Ever since women started to enter traditionally male-dominated workforces in droves, we have been told to opt out, to lean in, to be a boss bitch — but not too bossy. Even as women’s approaches to work have changed, however, one thing has remained constant: the reality of unpaid labor, or our “second shift.”
Sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term “second shift” in her renowned 1989 book of the same name. Women, Hochschild found, were making progress in the workplace but less so at home, where they still returned after doing paid work to do another “shift” of unpaid housework, child care, and other forms of emotional labor.
While studies in the time since Hochschild's book was published indicate that strides have been made toward recognizing all forms of women’s labor, plenty of women across the country believe it’s not nearly enough. They plan to participate in Wednesday’s A Day Without a Woman by striking from all forms of labor.
Hochschild spoke to MTV News ahead of the strike (and International Women’s Day) about the state of women and labor — especially emotional labor — in our tumultuous political climate.
[ This interview has been condensed and edited.]
Much attention has been paid to the Day Without a Woman’s call for women to refuse to do paid labor. But less attention has been paid to this strike’s call for women to shirk unpaid labor as well. How do you think an unpaid-labor strike will resonate?
Arlie Hochschild: I’ve just done this book, Strangers in Their Own Land, about the right wing and thinking about how we can enhance crossover issues, how we — and by “we” I mean progressives — can appeal to the women who voted for Donald Trump, or men who voted Republican. I think both [political] sides would appreciate the message that women do work of enormous value, and the first thing we need to do is not just say, “Damn you, you don’t appreciate me,” but celebrate and honor that work.
Let’s start with unpaid work of the home. Think of the nurture of children. It’s valuable to honor work that’s invisible — like patience during a child’s meltdown, for example. Women also do unpaid caregiver’s work — the work of emotional care. In the family context, she’s helping others in the family care about people; she helps others be caregivers, too. She nurtures her partner when he or she has had a difficult day.
There’s also nurture: that seems to me the most unnoticed part of paid work. Women are the majority of teachers, nurses, nurse practitioners, child-care workers, elder-care workers, dental assistants — all of this is the caring side of public life, which women do often in underpaid jobs, on both sides of the political spectrum.
What do you think about the strategy of striking for a single day, especially given criticism that the strike caters to women with relative privilege, as many women, for many reasons, aren’t able to go a day without work?
Hochschild: I think the thing would be to focus on feminist crossover issues. More women make minimum wage than men. If you’re doing this caregiving work, let’s pay for it, let’s honor it. Women care about health, so save Obamacare. Women care about peace, so keep us in a peacetime. I think broadening these three issues would get a lot of feminists. I think right-wing women would go for [this day of action] if it were a celebration of care — a value and honor of care — [or if it were done] on behalf of the women who could not be present [by] marching on behalf of the women who cannot join us.
You wrote The Second Shift more than 25 years ago. What do we still have to accomplish in order to address this issue? Do you think there’s any hope for addressing those things during Trump’s presidency?
Hochschild: Generally, the statistics on male sharing of physical labor — like making meals, cleaning the house, and especially the care of children — has improved in the last 25 years. There’s still a gap between the amount of leisure [time] that women have and men have. And those statistics don’t count the rising proportion of single mothers, where the [partner] isn’t doing anything. And that’s especially true for blue-collar families, who have a much higher proportion of single mothers.
I think there are things we can coordinate and accomplish in order to really get some hope for feminist issues, such as paying for child care. [But ultimately], the main work is getting an alternative to Donald Trump. It’s urgent. I’m not looking for “could it be better” with this cast of Cabinet. So what can we hope for in the next four years — or, god help us, eight — is a funny question to ask. I’m not looking for hope. I’m looking for opposition.
Celebrate International Women’s Day all week with us at MTVNews.com, and for more on A Day Without A Woman, visit Look Different.