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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 239

In The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, author Arlie Hochschild presents a detailed description and analysis of research she conducted on the subject of gender equality. Specifically, she discusses her investigation into the balance of domestic duties in two-earner families. Hochschild interviewed 50 couples in an...

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In The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, author Arlie Hochschild presents a detailed description and analysis of research she conducted on the subject of gender equality. Specifically, she discusses her investigation into the balance of domestic duties in two-earner families. Hochschild interviewed 50 couples in an attempt to extrapolate from their answers an idea of how American couples are adjusting to life in the wake of the women’s rights movement. In The Second Shift, she analyzes information gleaned from these interviews, and she exposes the rift between ideology and practice.

The influx of women into the work force sparked a sociological revolution in America, one that redefined the gender dynamic and blurred the concept of gender equality. Hochschild concluded from her research that despite the fact that they had professional careers, the women did most, if not all of the domestic work. This included housework and childcare. She also concluded that while the men supported the women in their careers, they failed to acknowledge the idea that the men should do half of the domestic work. In addition, Hochschild noted that though the couples supported women’s rights and projected an image of equality, both men and women in the relationships tended to hold traditional beliefs about gender. Working class couples, in particular, acknowledged a preference for traditional male/female roles and embraced the idea of male dominance at home, if not in the workforce.

The Second Shift

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

“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.

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