Today, women are expected to be the default caretakers in their households because of the socially constructed expectation that has emerged through history. Even though they are working full-time, women feel an overwhelming urge to continue to be the primary caretakers.
Society applauds women willing to give up their jobs to benefit their families. It teaches them that they should do more of it and that it is the most important thing they can do for their family. We subconsciously follow the path that society outlines, as if it is a rule.
Many women report that they cannot achieve success personally or professionally in today’s world. A strong sense of failure plagues them. Women are forced to choose between their careers and their family. We are our own worst enemies as we create expectations and constraints that don’t actually exist.
Although society insists on the equality of men and women, men’s traditional task of breadwinning is still considered more meaningful and vital than women’s traditional work of caring for their families. As a result, a significant social and economic imbalance puts women at a disadvantage. For example, it was only recently that Actor and Executive Producer Geena Davis launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media to prove (with data) that women were underrepresented in Hollywood. Geena became empowered to create change after being shut out of director roles because she was female. Her studies prove that women directed only 4% of studio features.
As evident in Hollywood, this presents a dual problem of having too few women at the top and far too many at the bottom. Many women share that they are burdened with the primary responsibility for caretaking while working in a system that devalues and gives little support for the jobs they undertake.
Motherhood makes women more likely to seek jobs with greater flexibility and work from home more frequently, lowering pay. Taking time off work to care for their family members is more common among women than men. This causes women to be cut off from the workforce, lowering their income and saving for future goals like retirement.
However, while wealthier women can and do purchase childcare services, many of them also opt to work part-time to gain flexibility so they can provide their children with the stimulation and education they require.
What Progress Have Women Made In their Familial and Workplace Roles?
Women have made significant strides in advancement and equality, particularly in the workplace. The wage gap between men and women has decreased rapidly during the last few decades.
Over half of all working women in the United States say they are the default caretakers in their households, with working mothers accounting for 42 percent. Even while women are more educated and more employable than ever before, they continue to shoulder the majority of household and familial responsibilities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1920, women made up 20% of the labor force; today, they make up 47%. Traditionally, women were expected to stay at home and care for their families full-time without financial contribution to the household income.
Women have been attending college and earning degrees and certificates at a higher rate than men for the past two decades. Women are becoming more literate and pursuing higher education faster than ever before. Unlike generations ago, women earn more degrees, including masters and doctoral degrees, than men.
The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) reports that women received 52.9% of all Ph.D. degrees in American universities in 2019, and males received 47.1%. As a result, women now have more opportunities to put their skills to use. Also, today women have a say in family decisions because most become default caretakers.
The Impacts of the Pandemic on the Demands of Women
According to the International Labor Organization report, the pandemic reduced 4.2% of women’s employment between 2019 and 2020, resulting in 54 million jobs globally. Working women were forced to monitor their children during lockdown while they attended classes remotely and managed their jobs effectively. Without a nanny, caretaker, or household help, it became impossible for these women to succeed at both.
Before the pandemic, most women between 18 and 64 were employed. 25% of the working women had children under 14 at home. The majority of these working women were the primary caretakers in their households.
Even though women’s predicted employment growth rate after the pandemic is more than men’s, it will still be insufficient to restore women’s employment levels to what they were before the pandemic. According to current estimates, 1.9 percent of women in the workforce before the pandemic are still out of work. Some of the factors influencing these rates include motherhood and childcare.
Caregiving is strongly associated with women’s gender identity, widely acknowledged. Consequently, caring becomes a natural responsibility for women who see it as a duty to be the best caretaker. Is it time to start re-thinking this?
Shelly Sood, a female entrepreneur at GIOSTAR Chicago, author, and mother of 3 shares how she is bridging the gap of underrepresented leading roles for female minorities in Hollywood through her screenplay that will star a South Asian female. She leverages the nightmare she endured of her husband’s untreated mental illness to launch her company and write a memoir.
As we tell one story at a time, we create change.