Category Archives: domestic labour

Will a woman’s work ever be done?  Not when it involves doing housework and doing gender

by Paula Lovelock

Finding myself living in a London house-share with four guys in the mid-1990s, it only took a few weeks before I went on strike with the cleaning.  I explained to them that our kitchen was becoming a health hazard and that I wasn’t prepared to work full-time and maintain basic hygiene in our three-storey semi.  Their answer was it wasn’t that bad (your stockinged feet would get stuck to the floor) and we couldn’t afford to hire a cleaner.   I hired a cleaner.

Looking back, this has become interesting in many ways.  I have never really analysed why it was me who felt obligated to deal with the housework issue in one way or another.   I had little money to spare.  But these men were all wealthy, ex-public school professionals who could easily afford to hire a cleaner.  I had to wonder if my female presence combined with my efforts at keeping us out of squalor just felt natural to them.  Why get a cleaner when there is a woman in the house?

It seems unlikely that they just didn’t see the dirt.  When participants in one experimental study were shown pictures of an untidy room, there were no gendered discrepancies in perception; both men and women evaluated the level of mess and degree of urgency to clean it similarly.  However, when the gender of the occupant of the messy room was known, moral judgments emerged, with female room dwellers held to a higher standard than men (Thébaud et al., 2019).


To investigate how these gendered notions of housework have evolved, the classic sociological paper on ‘Doing Gender’ provides insight into the way gender is constructed through our daily performances.  The authors, West and Zimmerman (1987) detail the influential sociological work of Goffman (1977) on symbolic interactions in our social lives. These practices cumulatively come to shape the broader structures of society that categorise us by sex. The model of ‘gender displays’ elaborates the socially approved conduct that rewards ‘deference’ from women and ‘dominance’ by men.

However, while Goffman sees these performances as optional, West and Zimmerman disagree.  They view that people are made ‘accountable’ for their performances in their socially approved sex categories of ‘women’ or ‘men’.  Through consensus of expected, ‘appropriate’ behaviour, people are kept in order.  In the patriarchies of the West, men top the hierarchy.  So, while gender is enacted at an individual level, these interactions are institutionally inscribed.  As a result, apparent ‘essential’ differences continue to segregate women and men in normative ways. The gendered division of labour appears to be normal and natural.  So, the fact that women’s work is never done is accepted, even useful, in maintaining the status quo.

My 1990s experiences seem fairly unremarkable according to research from the decade prior.  In one study on the housework attitudes of heterosexual married couples, Berk (1985) found wives did the majority of housework and childcare, even if employed outside of the home.  Staggeringly, in this example, both husbands and wives felt this to be a fair arrangement.


By the mid-1990s, research in Western societies continued to find that women performed disproportionate levels of housework, despite patterns of increased paid employment (Brines, 1994).  Such studies refer to doing housework as symbolic displays of femininity in the service of maintaining gender relations.

So, have things changed much for women since then?

It seems not.  Recent studies assert the life dissatisfaction experienced by women who work longer hours than their male partners, while continuing to do the majority of unpaid labour in the home (Flèche et al., 2020).

Indeed, YouGov statistics in February 2020 show that the majority of housework was being done by women, with over half saying they have sole responsibility for the laundry and cleaning bathrooms.  While this is clearly a very generalised depiction, it highlights how women continue to conform to gendered expectations of housework.

However, it seems the Covid 19 pandemic has made more visible the chasm of gender inequality in housework in the West.  Brigid Schulte, social policy director at a US think tank, cites the “breadwinner/homemaker” model that operates in our culture (Gross, 2020).  This is expressed through the stereotypical gender performances that sustain the inequality of domestic labour, despite the unfairness in task distribution.  Interestingly, she cites research on housework between same-sex couples that reveal that there is more harmony in their decisions over the division of household chores.  This can probably be explained by the absence of gendered assumptions over ‘male jobs’ and ‘female’ jobs.


The evidence illustrates that the dynamics over allocation of tasks between genders have broader impact.  The actions we take in our social contexts are both a cause and effect of social organisation and a means of perpetuating and legitimating gendered divisions.  Whether it is challenging partners, siblings or incredibly lazy and entitled housemates – for women, doing gender requires work on top of doing housework.  Perhaps that work can be consciously channelled in new, resistive ways.


Further Reading:

Brines, J. (1994) ‘Economic Dependency, Gender, and the Division of Labor at Home’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 100, No. 3 pp. 652-88, November 1994

Flèche, S. et al. (2020) ‘Gender norms, fairness and relative working hours within households’, Labour Economics, Vol. 65, June 2020,

Gross, T. (2020) ‘Pandemic makes evident ‘grotesque’ gender inequality in household work’ NPR, 21st May 2020, [Online] Pandemic Makes Evident ‘Grotesque’ Gender Inequality In Household Work : NPR

Thébaud et al. (2019) ‘Good housekeeping, great expectations: gender and housework norms’ Sociological methods and research, Vol. 50, No. 3. pp 1186-1214, 2021, Sage, August 2021

West and Zimmerman (1987) ‘Doing gender’ in Gender & Society. Vol. 1, No. 2., pp 125-151, June1987

Has the status of women under COVID-19 improved or regressed?

Shuo Feng

‘In September alone, there were about 865000 women dropped out of the labor market in the United States, compared with only 200000 men. Most of the reason is that the burden of care is too heavy for anyone else to share.

stated the Deputy Director-General of UN women, Anita Batia. She even declared disappointingly: ‘Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year.(Lungumbu & Butterly, 2020)

Women’s status in the workplace

With the development of the society, the position of housework between men and women has changed. More and more women are entering the workplace when it came to the 21st century. Women spent less on the housework because they get more chances to work outside. And under the equal pay legislation, they can get equal pay with the men if they do the same job. So they took the responsibility of getting more payments for the family like the men. In addition, the education rate of women is increasing and there are more opportunities providing for women. Some of the women who have powerful leadership even joining the management in the companies. Overall, woman’s status in the workplace is improved even though there are some situations of inequality in the promotion and discrimination.

The change under COVID-19

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, there are some changes in woman’s status in the workplace. On the one hand, many people face the problem of being dismissed from companies because of the COVID-19 pandemic in American. The unemployment rate and the suicide rate increased sharply because of the economic downturn. Besides, women suffer more pressure than men because according to the Washington Post (Long & Dam, 2020) the unemployment rate of women was about 3% higher than that of men in the US under the Covid-19 in 2020. This indicates there were more women lose the job in the US in the pandemic period than the men. The women have to put more effort into the housework because it becomes difficult for them to get work in this period.

(source: Pexels )


The evidence from the UN

Bhatia said the COVID-19 could bring back the stereotype of women as ‘Housewives’ in the 1950s. The impact of the pandemic on female unemployment is known as ‘she-cession’. This means woman’s status is lower than in previous years, especially in the workplace. During the previous recession or financial crisis in the American, men are often hit harder because men dominated the manufacturing and construction industries (Antonopoulos, 2009). And the unemployment rate in these industries was often the first to bear the brunt. However, the situation of this pandemic is on the contrary. A higher proportion of women work in industries that are seriously affected by the pandemic, such as retail, leisure, reception, education, health and other fields. And when the company chooses to dismiss the women workers, it pays less damage than the men workers. Because only a small number of women can get the management position in the organizations. Hence, the women workers will suffer more unfair dismiss in the organization than men.

The nursing industry for female workers

However, some of the industries such as the nurses in this pandemic need more female workers. And in this global pandemic, woman’s power in the medical system cannot be ignored. For example, it is estimated the percentage of women work for the health care system is about 78% in the US (Drees, 2020). Besides that, there are more than 100000 female doctors and nurses in Hubei, accounting for more than 60% of the total. Among the nurses, 90% of them are female nurses (Mo et al., 2020). These women saved many lives in this pandemic. They afford the responsibility of the work and they are unselfish to help patients, and they even take the risk of getting infected. They are the patients’ nurses but more like their family members. All these women workers are prized by improvements of salary. The public should appreciate these female workers for continuing to work in their position. And with the social status of nurses get improved, it will attract more female workers in this industry.

(source: Pexels )


I think continuing to improve woman’s status in the world is important. After the COVID-19 pandemic, more women were forced to go back to become housewives again. This will not benefit the equality between women and men. However, the position of the nursing industry of women gets improved in this period and women show their power in this specific industry. Society should give more chances for female workers in other industries. In addition, all these phenomena show that gender inequality and unbalanced division of labor are the essences of the problem. In the post-pandemic-era, how to achieve gender equality in the workplace and family is a global common topic.


Reference list

Antonopoulos, R. (2009). The current economic and financial crisis: a gender perspective. Levy Economics Institute, Working Papers Series, (562).

Mo, P., Xing, Y., Xiao, Y., Deng, L., Zhao, Q., Wang, H., … & Zhang, Y. (2020). Clinical characteristics of refractory COVID-19 pneumonia in Wuhan, China. Clinical Infectious Diseases.


“ Leave that damned crown in the garage”

Yuyang Zhang

Indra Nooyi was told by her mother to “leave that damned crown in the garage” and tend to her household responsibilities even though she was the director of one of the most important companies in the world (Friedersdorf, 2014).

— Professional womenWhere to go

A survey by Mercer found that in 2020, only 23% of women were in executive positions, while 47% worked as support staff (Catalyst, 2020). As support staff, women are exploited as there are no defined working hours or employee benefits, which can lead to job satisfaction. Aside from this, irrespective of their job profile, women end up going through some shared workplace experiences, such as patronizing behavior of men, male-oriented corporate culture of the suppressing of women’s opinions and lack of safety standards, making women more vulnerable to harassment (WHO 2011).



The 2020 pandemic has made it worse by including homeschooling and care for the elderly in the list of household chores. Mothers were more than three times more likely than fathers to do most of the housework and care during the pandemic (Huang, 2020). The data collected from interviewing 800 Italian households during April-July 2020 also revealed that the changing patterns of lifestyle did not influence men as much. Although both husbands and wives were doing work from home, the former mostly performed their professional responsibility. On the other hand, the women had to do the office work as well as the domestic work. As a result of this, women were left overburdened.

Source: Women in the workplace 2020, LeanIn. Org and McKinsey, 2020


— Work-Life balance: Double pressure

Professional women are under tremendous pressure to develop a career as powerful as men, whilst also trying to maintain an active participation in their personal lives. A study on Work-Life Balance in Working Women (Delina and Raya, 2013) pointed out that it is difficult for married working women to balance work and life. Compared with the 30-40 year-old age group, married professional women under the age of 30 have more problems with work-life imbalance, while married professional women over 40 have a relatively better work-life balance. In terms of spouse’s occupation, respondents with the most serious work-life balance were those whose spouse’s occupation was in business, followed by spouse’s occupational marketing.



In addition, balancing family and work becomes a huge challenge for single mothers, as most of them have no support at home. According to a 2018 study by the China Women’s Development Foundation of nearly 2 million single families in China, as many as 80% of single mothers cannot obtain enough payment from their ex-husbands for the upkeep of their children,and nearly 90% of single mothers act as the major role in raising a child after divorce. In September 2019, 76.1% single moms were employed, which declined to 67.4% employed single moms with children younger than 18 years of age – within the six months since the onset of the pandemic (Pew Research Center, 2020). The 9-point drop is a largest employment gap among all parent groups, single or partnered.

Source: Unpartnered mothers have seen bigger drop in the share at work than other groups of parents.


Whether it is family division of labor or professional competition, the difficulties and challenges faced by women are once again presented in the face of this epidemic, and they bear greater pressure than ever before. Although it has been advocated that all women enjoy the same equality as men’s. However, there are in fact many difficulties to be overcame in order to realize this claim. And women can achieve their real equality only if the deep-rooted opinion of gender responsibility has been transformed, where men would be more willing to invest their energy into the family and the society offer more comprehensive system to protect their rights.


— What can we do?

With changing times, especially in the post-coronavirus era, considering the amount of energy women spend switching between office work and home, businesses and organizations need to adopt policy measures to enable men and women to balance work, family and life. In addition, organizations should also provide companies with childcare services, such as setting up childcare centers near the workplace, in an attempt to help them get some respite from their stressful lives (Sandberg and Thomas, 2020).

Perhaps the road to breaking the working woman’s predicament will require more protracted struggles and efforts. However, in the pursuit of gender equality, as individuals, families and societies, we hope that the crown of women deserves to be seen by more people.

Further reading:

Delina, G. and Raya, R. P. (2013). A study on work-life balance in working women. International Journal of Commerce, Business and Management, 2(5), pp.274-282.

Why is Ed Sheeran so popular at weddings?

Studying sociology is a great opportunity to try to answer life’s big questions – why do people fall into patterns of behaviour? What enables some groups to wield power over others? And why do so many people enjoy the music of Ed Sheeran?

Sheeran is not only one of the most popular musicians in the UK right now, he’s also the most popular at weddings. Spotify recently released data on the top 10 “first dance” songs chosen by UK couples and he features three times in this list, twice for two versions of the same song (Perfect, released in 2017). Does Ed Sheeran have a formula for writing a successful wedding song?

Ed Sheeran Perfect video:

 Wedding music as a public but intimate choice

 Making personal music choices for a public occasion is a tightrope walk, as anyone who’s planned the music for a wedding or funeral knows well. In a social setting, something like Perfect ticks all the boxes: it sets the scene, everyone knows it, it’s the right tempo for an easy waltz, and it’s middle-of-the-road enough not to cause offence. But there might be other reasons for using it that have more to do with the history of gender-segregated domestic duties.

Wedding planning as “women’s work”

 Although there’s disagreement over the rate of change in the last 100 years, it’s widely accepted that domestic labour is still largely the woman’s domain in a heterosexual relationship (this 2016 report from the Office for National Statistics found that women still do 60% more unpaid work than men). Of course, domestic labour isn’t just hoovering and doing the dishes – it’s diary management and planning social engagements too, and wedding planning is often an extension of this, done almost exclusively by women (there’s academic research on this, by Tamara Sniezek and D.H. Currie, but there’s also this clip from when Monica and Chandler planned their wedding in Friends).

In 2005, Tamara Sniezek interviewed heterosexual engaged couples about their wedding planning. She found three things that are relevant to my Ed Sheeran question:

  1. When you ask couples about the detail of who did each part of the practical planning work, you will find that women do the overwhelming majority of it
  2. But when you ask vague questions like “how was the wedding work divided?” they often claim it was 50/50, and every couple interviewed by Sniezek repeatedly described it as a joint enterprise
  3. Couples generally use the details of their wedding, including the music, to express their “couple identity”, and this is often based around an idea of equality and teamwork… even if the person arranging all these details is doing the overwhelming bulk of the work in the face of apathy from their partner.

Perhaps this cognitive dissonance speaks to some mixed feelings about entering into the institution of marriage. The situation for women in marriage is still unfair, and still carries with it certain expectations of doing unpaid work in the home – the modern bride may be looking out for ways to say “I’m not that kind of wife, I’m this kind of wife.” To the congregation and, perhaps, to her new husband.


Using wedding music to tell a story

 Aside from the speeches, the ‘first dance’ is a couple’s first opportunity to set out their stall as a respectful equal partnership, expressing their identity in opposition to the generations that have gone before. Ed Sheeran’s Perfect is the, ahem, perfect example of a pop song that gives the “right message”:

“Well I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know
She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home
I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets
To carry love, to carry children of our own”

It emphasises the bride’s strength, refers to her home, and tells a story of teamwork and sharing. But perhaps the couples who dance to it are unwittingly revealing some more traditional views as well. In other lines, like “I found a girl beautiful and sweet” / “the someone waiting for me” / “Be my girl, I’ll be your man”, Perfect is no different from any other romantic pop ballad, reducing the female character to a pretty “girl” with no agency.

As a whole, the song represents a balance between the traditional roles some may still see as romantic, and the modern ideal of equality.

The Perfect relationship?

We live in confusing times, where our behaviours don’t necessarily line up with our attitudes. Although most heterosexual couples want to be seen as a balanced partnership, their division of all kinds of unpaid labour are unlikely to live up to this utopia. They give us a specific public narrative at their wedding to paper over the cracks, or perhaps to create a vision of how they would like their relationship to be.

When Ed Sheeran wrote Perfect, he gave marrying couples a gender-equal message to use for this purpose, within a framework of all the familiar male and female roles, in a society where wedding planning is still part of an uneven set of wifely expectations we are clearly uncomfortable with.


Leah Boundy