Alone Together? Valuing Feminized Work

Drive through COVID testing site

“Alone Together” has become more than just a viral hashtag circulating on social media but a mantra of hope for the times we’re currently living in. While the novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the globe, many of us are doing our part to flatten the curve. Though that may require some distance between ourselves, our colleagues, and our loved ones, it seems there’s a sense of community among the highly divided American people for the first time in a long time.

Coronavirus has both flipped America’s gendered ideology on its head while simultaneously exposing the very systems that led us here in the first place. In the world’s time of need, more and more people have taken to the “feminized” practice of supporting one another—finally acknowledging that America’s alienating “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality can only get you so far.

While lockdowns have divided businesses into “nonessential” and “essential” categories, America’s false meritocracy has gone out the window. Many of the sectors deemed essential and that will remain open during the corona-crisis have long been predominantly staffed by women. Employees who work in food, service, and healthcare industries are fighting from the frontlines, all while dealing with America’s history of undervaluing and underpaying those in this feminine work. While some of us have been fortunate enough to work from home (though this has had its own setbacks for gender equality), those working in necessary roles are feeling the strain of an already deficient care system. With schools closed indefinitely and scarce (and expensive) childcare facilities no longer an option, frontline workers clocking in and out every day have no childcare to fall back on. Childcare in America, which costs nearly as much as college tuition, has always been a problem—the coronavirus has simply amplified it.

Thankfully, many people are seeing the value in coming together and offering a helping hand. Some YMCAs have taken notice of the lack of childcare for health care and other essential workers and are offering it for free. When one first responder got wind of the news, she had an emotional response. “The relief (I felt) — I just cannot explain. I am not usually a crier in a crisis. Doing is my go-to, but I cried.”

Every day people are also doing their share. Women have banned together to sew face masks for hospitals that are facing a dangerous shortage. Groups like Masks4Medicine have donated thousands of face masks to those who need them. Amy Towner who is working with over 150 volunteer sewers sees the parallels to the work women have done over history and now, saying, “In World War II, women were making bullets to protect our country. Now, they are at their sewing machines.”

Though it’s taken a pandemic to realize it, these jobs and empathy towards others have always been essential. Just because we must self-isolate, doesn’t mean we have to be lone wolves. If we’re going to get through this, we’re going to have to support one another.

Take Action! Let’s be sure we celebrate the essential work of those in feminized sectors—even after the COVID-19 crisis.