Corona crisis regulations are reversing social progress

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to make concessions in daily life. From the economy to social interaction, education and even home life, every aspect of life has changed because of the corona regulations. However, while there is no end yet in sight, it seems that the social ramifications of the corona measures are being pushed by the wayside. It is now becoming clear that women’s emancipation has been affected by the Covid-19 regulations, as the heart of the economy has shifted from the office to the home.

The confinement of the whole family to the home opened the door to challenge traditional gender roles. Nevertheless, as Fella Vermeulen claimed in September, women have seen little change in the management of their households: women are still taking on the majority of chores around the house. Even among a demographic of higher-educated people, no noticeable change was noted in household equality. This can be seen as a consequence of more systemic, pre-existing, inequality in society, and in particular the job market: women are still paid less on average than men. This means that when families are forced to make difficult decisions because of, for example, a global pandemic, the woman (in heterosexual couples) is more likely to end up sacrificing her career for the sake of the family. This dichotomy is magnified by several factors. The lockdown policies have caused a shift from a paid economy of childcare to an unpaid one, with jobs in this sector disappearing as children were required to stay home.

Furthermore, sectors like childcare, the service industry and the cultural sector have a larger  percentage of female workers. These sectors frequently function with flexible contracts, or even informal contracts. Subsequently, the workforce in these sectors had little security, when it had to stop working due to the corona measures. As these women lost their incomes, without qualifying for government support, it was natural for them to revert to traditional gender roles inside the home.

As Anne-Floor Dekker and Froukje Gaasterland claimed in April, the consequences of the corona measures for women have been largely ignored, even though women make up the majority of those working on the frontlines in the healthcare sector. This was partially because in the first response to the Covid-19 crisis, there was little room to pay attention to the social and cultural consequences of the corona regulations. But because gender roles seem to be reverting to those in a more traditional society because of this lack of consideration, the setback in female emancipation remains a systemic problem in society.

This discussion has been debated since March, when the first lockdowns started. However, it is important to note that the consequences of the corona measures for female emancipation are not interpreted as a failure of feminism. Malijn Simon, writing for Quillette in March, claims that focusing on the shift of women towards unpaid work in the home should not result in an undervaluing of female homemaking activities. It is not anti-feminist to take care of one’s family, even if this comes at the cost of one’s career, just as it is not emasculating to do so. Women’s emancipation is a movement towards freedom of choice, not a push towards big bucks or the board room. There is definitely a systemic issue that causes the undervaluing women in the workforce, but the way to combat this is not to define equality as sameness.

Written by Maurits Seijger