Coronavirus Is Having an Outsized Impact on Working Moms
The consequences of COVID-19 are already gendered
As I write this column, three little girls are in the room next to me playing (and occasionally screaming). I usually don’t have children in my home on a workday morning, but such is the new reality while the coronavirus makes its way through the United States.
My daughter’s school sent out an email yesterday afternoon that classes would be canceled for the rest of the week. Since spring break was already scheduled to begin next week, my daughter is now effectively out of school for three weeks. Given that so many people are canceling travel and vacation plans, we’re talking about hundreds of kids (probably thousands in New York) out of school with nowhere to go. That creates a whole other headache for parents already busy worrying about preventing ourselves and our families from contracting the virus.
In addition to the strain these closings put on low-income families — many of whom depend on the two meals a day their children get at school — working parents are going to suffer. Working moms, in particular.
A few minutes after my daughter’s school sent out the email notifying parents of the closure, I received five texts from other moms all essentially saying the same thing: What the fuck are we going to do?
It will mostly be women who rearrange their schedules to take care of their kids.
It’s still women who do the majority of care work — whether they work outside the home or not. It will mostly be women who rearrange their schedules to take care of their kids and who organize with other moms to plan for playdates and trade off days to care for each other’s children.
Not to mention: We all have a pretty good sense of who is buying the antibacterial hand soap, scouring Amazon for price-gauged hand sanitizer, and stocking the pantry with canned goods.
All of this extra work carries extra risk. It’s women who usually have the most contact with children and elderly parents and who go to the store to do the shopping. Right now, the virus is more deadly for men who contract it, but we need to consider how women’s caretaking can spread the disease.
Ironically, while women perform this extra work around preparing for and dealing with the consequences of coronavirus, the White House’s coronavirus task force, a Mike Pence-led coalition focusing on preventing the spread of COVID-19, is entirely male. That lack of representation means less understanding of how coronavirus will impact women and the way women’s invisible labor could impact the spread of the virus. This isn’t just a feminist issue — it’s a health issue.
As for me, I have three little girls to go make lunch for.