Today is the first day of Women’s History Month and it seems like an opportunity to acknowledge the challenges that women have faced, especially in 2020 – 2021.

This past year, the pandemic has had a devastating impact, but in truth, women’s professional lives have been the hardest hit. According to a January 2021 article, US employers cut 140,000 jobs in December 2020. Women accounted for all the losses, losing 156,000 jobs while men gained 16,000.  This is why many are now referring to the current economic recession as a SHEcession.  According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, this is the first time since 1948 that female unemployment rate in the United States has reached double digits.

This she-cession is impacting women in two different and equally devastating ways. First, it largely seems to be women who are being sidelined from jobs because of a lack of childcare and the demands of virtual schooling. In September 2020, when the academic year resumed, 865,000 women left the workforce.  Secondly, women make up the bulk of the workers in fields/sectors that have been hard hit like hospitality, service, and education.  

These statistics are not simply sobering for the short-term. According to Bloomberg, this she-cession threatens to wipe out decades of progress for U.S. women. It is expected that the average gender wage gap, which was already not great, will be widened by two points for decades.

Jessica Calarco is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. Her work has been focusing on mothers grappling with parenting, partners, anxiety, work, and feelings of failure during the pandemic. She has been focusing her research on pandemic parenting by looking at these challenges empirically.  She views her sociological research as “ungaslighting”.  For those unfamiliar, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. Those experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious and unable to trust themselves. Dr. Calarco’s paper “Let’s Not Pretend It’s Fun: How COVID-19 Related School and Childcare Closures are Damaging Mothers’ Well-Being” is an example of this form of “ungaslighting”. She is trying to shed light on a current situation. A combination of intense work pressures, intensive parenting pressures, and a lack of outside support whether from the government or even partners has caused many mothers to feel like failures and consequently blame themselves for not living up to these expectations.

Dr. Calarco notes: “In the U.S., most of us aren’t taught to use our sociological imaginations. We’re not taught to think about social problems as structural problems. We’re not taught to see the forces that operate beyond our control – forces like capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. And we’re not taught to see how those forces create many of the challenges we face in our lives and constrain our ability to make choices that could help us overcome those challenges.

Instead, we — especially women and people from other systematically marginalized groups — are taught to self-help-book our way out of structural problems. To believe that all our problems would go away if only we were to strictly follow some seventeen-step plan.”

As the vaccine is distributed and as we focus our efforts on recovery, it is important to remember that it is highly unlikely that those lost jobs will simply bounce back. Nor can we expect those impacted by loss to not continue to struggle to regain their financial footing.

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