This article is part of a series showcasing the thought leaders who will take the (virtual) stage for Dare to Self-Care, a free event meant to help women everywhere restore their mental, emotional, and physical health—no matter where they are in their wellness journeys. Click here to join the party at 3 p.m. E.T./12 p.m. P.T. on Monday, May 10.
Even as more and more women join the workforce, we’re still often doing most of the work at home too. Not just the cooking and the cleaning, but the invisible minutiae that allow a household to get—and keep—its shit together. It’s what sociologist Arlene Kaplan Daniels once described as “the work involved in the social construction of daily life.” It’s not the “real work” or the literal heavy lifting; it’s “When is the dog’s checkup?” and “What kind of cardboard does the second-grader need for his school project?” These are the questions women find themselves simultaneously asking and answering—over and over again, every waking hour of every day.
The pandemic-induced deterioration of work-life boundaries has exacerbated this gender imbalance, forcing women to ask (and answer) one more question: What is our time really worth? For author Eve Rodsky, who drew from Kaplan Daniels for her book Fair Play, the answer lay somewhere in her car, amid a breast pump, client contracts, and some blueberries.
“‘Become a gendered-division-of-labor expert’ was not in my diary in third grade,” says Rodsky, while on deadline for her second book. Instead, she would find her eventual career path during “a breakdown on the side of the road over off-season blueberries.” In the middle of a chaotic day of work and domestic errands, she got a text from her husband: “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” The six-word message felt like a receipt for her time, and it wasn’t worth as much as his. It confirmed what Rodsky had long suspected: that every household and child-care duty had become, by default—or, as she puts it, “she-fault”—hers.
“I had a pen between my legs to mark up the contracts,” says Rodsky. “I was driving to pick up my older son from his toddler transitional program, and the pen was stabbing me in the vagina every time I hit the brakes. This pen was the metaphor for the day: being stabbed in the vagina. I felt I was failing my family and my husband for not being the fulfiller of his smoothie needs.”
How did someone with such professional clout—a Harvard Law degree and a job in foundation management at J.P. Morgan—find herself in a marriage where she was also tasked with the bulk of her family’s housework too?
In that side-of-the-road breakdown moment, she was far from alone. Even in many households where the man in the heterosexual couple believes men and women are equal, it’s still assumed that most domestic tasks fall on the woman. According to the United Nations, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household work than men. In a practical sense, this limits our professional prospects—less time for paid labor or for pursuing qualifications—and in a personal sense, it devours time that could be spent on hobbies, friendships, or self-exploration. So an unequal division of household labor can chip away at a woman’s identity.
During next week’s Dare to Self-Care virtual event, Rodsky will explore the concept of “unicorn time”—a space where women can explore the skills, interests, and passions that keep them “vibrant.”