Before the pandemic hit, 2020 was going to be the year Melissa* went back to work. “I had taken four years off to raise two children and I was itching to use my brain again,” she says. “There are only so many nursery rhymes one can remember and only so many tantrums one can lovingly endure.”
Melissa was lucky. Despite soaring unemployment, she was offered a job. But the disruption caused by the pandemic meant her local nurseries closed and she was unable to arrange childcare in time to take up her new position. When she was offered a second full-time job, she asked if it would be possible to discuss flexible working and explained that she might need a little time to find childcare. The company responded with a one-line email retracting the job offer. It wasn’t until she was finally offered a role at a non-profit with an all-female team (and an understanding of her caring responsibilities), that she was able to begin work.
Even now, Melissa is under enormous pressure. “I work every second that I don’t have the kids. That means zero downtime for myself. I work until 10pm and wake an hour before everyone else in the house to ensure I can keep up with the chores. My husband is a wonderful man, but he has had to make zero sacrifices… He gets his downtime [after] the kids’ bedtime.”
The difference between their situations, as Melissa puts it, is “stark”.
She isn’t alone. While we have all been impacted in different and complicated ways by the unprecedented events of this year, reports coming in thick and fast from women to my Everyday Sexism Project, and other organisations and charities, suggest that the impact on gender equality has been massive.
A sexual division of labour in a sexually dimorphic species is such a shock, isn’t it?
Further, quite how much is it an advance in sexual equality if one set of women are paid to look after other women’s kids? Sure, it might be economic – perhaps one paid woman can look after more than one woman’s kids – and all that but how much of it is actually an advance in gender differences?