At a glance:
- Author: Arlie Russell Hochschild, Anne Machung
- First Published: 1989
- Type of Work: Sociology/Marriage/Child Rearing/Women’s Issues
- Genres: Nonfiction, Women's literature, Sociology
“I am a working mother. I am nuts,” proclaims an unkempt cartoon woman on a mug. Surrounded by mounds of papers, a crying baby, and a broom, she is exhausted but resolute. What is held up as absurd in this cartoon is not the economic necessity of her working or her husband’s failure to help. It is her own choice to work that makes her an object of cheerful self-mocking.
In THE SECOND SHIFT: WORKING PARENTS AND THE REVOLUTION AT HOME, Arlie Hochschild holds up to the light this and many other strategies by which women and men in two-career marriages juggle work pressures and family needs. Between 1980 and 1988, Hochschild and her research associates interviewed fifty couples at great length. Hochschild also observed family life in a dozen homes. At the heart of her book are the stories of eleven couples. All but two are members of the middle and upper-middle class; each couple has made decisions and developed justifying myths a bit differently. Each has its own “economy of gratitude.”
Hochschild is very much interested in the interrelationships between power--perceived and actual--and bonds of human caring. Her phrase “economy of gratitude” makes reference to what is given and received as gifts between spouses and how those gifts are valued. For example, if a woman earns more money than her husband, his male pride may suffer. His willingness to bear the affront may be viewed by both as a sacrificial gift, and out of guilt and gratitude she may assume most of the household responsibilities. Hochschild found many such contorted notions of what merits gratitude among the couples she studied.
Sympathetically yet relentlessly, Hochschild uncovers family myths and gender strategies that couples develop in order to justify--or to enable them to live with--inequities in workloads. Some strategies permit couples to pay lip service to an ideal that is quite removed from their actual practice. Carmen, a strong-minded, outgoing woman, professes submission to her husband and aspires to be a housewife. Economic realities, however, make it necessary for her to do day care in her home. She needs the help of her husband, Frank, if housework is to be done properly. Her strategy is to play helpless: If she cannot drive a car, if Frank can cook rice better than she, Carmen can uphold the myth of her submission to him yet also obtain the help she needs.
Other couples’ strategies are undertaken at much greater emotional cost--to the husband, to the wife, to the children. Hochschild concludes that American men and women must learn to revalue the work of nurturing children, that men must become more Leeply egalitarian, and that public policy must be shaped to support rather than undermine these changes.
Did this raise a question for you?