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Barbara & Shannon Kelley

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On Presidents, Aprons and Second Shifts

Posted: 10/19/2012 3:36 pm

I'm starting to wonder if this presidential election might hinge on aprons.

In the wake of the last debate, we've all been caught up in binders and trapper-keepers and funny Facebook memes -- along with some hijinks on Amazon, where a bunch of smartypants hijacked several binder pages. I think we're missing the point.

According to the New York Times, both Obama and Romney are in hot pursuit of the women's vote. Which is to say, they seem to think that Double Xers may determine the next president of the United States:

On the campaign trail and on the air, the candidates and their allies argued intensely all day over who would do more to help women. At the same time, the topic of whether the heated encounter Tuesday night had alienated the very female voters they were seeking to connect with became fodder for cable TV discussions.

The level of intensity left little doubt that the election was coming down not only to a state-by-state fight for territory, but also to one for the allegiance of vital demographic groups, chief among them undecided women.

Whew. Whether the chattering class is right or wrong, it appears we have a lot more power than we've had in quite the while. Let's think this through.

The bedrock issue in the debate over the women's vote has had to do with reproductive rights: abortion and contraception. Key issues. Agreed. Especially because the next president will more than likely be appointing one, or maybe two, justices to the Supreme Court, justices who may hold the future of Roe v. Wade in their hands.

And then there's the funding of Planned Parenthood, which not only provides family planning services, but also provides women without health insurance life-saving care for breast cancer, among other medical issues. My friend was one of them.

But the real issue as I see it is the vision of women's role in the workplace and the home. I found one of Gov. Romney's responses in the debate to be key. The question had to do with inequalities in the workplace, including the pay gap (Click here for a state-by-state chart of gender pay inequity) which the Governor side-stepped with the unfortunate comment about binders. What I found revealing, not to mention troubling, was the end of his response, which related to the woman he had hired as chief of staff while governor of Massachusetts:

Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for -- making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

On the surface: flexible schedule. Good. One of the issues we've been writing about is the challenge faced by working women, who put in the same hours as their male counterparts and then have to dig into the second shift when they get home. But look again at the governor's answer, then ask yourself this: Where was the chief of staff's husband and/or kids' daddy at 5:00?

That's it, right?

Why is it that in 2012, some folks still assume that household and childcare duties are women's work? And why, as one of the sources in our book fumed, do we plant work life balance smack in the middle of the "women's issues" silo? Shouldn't this be a human issue? A family issue?

Now, don't get me wrong. I cook dinner most nights, no matter what time I get home from work. And I'm damn good at it. No, scratch that. I'm really good at it: I inherited my culinary mojo from a long line of incredible Italian cooks (ask me about my aunts' gnocchi or cannoli sometime, or my mother's ability to throw together anything fantastic without a recipe). Plus, I like to eat good food. But that's my choice. Proscribed gender roles have nothing to do with it.

The issue here, as the presidential election heads down the home stretch, has to do with perception as well as policy. And I suspect that the nuances of the latter are often driven by the former. And in this case, the perception in question is gender roles in the home as well as the workplace.

Cue the aprons.

The most recent time-use survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women still own the second shift. Most telling stats?

On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework -- such as cleaning or doing laundry -- compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women.

All of which, presumably, is on top of a 52 hour work week.

Now, can a president do anything to change all that? Probably not. But given that I have been given a lot of power in this election, my vote goes to the guy who doesn't assume my place is in an apron.

Speaking of which, my husband is wearing one right now. I've got one eye on the Giants game as I write this. He's firing up the barbeque and throwing together a salad.

 
 
 

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