A lockdown on women’s autonomy

Women are paying the price for lockdown – with greater childcare responsibilities and more precarious work.

Neil Davenport

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Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, radicals have consistently demanded stringent lockdown measures and have baulked at any loosening of the restrictions.

Adults have been driven from the workplace and from public life back into the home. Children are languishing at home rather than learning in the classroom. Indeed, it is teaching unions who have been the loudest advocates for primary and secondary schools to remain shut.

The pro-lockdown demands, which the government readily heeded, were given extra weight by the apparent need to ‘protect the NHS’ from being overwhelmed. So sacred has the NHS become to Labour supporters that everything else is relegated to a second-order issue – including the position of women in the home and in society. For women are losing out significantly from lockdown compared to men.

For radical feminists and socialists, freeing women from the drudgery of domestic labour was once a key demand to further women’s equality. It was argued that as long as a woman’s primary role was as mother, carer or homemaker, women would be prevented from playing a full and equal role in society.

Of course, over the past 30 years or so, there have been enormous advancements in society’s attitudes towards women and childcare. It is now expected that women should be financially independent and career-minded. Although the reality of childcare support is still lagging, and women can still find themselves treated unfairly at work after pregnancy, the position for women in society has drastically improved. The lockdown, however, has caused many women to fall back into the trap of domestic drudgery.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and University College London (UCL) has found that during the lockdown, mothers were once again doing more chores and spending more time with children. The findings applied to families where a mother and father were both working, as well as to families where both parents were furloughed or out of work. Mothers in these households are doing paid work during an average of five hours a day, in addition to doing the same amount of domestic work as their partner.

Female teachers with children have found it extremely difficult to juggle online teaching and childcare. Consequently, setting work rather than teaching online has been a pragmatic solution for many female teachers with children. Unfortunately, many of these teachers are worried that they could be letting their departments down for not providing enough live lessons. They are having to face complaints from parents who may compare them unfavourably with teachers who don’t have those responsibilities.

Disgracefully, it has been teaching unions who have been at the forefront of making life much harder for women. They are the ones who have overblown the dangers to staff and children of catching Covid-19 in schools, forcing millions of women to prioritise childcare over work.

Alongside the increased burdens in the home, more women than men are finding themselves unemployed due to the lockdown-created recession. Over the past week, redundancies have been announced at a number of major retailers. Boots, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have announced job losses caused by the lockdown. The UK hospitality sector could face around 320,000 job cuts as businesses attempt to recover from the pandemic. Far more women than men are employed in the retail and hospitality sectors. Unsurprisingly, the pension pot available for women has now shrunken three times as much as men’s over the same period.

Although there are more women working than ever before (around 15million), around 40 per cent of women only work part-time. The most obvious reason for this is that many women are juggling childcare responsibilities with work. For all the significant gains in women’s equalities, it is pragmatically accepted that women with children deprioritise paid work in favour of childcare and the home. This is particularly true for working-class women in low-paid and low-skilled employment. This restricts women’s capacity to gain skills and experience to obtain more secure work, promotion and higher pay. As the lockdown recession bites deeper, it will be working-class women who will be collecting P45s from high-street retailers. It seems the old argument of women acting as a ‘reserve army of labour’ – employed when the economy expands, made redundant when it contracts – is no longer confined to dusty sociology textbooks.

What the lockdown also highlights is the increasing reality gap between middle-class feminist concerns and the issues impacting on working-class women. In recent years, politicians trying it on with female journalists has been viewed as a traffic-stopping story compared to, say, working-class girls being raped in Rochdale and Bradford. And today, there is more outrage over how women are represented in washing-powder adverts than the domestic drudgery imposed on women by the lockdown. High-profile BBC journalists gain headlines over pay disputes with male TV presenters, while the collapse in sectors predominantly employing women barely registers (bar the odd spot on Woman’s Hour).

Feminism has long become a form of politics that articulates middle-class preoccupations or academic concerns over media representation and social etiquette. Woke radicalism has little to say on the real restrictions impacting on working-class women. It also shows how woke feminism can coexist with practices that actively place restrictions on women’s autonomy. And for all the millennial campaigns against sexism, radicals and trade unions have demanded policies which have forced women to prioritise their domestic rather than their working lives.

All of this is indicative of how radicals have gone from demanding social solidarities and joint action to celebrating social distancing and isolation. Radicals once wanted women to enjoy the same freedoms and access to public life as men. Now we are all expected to embrace an atomised existence of home and hearth.

Neil Davenport is a writer based in London.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

jamie murray

23rd July 2020 at 5:44 pm

Imagine an article/piece anywhere in any MSM outlet, print, broadcast or radio pointing out the many advantages women enjoy over men or where men were in a disadvantaged position compared to women, written sympathetically towards the plight of the men. I said “imagine” it as your imagination is the only place such an article could ever exist.
Neal-white knighting is an embarrassing thing to do and it’s not as if women are short of cheerleaders in the media. And p.s, most of the everyday women i know and meet aren’t particularly interested in the endless feminist led narrative that permeates “ALL” of the Western media at present, it’s really boring now.

Jonathan Palmer

23rd July 2020 at 3:35 pm

I remember in the late 70s copious articles from feminists that as men lost jobs in manufacturing, mining etc that the balance of power in relationships would shift positively towards women. The film “The Full Monty” was based on this idea.
Now that the shift may be the other way, an outcry.

steve moxon

23rd July 2020 at 2:22 pm

What bull, Neil Davenport.
Why not read up on the researched facts re women and work?
MOST women would prefer not to work: overwhelmingly women would prefer to work part-time rather than full-time, and a very large proportion would prefer not to work at all. The proportion of women who are careerist is quite small.
See the books by Catherine Hakim, the leading authority on women and work.

Jobley Jobley

23rd July 2020 at 2:17 pm

com

Jobley Jobley

23rd July 2020 at 2:16 pm

I am making 2000 dollar a weak Only doing 3 to 4 hours work A day .. Its Interesting and surprised Story, Must see my reply comments….

Jobley Jobley

23rd July 2020 at 2:16 pm

Here i STARTED ;>> Revenue3.

Kevin Baldeosingh

23rd July 2020 at 12:55 pm

Women forced to prioritize their children over work? The horror!

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 10:54 am

I’ll try again.

There has to be recognition that some people have had to cope with lockdown in flats without any outdoor space, that must have been terrible, if you had children to care for as well, even worse. As far as I am concerned that is a separate issue, everyone should have access to a garden of some kind.

Keeping your home clean and pleasant, cooking fresh food for your family, taking care of your children as best you can, is a necessity, whether you do it all in an exhausted state at the end of a long day working for someone else, or if you do it in a more relaxed way over several hours, either out of choice because, surprise surprise, you enjoy it, or because there’s a national crisis.

The words “domestic drudgery” are at the heart of feminist ideology. So-called ‘domestic drudgery’ is an opinion, an attitude of mind presented as fact. By using such emotive language feminists condemn women who choose to be full-time mothers and home makers, those words are a sneer at their lives and work. It proves whoever uses them does not care about women at all, it proves they have a radical agenda to use women for their own ends and dismantle the family.
Marx ist through and through.

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 8:16 am

Well well, I have slipped up and my comment has to be moderated, so much for free speech.

George Whale

23rd July 2020 at 8:24 am

I don’t think it’s intentional. The system on this site seems to randomly hold back comments from time to time.

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 9:03 am

You are right, I know it’s not intentional, I think certain combinations of words alert an algorithm, sometimes my wrath gets the better of me.

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 9:22 am

I don’t mean that my comment was rude but the combination of Marx ist Fem inist prop-a-ganda might have done for me. It’ll be interesting to see if they allow the full comment through.

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 8:14 am

A very fine piece of Marxist Feminist propaganda.

The lockdown has affected everyone’s autonomy.
There has to be recognition that some people have had to cope with lockdown in flats without any outdoor space, that must have been terrible, if you had children to care for as well, even worse. As far as I am concerned that is a separate issue, everyone should have a garden of some kind.
Keeping your home clean and pleasant, cooking fresh food for your family, taking care of your children as best you can, is a necessity, whether you do it all in an exhausted state at the end of a long day working for someone else, or if you do it in a more relaxed way over several hours, either out of choice because, surprise surprise you enjoy it, or because there’s a national crisis.

The words “domestic drudgery” are at the heart of feminist ideology, domestic drudgery is an opinion, an attitude of mind, presented as fact. By using such emotive language feminists condemn women who choose to be full-time mothers and home makers, it sneers at their lives and work. It proves whoever uses them does not care about women at all, it proves they have a radical agenda to use women for their own ends and dismantle the family.
Marxist through and through.

James Knight

23rd July 2020 at 2:23 pm

I suppose some people take pride in cleaning the toilet. I think it is “domestic drudgery” to most, though.

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 2:53 pm

A trite and trivial response.

Claire D

23rd July 2020 at 3:14 pm

Just out of curiosity, how many hours do you spend doing it ?

It takes me 5 minutes once a week.

George Whale

23rd July 2020 at 8:06 am

“… during the lockdown, mothers were once again… spending more time with children.” Oh, the horror. Better, of course, for a woman to go out to work, become a stranger to her kids and pay Svetlana to surrogate.

Mark Houghton

23rd July 2020 at 7:42 am

Women choose to have kids. Women choose to work in certain sectors of the economy. Does the author want to stop women making choices?

Oh, and more men than women die due to Covid so please let’s stop hearing about how hard it is for the women – as a man I find that deeply misandrist.

Stephen J

23rd July 2020 at 7:51 am

Yes but white man bad Mark!

(as well as Orange man)…

Christopher Souter

23rd July 2020 at 9:46 am

You don’t even need to qualify it, Stephen…
Just plain old “Man bad” is quite good enough, these days, don’t you think?

Gordon O Gopher

23rd July 2020 at 12:51 am

All feminists care about is lining their own pockets usually at the expense of the working class.

The Fawcett Society T-shirt controversy was a classic case; pat each other on the back in their £40 T-shirt’s while the women who make the garments in Mauritian sweatshops are lucky to earn £5 a day.

How the hell anyone could have so little shame in happily calling themselves a feminist is beyond me.

steve moxon

23rd July 2020 at 2:56 pm

The Faucet Society tapping the poor.
The Soiled Gusset Society, more like. Disinformation Central.
And anybody who either pays or charges £40 for a poxy T-shirt should be mightily embarrassed.

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