to buy toilet paper, but if that work were shared, women’s extra burdens would be lifted. Only then will women have as much lightness of mind as men. And when they do, I expect to be inspired by what they put their minds to. Read more on: time.com
A working dad makes sure that people don’t forget: There’s an Invisible Workload That Drags Men Down, Too.
Want to combat the invisible workload? You can by learning about the proven benefits of mindfulness and meditation.