Ch 03: The Care Gap

Closing the Caring Gap and Opening the World

As someone who doesn’t have any children, reading “The Post Pandemic University and the Caring Gap” by Gabriela Saldanha was eye opening (and it made me extra grateful that my only responsibilities right now are two very easy to care for cats). Saldanha explains how the pandemic is widening the caring gap that already existed between carers—individuals with care-taking responsibilities, such as childcare and household duties—and non-carers. Carers (who are often women and people of color) face unseen discrimination in academica in the form of lower pay, less prestige, and fewer choices about how to spend their time; because of their caretaking responsibilities, they can’t afford to attend professional development events outside of work hours, which can lead to fewer promotions, accolades, and research opportunities.

 Although I’ve obviously realized by this point how difficult the pandemic must be for parents, Saldanha’s article clearly and concisely demonstrates the lasting effects working from home while taking care of children can have on one’s career. As a non-carer myself, I commend the parents who are juggling virtual school for their kids while attempting to keep their own careers on track, but I can’t pretend I understand their struggles. What I can understand is that the caring gap doesn’t exist in a vacuum; this issue is inextricably linked to numerous other societal factors, like traditional gender norms and the culture of overworking. 

Saldanha explains how in academia, “care work” (such as teaching and administration) is often considered “less prestigious.” Unsurprisingly, these duties are usually performed by women; even in other fields, women’s work is undervalued (see this New York Times article detailing how when women begin entering previously male dominated fields, the pay begins to drop). Much of women’s labor (including caring labor) is unpaid and unappreciated. While reading Saldanha’s article, I couldn’t help thinking about this comic that describes the “mental load” women carry as they try to remember, delegate, and carry out household tasks without much support from their husbands. 

Women (and carers in general) are what Saldanha calls “time-poor”; they spend much of their time and energy performing care-related duties outside of work, and their careers suffer because they’re unable to keep working after hours, come in on weekends, and travel for conferences. While this culture of overwork is obviously detrimental to carer’s careers, I think it’s dangerous for non-carers, too. Maybe I’m just one of those lazy millennials older generations are always complaining about, but even though I’m not technically “time-poor,” I still don’t want to get burnt out by spending my nights and weekends working. And research shows that I don’t need to; there are numerous examples of companies implementing a shorter work week without any losses in productivity.

Obviously, a university is a unique workplace, and just because a shorter work week succeeded in other fields, doesn’t necessarily mean it would work in academia. But I think this pandemic has illuminated ways to lessen the workload for both students and educators without sacrificing high professional standards. Now that the terms “synchronous” and “asynchronous” are part of every professor’s vocabulary, we’ve been forced to recognize that learning independently at one’s own pace can be just as valuable as a live lecture. 

My hope for a post pandemic university (and a post pandemic workforce in general) is that asynchronous learn/teach/work from home days will continue even after classrooms are safe again. Having one day a week for professors and students to catch up on work at their own pace could be an asset to those who have caretaking responsibilities at home. (You can throw in a load of laundry after answering emails or tidy up the kitchen on your lunch break while still meeting your work-related responsibilities.) 

Although I’m not a carer, I am both a student and a teacher, and asynchronous work days have been vital in helping me keep up with grading and lesson planning during my contracted hours instead of having to play catch up without pay on the weekend. Taking steps to close the caring gap by limiting requirements to work after hours and on weekends could create a more equitable work environment for everyone, not just carers. 

Now I’m going to step off my soapbox and switch gears to share my Five Card Flickr Story. It was a fun challenge to try to convey a strong message about the pandemic university experience with so few words, while also making sure my story somehow connected to all five random photos. I gave it my best shot and came up with this: 

Five Card Story: The First Whiteboard I’ve Seen in Months

a Five Card Flickr story created by M.E. O’Neill

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by cogdogblog

flickr photo by Intrepid Flame

The handwritten menu on the wall is the first white board I’ve seen in months. This was supposed to be temporary—two weeks of class in my PJ’s, ordering DoorDash instead of going out, taking walks on my lunch. In March, I trekked through the suburbs, saw signs sprout from the lawns of McMansions: “Thank you essential workers!”

Winter winds knocked them down. Our heroes discarded, like toys we’ve grown bored of. Now I wait for my takeout, ice still clinging to my boots, and behind my mask I frown at the indoor diners. I want to laugh like them; I want to ride a crowded subway, I want to sit in a packed auditorium while a man lectures onstage, I want to drop overpriced popcorn on a sticky theater floor. I want the world to open like a flower does in spring, but this interminable winter isn’t over yet.

One reply on “Closing the Caring Gap and Opening the World”

That 5 image story is remarkable Maura! The yearning at the close is palpable and relatable.

I think one of the things I have cherished the most as an “overworked” “time-poor” “carer” (i.e. research-oriented teaching academic with a husband and two children) – is the FLEXIBILITY of my time so I can design my life on my own terms. You hit on that insight here, and I think your instincts regarding self-care and pacing (and policies that embrace these ways of being) are important.
Thanks! xo -Dr. Zamora

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