Introduction to the Penguin Edition
After The Second Shift originally appeared in 1989, an earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area where we live. My birthday followed soon afterward. My husband, who is both a journalist and an irrepressible practical joker, surprised me by writing and printing a mock edition of the scandal-laden National Enquirer, A banner headline read hochschild blamed for frisco quake! angry seismologists accuse Berkeley prof. Another story read, UFOS
CAN DO HOUSEWORK, ASTONISHING NEW SOLUTION, BUT PROF.
denies all. And in small print at the very top of the page, soc
PROF S HUBBY TELLS ALL: “SHE WONT LET ME LIFT A FINGER IN THE KITCHEN!”
You cant always believe what you read in The National Enquirer, of course. But the book did shake up readers because it described the powerful impact of a real earthquake—the massive influx of women into paid work—on marriage. Women changed rapidly but the jobs, they went out to and the men they came home to have not changed—or not so much. So marriage has become a shock absorber of tensions borne by this “stalled revolution.”
In a society marked by individualism it is common to interpret societal contradictions as matters, of clashing personality (“Hes so selfish,” “Shes so anxious”) and trivial issues (“What’s an unwashed dish?”). But when millions of couples are having similar conversations over who does what at home, it can help to understand just what’s going on outside marriage that’s affecting what
goes on inside it. Without that understanding, we can simply continue to adjust to strains of a stalled revolution, take them as “normal,” and wonder why its so hard these days to make a marriage work.
After The Second Shift was published, I talked informally to many readers and in the 1990s conducted interviews with more working couples at a Fortune 500 company for The Time Bind, the following book. Based on these talks I began to conclude that the basic dilemma—how to divide the work of raising a family and making a home—remains, that peoples ways of addressing it are extraordinarily various, but that, in addition, the basic contours of this dilemma are now undergoing a subtle but important change.
Among the variety of responses I encountered, one reader, Shawn Dickinson Finley, wrote a poem about one finding in this book, for The Dallas Morning News:
Weekends come. Td like to relax.
But heys tired of work and needs to crash.
So take care of everything, would you dear?
While he watches TV and drinks lots of beer.
At last Tm through—Tm finally done.
So good night. I have to run
And hit the pillow and dream a dream,
Of the 18 percent who help to clean.
In New York, an imaginative bride and groom made up marriage vows designed to avoid Finleys dilemma. “I vow to cook dinners for Dhora,” the groom said, before a stunned and delighted gathering of family and friends. And with a twinkle, the bride replied, “And I promise to eat what Oran cooks.”
Other couples had become more seriously locked in an anguished struggle, not for time to relax but for time to work. One young Latino father of a two-year-old child explained, “My wife and I both work at low-paying jobs we love and believe in. [He
worked for a human rights organization and she worked for an environmental group.] And we cant afford a maid. We love Julio but he’s two and he’s a handful. I do a lot with him, which I love. [Here his voice was soft, and slow.] But its tough because my wife and I have no time for a marriage. It makes me think the unthinkable [Here his voice quavered.]: should we have had Julio?” It made me uneasy to discover, too, a few marital struggles in which my book was used as ammunition. One working mother left xeroxed pages from the chapter on Nancy and Evan Holt on her refrigerator door. When her husband failed to notice, she placed the pages on the pillow of their bed. As she recounted, “He finally read about how Nancy Holt did all the housework and child care and expressed her resentment for doing so by excluding her husband from the love nest she made for herself and their child. The parallels began to hit him the way they had me.”
I was sad to learn about what some people imagined as solutions to their struggles. One woman declared, with straightened shoulders and hands on hips, “The house is a mess. Its a pit. That’s my solution.” Another woman proudly responded to her husband’s refusal to help at home by making meals for herself but not for him. Through clenched jaws, yet another woman described building second-shift requirements into her prenuptial agreement. If women are that upset and that armed, I wonder if these apparent “solutions” haven’t become yet another problem. I wonder whether a deeper solution to the problem of the second shift doesn’t require a rollback of national work hours, paid parental leave, family-friendly workplace policies that people actually use, and a major cultural shift—a “second” shift toward value on care.