Match each feature of women’s lives with the writer’s representation of it in the text. You may use each term more than once.
THE BURDEN OF WOMEN’S MENTAL LOAD – AND HOW TO LIFT IT
The journalist and political activist Gloria Steinem once famously claimed ‘Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.’ Yet a couple of decades into the 21st century, women everywhere are starting to wonder if the pie in question has even made it into the oven yet.
Change, of course, takes time. And yes, things have improved in many ways since the women’s rights movement began a couple of centuries ago. In the western world at least, we are no longer part of a society in which standing up for female equality can lead to a death sentence, as it did for French playwright and militant Olympe de Gouges, who was guillotined after writing the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen’ as a way of point out all the inequalities in the 1789 ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’.
Likewise, it is also true that women in first world countries now enjoy certain forms of freedom of which they were deprived in times past: the right to vote, to receive an education, to own property, to travel, to marry a person of their choosing, to decide whether or not to have children… and so on and so forth. Many women in modern western society could in fact be said to take such things for granted since they have never known any different.
However, would it really be fair to say men and women are now on an equal footing? Or is it simply the case that inequality today has gone underground and continues to thrive in more insidious and less tangible ways? Sure, it’s good that women can work, but if you look at statistics, they are still paid globally less than their male counterparts and are more likely than men to be found in part-time work. Their chances of improving their situation through promotion are often scuppered by the oft-discussed glass ceiling looming over them in so many major corporations. Agreed, it’s nice that women can vote, but who can they vote for when the number of male candidates is always so very dominant? And fine, they can choose whether they want to have a family or not, but this in and of itself can be the starting point for a less obvious form of inequality researchers are now calling the mental load.
What is the mental load? Well, think about a standard family today. It’s highly possible that both parents work. Maybe both parents also play an active role in raising their children. Perhaps they both cook and clean, they both fix things when they’re broken and they both look after the garden and the car and that’s great. But gendered roles are far from a thing of the past. Who is the person behind the scenes, organizing everything? The person who books the kids’ doctor’s appointments, who remembers to buy birthday presents, who changes the filter in the vacuum cleaner every once in a while and who calls the repairman when the sink gets clogged? Almost systematically, this kind of day-to-day managerial task falls into women’s laps. The mental load is the burden of constantly having to be the one to think of what needs to be done and take the steps necessary to make it happen. And it’s exhausting.
When women break down and dare to actually broach this subject with male partners, a common reaction is for them to offer to help. But this in itself is an excellent illustration of where the problem is coming from: the very fact they consider their involvement to be ‘help’ shows that they also consider running household and family affairs to be a woman’s job, not something they themselves are equally responsible for.
The solution therefore lies in changing mentalities: both those of men already in existing relationships and those of our sons as they grow into a future generation of potential mates and fathers. They all need to understand that their day’s work doesn’t end when they leave the office: the invisible labour it takes to cater for their family’s needs has to be shared. And it’s the little things that count: Gentleman, take a minute right now and let’s review. Is there something in your house that could do with a good cleaning? Did you notice any foods you’re running low on and could you buy more when you drive past the supermarket tonight? Do your kids need help preparing for some upcoming school event? Start there and remember: all of those things are as much your job as they are hers.
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The ability to vote.
Having a family
Men cooking and cleaning.
Buying birthday presents