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The Manifestation of Injustice

What is a housewife? By definition, a housewife is a woman whose main job is caring for her family and managing household affairs while her partner goes out to work. This modern occupation is a modified version of the “traditional” responsibilities of women — cooking, cleaning, and nurturing for the family — that have persevered throughout history, though the duties involved have changed little. If anything, women are now expected to not only take on the role of a housewife but to also work to earn their keep. This diverges from the traditional belief that women ought to stay at home, thus many have proposed a modern solution for this modern problem. They affirmed that since women are increasingly becoming active members of the economic class, they should perform both duties expected of them — responsibilities pertaining to the family and economy. Such propositions generate unfair treatment of working women and give rise to a phenomenon called the “third shift”. Ultimately, in present-day society, women are subjected to the roles of being both their family’s primary care provider and active breadwinner. 

According to “The Feminine Mystique” written by Betty Friedan, in the past, a woman’s biggest ambition in life was to be the perfect wife to their husband and mother to their children. They gloried in their role as a housewife and longed to live life like the American suburban housewives depicted in pretty pictures. However, the feminine perspective has changed with time and fighting for their husbands was no longer a top priority. In stark comparison with the past, women now desire independence, and they have the means to do so. Throughout history, women have been shunned from the streets, and a working woman meant her husband was incapable, hence bringing shame to the family. Now, things are different. Unfortunately, despite the advancements in women’s rights, society doesn’t view things quite the same way. As noted by Davis, “Having stepped outside their ‘natural’ sphere, women were not to be treated as full-fledged wage workers. […] Their exploitation was even more intense than the exploitation suffered by their male counterparts” (p. 229). Someone has to cook the food, clean the house, and take care of the children. Capitalists ponder, why should it be the men who have always worked when we have women whose original jobs were to do these things anyway. If they want to work so badly, then they can just enact their “roles as women” and do work on the side if they must. This dangerous chain of thoughts works to exploit women; society would have the means to gain free housemakers while simultaneously increasing the working population. Women are on the losing side no matter how you look at it. 

The term “third shift” refers to the domestic chores women are held accountable for in addition to their daily work shift(s). They work during the day just like their male counterpart, but once home, women have to manage domestic affairs while men get to relax. Sadly, this vicious cycle of unfair treatment is not only reinforced by male members of society but also by fellow females, in the form of internalized misogyny. Through years of oppression, they have come to accept the sexist stereotypes and are in turn demeaning other women as a result. Distorted thinking is a tell-tale sign of this where they may think — “I’ve been through this too. If I can make it through then so can you”. Oftentimes, this sort of behavior is demonstrated by older members of society, by mothers or grandmothers, who are usually guiding figures in the eyes of children. This, inevitably, leads to a deformed self-image and sense of self at a young age for girls and faulty thinking in boys. 

To stop this trend of unjust between genders, some have suggested shifting the gender role so that men can become househusbands. At first glance, this may seem like a plausible solution, however, it has little effect on the issue in the long run. Having men become househusbands only changes the victim of the “domestic burden”. With the men in charge of the chores and childcare, and the women earning the wages, one might be dissatisfied with the type of responsibilities the other has. In the words of Davis, “Since housework does not generate profit, domestic labor [is] naturally defined as an inferior form of work as compared to capitalist wage labor” (p. 228). Put simply, there’s no way to compare the work of cleaning the house and the work of filing papers, and this can lead to bickerings over who did more work.   

More feasible solutions in combatting the issue at hand would be to compromise the workload between both parties and to eliminate internalized misogyny overall. First, labeling chores as a responsibility of both parties will significantly reduce thoughts regarding gender roles. Then, the work should be split to accommodate individual schedules and become a shared duty. This method involves a lot of compromises and acceptances since it won’t work if one side starts arguing over the amount of work done. Secondly, sexist stereotypes should not be reinforced by individuals deemed as model figures by children, such as parents and teachers. Just because you have been through the hardship brought about by male dominance and female misogyny does not mean you can assert dominance over another to ensure they suffer just as much as you did. 

We shouldn’t start struggling only when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but struggle so we can see the light before it’s too late. Giving in is not shameful; sometimes both sides need to take a step back and see the whole picture for a better future.

References:

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. 2006.

Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race & Class. Vintage Books, 1983.

One thought on “The Manifestation of Injustice

  1. Hilarie Ashton

    Karen,

    What a wonderful piece. Your ideas are sharply articulated and your prose is lyrical and clear. Content-wise, you do a great job of using both Friedan and Davis to talk about gendered housework expectations. I also think it’s so wonderfully provocative and interesting to title your essay the way that you do: it draws the reader right in and starts them thinking about justice in a household context, which is sometimes left out of discussions of structural justice.

    You do a wonderful job of describing concepts from the reading as well, like third shift and the way you talk about feasible solutions in your second to last paragraph.

    The only place I would advise re-examining and expanding a little bit is in your conclusion: it’s general enough that it relates to the essay’s content more vaguely than I think it needs to. That is, the ideas you’re conveying are great, but you need a little bit more direction for the reader, almost like connecting the dots and tying it together.

    But really great work here — and a pleasure to read!

    I’m looking forward to your final projects!

    Prof. A

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