Tag : emotional labor

October 23, 2020 by

Parenting During the Pandemic

SARAH SELTZER: 37, Lilith’s digital editor and mom of two.

Dear Friends,

I’m in NYC with a baby and toddler at home and little childcare help; my partner is a recent cancer survivor so we’re cautious. Like so many working moms, my job is more flexible (and provides less income) than my male partner’s, so my work overflows into lunch breaks, early mornings, naps, weekends and after bedtime. But it gets done.

When the weather is good, a two-hour trip to a park with some social-distance visiting is the day’s highlight. When we’re stuck at home? Tears, yelling, and messes.

Every day, I track Covid statistics on my phone. Early on in the pandemic, when our own New York was suffering gravely, I had my husband change my Twitter password so I would stop obsessing. I slept better. I hated that I slept better.

The tiny pleasures and stolen cups of coffee that kept me sane as a working parent of little kids are totally out of reach. Here comes the disclaimer (and we all do this) that I am one of the lucky ones, and being with my kids has its blessings, too. But as my quiet text threads with other friends who are similarly “lucky” reveal that we all feel a sense of drowning, and fear. The headlines bear this out: “Single Mothers Hit Hard.” “Real Life Horror Stories from Pandemic Motherhood.” “Pandemic Could Scar a Generation of Working Mothers.” The substance of these pieces? Women, especially women of color, single moms, and working moms, are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout: double burdens at home, discrimination at work if work exists, the twin terrors of anti-Black state violence and disease, a generation set back on the path to equality.

I’ve asked some women Lilith knows (but who don’t know each other) to talk about how this feels right now. Let’s dive in. Where are you all quarantining? What is your day like? What do you miss? Anything you’re OK with giving up?


TAMAR FOX: 36, a writer and editor who does not bake sourdough bread, but does obsess about houseplants.

I’m in Philadelphia with my five-year-old back in daycare, and it feels incredible. My partner and I both worked from home before Covid, but when it hit, we spent three months passing our child back and forth, counting the minutes until her afternoon screentime. My 12-year-old stepdaughter was going back and forth between us and her mom, doing schoolwork, understandably bored and frustrated. I spent every minute feeling intense guilt about what I wasn’t doing: being an attentive parent, focusing on work, getting dinner on the table before 8 PM.

We have childcare now, but school is starting again, and it’s going to be virtual. How do you do kindergarten online? We will likely join one of those “pods” that everyone is talking about, though I’m also worried about how to do this in a way that doesn’t reinforce segregation and divert resources from schools, as some have argued they will. Yet there is no possible way for me to teach my child and do my job at the same time. Every family I know is inventing its own plan, and I’m so full of rage I feel on the brink of screaming.

In the “before times,” every Shabbat we would go to a playground near our house. All our friends would be there, and for sometimes four hours or more we would just hang out–the kids yo-yoing back and forth from the slides to the spiderweb to the parents with the snacks. It is cheesy, but I just yearn to do that again. I miss sitting around for hours at a time and not worrying about dying of a virus.


ARIELLE DERBY: an elementary school principal and the 41-year-old mother of “two amazing kids.” She lives in Silver Spring, MD.

Hi everyone.

I’m a single mom. I have an eight-year-old son I share custody of with my ex-wife, and I had a baby on my own in November. He’ll soon be a year old, which I cannot believe. I’m a school principal, and since we went virtual on March 13 I feel like I have not stopped to breathe. Trying to run a school for other people’s kids and a school for my own (same school, but different experience, of course) and a daycare and a household all from our one-bedroom apartment was a constant succession of Big Feelings, most of them bad.

I’m good in a crisis. I felt grateful to be employed, to have (some) money to throw at our problems—like being able to pay to have groceries delivered, to have friends and family to Zoom with and reliable internet and devices for everyone. I thought we were doing pretty well, despite everything. But things started to fall apart for me around the end of May, when I realized this wasn’t a crisis. It was life.

On July 6 our daycare opened for infants again and I started sending the baby. It was amazing. He went for a week and two days and then a staff member got sick, and they shut down for three days. It wasn’t a teacher who worked with infants, but it was sobering. Following that the baby ran a low fever for two days, which caused me to get us all tested…negative.

My older son had a hard time with Zoom school. We talk a lot about feelings, and he said recently, “Everything is just so crappy now that when little things happen it just makes it even more crappy.” (He’s inherited my potty mouth.) He’s also thoughtful and sweet and funny and has spent more time playing Minecraft and watching Minecraft YouTubers in the past months than I care to admit. I am terrified about what the new school year will be like for him.

What do I long for? Not worrying about the trauma this is inflicting on my kid and all my students. Being able to buy groceries without its being A Production. Hanging out with colleagues in my office after school. Going out for coffee. Not feeling like every single fucking decision is life or death.

I started using Facebook like a public journal when this all started. I posted every day and tried to focus on the little moments of joy. My neighbors’ gardens blooming, my kids giggling. I know I am lucky. And yet. And still.


KATIE COLT: a writer, musician, and parent in the Chicago area.

Hi everyone.

I live in the suburbs with my husband and two kids. My daily life is centered around making sure the kids have what they need. Most of the domestic labor falls on me, as my husband has had to go into work from Day One of the pandemic (he’s a brewing production manager at a nationally distributed brewery).

Our five-year-old, a delightful and boisterous boy, is a “mover” (he physically cannot sit still) and is suspected to be ASD. Remote learning for his pre-K class was a disaster, and I am dreading our district’s remote-for-everyone plan, even though it’s safest. With my two-year-old, I’ve been trying to give him extra attention to help with his speech delay, but most of the time I just end up the referee between the kids. I’m worried that the younger one is missing out on socialization time, and that his speech delay is a result of being isolated. I feel like a failure because I can’t split myself into two people that can simultaneously give each child 100% of me.

On top of this, all I want to do is be alone. In April, I lost my dad to Covid. I’ve barely been able to get space to myself to grieve. Before this all happened, I was looking forward to sending the five-year-old to full-time kindergarten and the two-year-old to daycare a couple of days a week so I could spend time creating: writing and making art and music. I fear I will lose myself completely if I cannot figure out how to do this.


CHAVA SHERVINGTON: a longtime diversity activist in the Jewish community, as well as an attorney and mom in Los Angeles.

Hi everyone.

I’m a mother of two living on the West Coast with my husband and two daughters (four and six). I’m managing most household responsibilities, a house renovation, and am on the leadership team of an organization with a focus on racial equity work in the Jewish community. I’m on a hamster wheel: my husband is an essential worker, my kids are old enough to need real education and entertainment but not old enough to manage it themselves, and my professional responsibilities have exploded because of the new attention to racial justice.

My day cycles through conference calls, webinars, interior design, and refereeing household arguments. As an incredibly social person, I’m struggling with the fact that my circle has disappeared. Instead of conferences, social gatherings, smachot, and our warm shul and school community, I’m home with most of my in-person communication relegated to explaining for the 1000th time that, yes, my kids have to clean up their room even though they’re “still playing with it.”

An extreme extrovert, I am starved for adult interaction, leading me to spend more time on social media than I’d prefer to. I try to assuage my guilt with the fact that it does assist me in building relationships with my fellow Jews of color, but it also leads me to disappointment in the larger community as well, especially some responses to the movement for racial justice.

My kids are rotating between Zoom, the longest running game of house in history, and constantly anticipating the things they’re going to do when this gets better. Baruch Hashem they’ve adjusted to their new normal, but it was fraught with early behavioral regressions, chutzpah and clinginess combined with frustration that Mommy being home doesn’t always mean that Mommy’s available. My general 80s approach to parenting seems to be paying off, as my kids can entertain themselves for hours with dolls, books, and art…with only a few mishaps. I’m impressed with how resilient they’ve been and how much they’ve been willing to sacrifice until “after the virus.”

I feel like I’m creating infinite extensions on when that actually is, when they’ll be able to play with friends, return to shul, visit cousins and grandparents who live plane rides away. But I am inspired by their generosity of spirit and willingness to take this in stride. One thing I’ve learned so far is that there are lessons all around us, if only we’re willing to pay attention.

All the best,



AUTUMN LEONARD: a mother of two who leads workshops and conversations for parents and kids about race.

Hello new thought partners. It’s lovely to be sharing ideas. My family has been quarantined in our fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Brooklyn for the centuries that have passed since March 16: the day NYC schools closed. My son turned seven two days before the closing. The pictures from his slumber party look so forbidden now, like we were fiddling on the Titanic as it sank. That was before wearing masks was supposed to be important. All of my work quickly dried up. I teach yoga and do facilitation and anti-oppression coaching. Once the yoga studios closed I had to wait and see if they would go online, and once they went online, I had to wait and see if they would invite me to be on the roster. Meanwhile my husband’s job exploded. He co-directs a parenting organization, and every single person on staff besides my husband is a working momma. My husband was the only person on his staff who had a partner who was no longer working full time, so I experienced more pressure to take care of the kids in order to free my husband up to backstop all those other mommas he works with. It was a masterclass on how I put unnecessary pressure on myself. I waded into remote learning while my husband worked up to 70 hours/week.

Remote learning was a slow-motion disaster for my first grader. He did not want to be seen on Zoom calls. I bribed my kids with chocolate to run laps up and down our hallway and stairwell. I kept taking videos of my youngest in apoplectic tears and then talking myself out of sending them to our teachers.

Here’s what I know about my emotional state: Dissociation is my superpower, I often feel fine in an emergency while knowing that in a few months or years I will have panic and anxiety and not know why. It’s like taking out an emotional loan against my future. So when this first began that’s what I did. I stayed very calm. It was an adventure. We would figure it out.

I have been teaching yoga via Zoom from my living room, or from my bedroom (with the bed flipped up against the wall), or even sneaking up onto the roof of my apartment. I have been holding space for other people while embracing how much I could not feel myself. There is a generation of kids whose entire lives will never be the same (they are calling them Generation C for Covid and/or Change). There are so many families who have been decimated.

Then George Floyd was murdered, the uprisings began, and suddenly I was absolutely incapable of pretending everything was fine anymore. So now I have become a stay-at-home momma, who intermittently teaches yoga from every room except the bathroom, who stayed indoors for most of three months—and then took her kids out to protest in the middle of a pandemic. While I have handled the pandemic of racism my whole life, I couldn’t handle the twin pandemics of racism and Covid and just stay safe.



I do appreciate hearing your stories, and at the same time it’s like a horror novel I don’t want to read.

Autumn, your words resonated with me. As an educator and a parent, I cannot stop thinking about the long- and short-term effects this will have on our kids. What lessons are they learning? God, I hope I am modeling and teaching resilience, gratitude, flexibility, strength…in my mind I am pretty much hiding in bed all the time.

What are our kids learning about who and what is valued in America? What will it mean for them to see and process that the grown ups can’t fix it? Can’t fully protect them? We are all affected, and at the same time my skin, my class status, my resources change the level and nature of my affectedness. Perhaps that is one thing for the “silver lining” list—having to think about and confront my privilege and what it means, the abundance of gratitude that comes with those realizations, the spur to action as a necessary response to those realizations.



Arielle, this sentiment really resonated with me. What I am doing and where I am in my head are usually two completely different processes, as if I am split in two, each piece located on separate continents. When my five-year-old was a baby, I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, and I was telling my mother about the terrible thoughts in my head while I was nuzzling him and feeding him. “You may be thinking of terrible things, but you’re not doing terrible things,” she said. If reassuring my kids while I quake in fear is considered “lying,” like one men’s magazine article described it, well, I’m nearly pathological. Everyday I’m full of dread and believe it MUST be leaking out somewhere, yet my kids ask to put their masks on the moment I open their car doors to unbuckle their little seatbelts. If anything, this makes me feel a little triumphant, this normalization of pandemic life. Because ultimately we have lost, but we are here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how ineffective communities in today’s world can be at providing basic care for each other. In my neighborhood, I’m lucky to know several neighbors on my block, but we watch each other struggle with grief and loss, with working from home, with lack of childcare, and we say very little about it.

Because, somehow, the privilege we share has sent us our own independent islands, all lined up neatly in a row, and no one knows how to swim or wants to learn. Anyway, maybe that’s what the future, post-pandemic looks like to me: social contracts of reciprocity. I’m ready to jump in the water and discover how to float.



Katie, so much of what you wrote I could have written myself. I don’t know if I would classify it as “lying” but I feel responsible for minimizing my children’s anxiety, sadness, and fear. I think there’s a distinct difference between avoiding and denying current realities, and helping children manage difficult circumstances. Given how isolating, depressing, and fear-inducing Covid, the continuing police brutality and rhetorical backlash around the current civil rights movement, and the economic downturn can be for adults, I have made specific choices around how we discuss these issues around them. I’m constantly questioning whether I’m making the right decisions about what we do and don’t discuss, but I’m hoping that I’m instilling core values around equity, justice, and communal responsibility.

And I miss my village! This pandemic has exposed the lack of governmental and societal support for women and children, how structural racism exacerbates that lack of support, and even for those in privileged circumstances demonstrates how necessary a village is. It’s also raised so many questions that society must reckon with in a serious way as we come out of this pandemic. Going back to “normal’ is not an option. This moment has exposed how normal is not working for so many of us. The new mommy wars around pods or no pods, remote learning vs. in person learning are only a reflection of the disparities that already exist.

Those of us who profess to value equity need to re-evaluate how we engage with institutions. As I see businesses who refuse to take cash, I think of all the folks with no credit or no bank accounts who are now prevented from accessing resources.

How much are we willing to sacrifice because of inadequate childcare options, how do we ensure that kids with food insecurity have proper access to nutritional meals, are employer expectations based in efficiency or in patriarchy, how do our personal relationships need to be reevaluated so that women aren’t overburdened? What are the many ways that this pandemic has more widely exposed racial disparities in health care, education, wealth, job opportunities, how many folks have been thrown into an economic tailspin due to a societal crisis? How do we build systems of resilience that don’t rely on exploitation?

One of my biggest fears is that this moment will pass, these questions will get pushed aside and pushed off until our next moment of crisis.



My grandmother was an undertaker, firmly a member of the black upper-middle class in her town of Flint, Michigan. When I was a kid, everyone there knew my grandmother. She ran a funeral and undertaking business. I was seven the first time I saw a dead body in her basement. Since then I never lost the realization that death was something that could happen to any of us at any time. It has changed the way I live my life, because if you keep in mind that one day you will die it changes your idea of what is important. It has made me think a lot about how adulting is just playing an elaborate game. Some folks make up the rules to the game, and the rest of us try to win. When you look at life that way, rather than being fixed, everything seems adjustable.

The strange thing for me about Covid is that suddenly large sections of society are not ignoring mortality and the fact we can change the rules of society when necessary. Here in NYC, we could pause paying rent and mortgages for those at risk of homelessness. It’s in our power to keep people from being forced out into the streets during a pandemic. When survival is on the line, we rethink what is necessary.

I have had conversations with my 97-year-old grandfather (Jewish, not Black) about how he’s satisfied with the life he has led. I cannot imagine him saying this to me pre-Covid. I cannot imagine discussing it with my kids. But I have been discussing these things with my kids. “No matter what happens to Poppa, he will be satisfied. He is not worried.” We have no control over what happens at Poppa’s retirement home and they are all locked down there, no visitors, and anytime someone tests positive all the residents cannot leave their rooms. So suddenly we are talking to Poppa more than ever. My kids may know their greatgrandfather better than they might’ve. I think because of these discussions my kids are avid social distancers. We do not sugarcoat or ignore or pretend that anything other than our lives or someone else’s life is in the balance.

Recently we went to what we thought would be a distanced playdate and the other girls ran and hugged each other. They then turned to my eleven-year-old and tried to shame her into hugging them. My kiddo said “You have to respect my boundaries.” Until then I didn’t know just how determined she could be.

And yet I would give back knowing my daughter has a core of steel and my grandfather is at peace in a heartbeat if it meant we were not living through what we are living through.



For years I’ve been saying that the old folk tale It Could Always Be Worse is basically the story of my life, and should be printed on my headstone. As a foster parent, I do sometimes add people to my house and it always does make me feel like I’ve lost my mind, and when it’s over I always do feel this intense peace that I’m able to be there for kids that need a safe space. That has been a big piece of Covid times for me. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed and livid, and also grateful.

I worry for my friends who don’t have partners or kids. My best friend is a frontline doctor in New York. After months of excruciating work, he suddenly had to put his dog down last week, and my heart is breaking for him. I have caught myself wishing I had some alone time to watch all the Netflix, and sleep uninterrupted and keep the house cleanish for more than 5 minutes. But having people (and pets and plants) to take care of has also kept me from descending into madness.

One of the weirdest parts of all of this has been figuring out how to be there for friends experiencing loss (deaths, but also miscarriages, cancer diagnoses, job loss, etc) when I can’t give them hugs, or easily make them meals, or help with childcare. I keep thinking about how much I needed my friends when my mom died, and when we had new babies. It sucks to not be able to do the things for others that helped me. My old standards are pretty useless now. I’m doing text check-ins. Sending postcards to friends every week. But it doesn’t feel like enough.



It’s 5.30 am and I’m nursing my baby as the sun rises: so in the new normal, office hours have begun. As Autumn and Arielle have said, the revelations and insights I may have gained because of this mass suffering—I was schlepping way too much “before,” focused on providing for my kids (Pumped breastmilk! Dinner!) rather than just being with them—are valuable, yes, but not valuable enough.

Autumn, I also broke my quarantine to walk in a BLM protest with my kids, and my partner has been doing an intensive antiracist curriculum with our oldest, but I yearn to do more that’s physical: to make marching and organizing a part of my rhythm as I used to do during Occupy Wall Street, during various feminist uprisings, and earlier, during protests of the Bush era.

One of the things I struggled with as a new mom in the Trump era is that my body isn’t mine to use spontaneously. It is the center of a small ecosystem. But sometimes I wear a teargas- proof bandanna from Occupy as my Covid mask, to remind myself that protest movements always return, that, as my mother and Lilith colleagues remind me, the period of life with young children is finite, even short, and that someday I may be marching along with my kids, celebrating victories with my kids, being taught how to be in intimate spaces with other people again by them, and with them.

And now to try to get an hour of sleep before the day begins, again.

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April 20, 2020 by

Tipping. A Feminist Issue.

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Ethical choices around other peoples’ labor are forced upon us every day, even before the coronavirus upended all of our lives. Our humblest gestures carry weighty meaning: Do we tip the guy at the takeout counter? Do we give the babysitter her day off paid or unpaid? How to handle the person at the restaurant that screwed up our order? The gig economy means that we find ourselves often hiring one-time services, and unionization drives are spreading to new industries. So in early January, Lilith posed questions to labor journalist Sarah Jaffe, who tackles thorny issues in her forthcoming book Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Leaves Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone.

ARIELLE SILVER-WILLNER: First, what led you to write about labor?

SARAH JAFFE: I had a lot of shitty jobs. I worked in retail, restaurants, coffee shops—the underlying thing that all of those have in common is that the work sucks, you don’t have a lot of power and you have to be nice to both your boss and to customers. I worked in high school, I worked in college, I worked after college—it took me awhile to be able to make a living as a journalist. I was drawn to thinking about work, and that’s when I started to learn about labor unions. I didn’t see a lot of people writing about this stuff at the time. That continues to be an influence on the work I’m doing with this upcoming book about jobs we’re supposed to love.

There is a movement to end the tipped minimum wage—if you work in a job where you routinely get tips you can legally be paid much less than the minimum wage. Why are jobs that rely on tips so exploitative, and why should we care?

Tipping in the U.S. is built into labor law. You can pay your workers less if they get tipped. I believe it’s still $2.70-something an hour, which is the same as it was the last time I had a waitressing job, which was 2004. I got paychecks that weren’t paychecks, because everything that my boss was required to pay me went to taxes, and basically the only money I got was in tips.

So you never know how much you’re going to make on a given day. Also, customers can be atrocious to you and you have to deal with it. You look at every table, when you’re waiting tables and go, “This person can decide whether I pay my bills or not.” That was also true to a degree when I was working in retail.

Workers organize around tipping because on some level we all know that your boss should pay you for the work that you do and it shouldn’t be on the customers to do that. The fight for raising the minimum wage for tipped workers is important. A., because it is driven by workers, and B., because it actually raises the floor for everyone, as opposed to these restaurants that you hear about that are voluntarily getting rid of tips, or taking all the tips and making everybody split their tips between the kitchen and the front-of- the-house staff. I tell people, “Don’t trust bosses bearing gifts.”

Right now I’m in England and I notice that I always enjoy surly waitstaff here (not that all the waitstaff in England are surly)—they don’t have to suck up.

There’s also nail salons, cab drivers, hairdressers, massage therapists, jobs where they are probably making a halfway decent wage, but tipping is needed. Tip your tattoo artist! There are so many [transactions] where it is built into the expected rate. People complain about having to do this and I get it, but trust me it wasn’t fun living on tips either.

What is your rule of thumb in terms of how much/whether to tip in our daily encounters?

Always tip. The least you can do as a consumer who is a decent human being is realize that your waitress is subsidizing the price of your meal by not getting paid by her boss, and you leave at least a 20 percent tip. In terms of other tipped industries that are not subject to the tipped minimum wage, you still should tip. These are people who are not making a lot of money and also working in crappy conditions.

But the real situation is that we’re not going to solve these problems by everyone being nicer to the waitstaff (although you should always be nicer to the waitstaff—they control your food). We have to solve a problem of inequality and lack of power. So support the organizations by which these workers are making their own voices heard, telling us exactly what they need.

You mention in your previous writing that women tend to work more of the jobs that require them to “put on a happy face.”

When you are expected to perform a certain type of “liking your job” to make sure that you get your tip and you get paid, you have to paste a smile on your face. Arlie Hochschild famously called this “emotional labor”—the labor of performing a certain emotion in order to evoke a certain emotion in somebody else. So, when you’re waiting tables, you have to perform that you’re really excited to tell people about this wine, or this dessert special, because you want them to be happy and have a good time and then give you a 20, 25 percent tip at the end. All of that is designed to make somebody else happy—your customer and your boss. It is not about whether you genuinely like your job. Most people who wait tables probably have some nights where their job is fun, and other nights where their job is absolute torture. I certainly did.

We see more women in these workforces for several reasons—the expectations that we’ve long had that women are the ones who stay at home, raise the kids, do the housework, and do all of that without getting paid for it, because they love it. Because they love their family and because they love the work itself.

Selma James, Sylvia Federici, the Wages for Housework movement—many thinkers have noted that this notion has shaped capitalism itself.

In my book I’m writing about service work, retail work, women’s unpaid work in the home and then paid domestic work, teaching. I did not, but could have included: nursing, home care, food service, and nonprofit work, which also has its roots in women’s unpaid labor. We have watched these ideas creep into the rest of the workforce, and when they do, they come along with low wages and the idea that you’re going to do the work anyway because you like it.

You talk a bit about how tipping is a gendered issue. How can we expand this to think of tipping as a racialized issue as well?

When talking about service work in the U.S. you have to understand the history of slavery. Paid domestic work has always been associated with slavery because [slave-owners] would get women [slaves] to do the laundry, the housework. After slavery, racist white people didn’t want to pay their former slaves a living wage. For service work that doesn’t have this association with servitude, there’s still a tension there. When people talk about fast food workers, a lot of the things they’ll say is that those jobs are for teenagers, but also there’s the implication that those jobs are for people who can’t do any better, and we know what that means in the U.S., where you see people of color concentrated in lower-paying parts of the service economy.

You’ve reported a lot on fast food workers organizing for better conditions.

The Fight for 15 [that is, for a $15 minimum wage] coming out of fast food is a racial justice movement. Rasheen Aldridge, now a state legislator in Missouri: “I’ve learned these organizing skills working on the Fight for 15 but also, this is all connected; the fact that young people in Ferguson have the choice of a handful of crappy jobs, while the cops are collecting fines off of us and they shoot us if we don’t behave.” These are all interconnected forms of oppression.

How do we overcome the reliance on tipped wages?

Overthrow the capitalist class? I mean, you build momentum through organizing. Show up when there’s a picket line, Show up when there’s a hearing at City Hall.

Washington D.C. had this whole situation where voters passed a ballot initiative that would have required tipped workers be paid an actual minimum wage, and the city council then reversed it because bosses were mad about it. There have been places where the tipped minimum wage has already been raised. Even raising the regular minimum wage, which is still nationally $7.25 an hour, would be helpful.

There are organizations like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice that have done a lot of work organizing people around things like the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, saying that as Jewish people we should be not only good employers. But we should actually be involved in the struggle for people to have rights written into the law that are enforceable. That means it’s not just built on being nicer to the waitress or the person who cleans your house, or the person who looks after your kid, it means that everybody else has to provide a decent living to the person who takes care of their kid, cleans their house, serves them food.

Don’t leave that up to individual people deciding to be nice, but make sure that there are consequences for people treating their workers badly.

But I think the most important thing is workers organizing for themselves, taking power on the shop floor, as well as in law. After all, we have laws on sexual harassment and they certainly haven’t stopped anybody from doing it. So you have to be powerful enough to fight back.

The Hotel Workers Unions, for instance, have done work getting panic buttons for hotel housekeepers, because they’re alone in rooms with men, sometimes, who turn up and think that the housekeeper is an easy target—she might be an immigrant, she’s cleaning your room, she’s already in a subservient position. Men, like the former head of the World Bank, take advantage.

My new book is about the way the changing economy increasingly relies on people’s supposed love for the job itself. In post-industrial countries, where manufacturing work is fading away, outsourced to poorer countries or to machines, what is it that motivates us to keep working? Why do we expect to find fulfillment on the job, and what happens when we don’t?

In what ways can we think about these labor issues more broadly, in relation to Jewish values?

What I think of as Jewish values seem to me to be more important now than ever. We are a people that have been oppressed for who we are, what we look like, how we pray. We should understand that our struggles and our suffering are connected to other people who are oppressed because of how they look, how they pray, what they eat, where they live. And that can sound arcane—“Does being a Jew mean that you should tip well?” But, yes. Not because there’s a stereotype that we’re cheap, but because being Jewish means we should be in solidarity with people struggling for their own right to exist and be free, which means being economically stable enough to actually make the choices that a free person can make.

Sarah Jaffe is a reporting fellow at Type Media Center and the author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt and the forthcoming Work Won’t Love You Back.

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The Lilith Blog

September 13, 2018 by

As a Male Rabbi, I Plan to “Lean In” to Childcare

This year will be a year of profound change in my life – and the opportunity for my spouse, Mirah, and me to change minhag, the customs of our people. It is no secret that clergy in committed relationships often crater their partner’s careers. I have seen colleagues use holy words as pretense to ignore their partner’s needs – and at my worst, might have done so myself. It is narcissism wrapped in the language of Torah.

We denigrate both ourselves and our tradition when we demean the people to whom we father daughter beachshould be most committed – especially when we do it in the name of God. When people decry organized religion, it is our hypocrisy as clergy that gives them legitimacy.

I enter this Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, filled with trepidation about what I might do, or fail to do, when a new baby enters our lives. We both plan to continue working and will do our best to co-parent. But I fear that my failure to lean into parenting will ruin Mirah’s career. 

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November 29, 2012 by

“A Marriage Agreement”— 1970

This iconic, and iconoclastic, argument — that a woman and man should share equally the responsibility for their household and children — was derided when it first appeared. Norman Mailer, Russell Baker and Joan Didion were shocked, affronted. The real shock is just how relevant Shulman’s Marriage Agreement is for couples today.

When my husband and I were first married, keeping house was less a burden than a game. We both had full time jobs, and twice a month we’d spend Saturday cleaning our apartment and taking our laundry to the Laundromat. We shopped for food together after work; sometimes we ate out; we had our breakfast at a diner near work; sometimes we cooked together, and there were few dishes to wash. Our domestic life was beautifully uncomplicated.

Then our son was born. I quit my job to stay home with him. After our daughter was born, domestic life, the only life I had any longer, was suddenly very complicated. We automatically accepted the sex roles society assigns. My husband worked all day in an office, while I took on almost all the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing. His life changed little when the children came, but mine was completely transformed. Keeping the apartment neat took hours of each day; I had to prepare meals for from one to four people at a time, and everyone ate different food; laundry became a daily chore. I seemed to be working every minute yet could not get everything done.

Even more burdensome than the physical work of housekeeping was the relentless responsibility I had for the children. If there was ever a moment to read, I read to them. I wanted to work on my writing, but there was no time. Later, when I took free-lance work in order to keep some contact with the world, I had to squeeze it into my “free” time.
My husband’s job kept him at work later and later and sometimes took him out of town.

The children were usually asleep when he got home, and we were too tired to do anything but sleep. If I suffered from too much domesticity, he suffered from too little.

As the children grew, our domestic arrangement seemed increasingly unfair. Why should a couple’s decision to have a family mean that she must completely change her life while he missed out on their children? When I finally began to see my situation through the new women’s liberation point of view, I realized that the only way we could possibly survive as a family was to throw out the traditional sex roles we’d been living by and, starting from scratch, define our roles for ourselves. Wishing to be once more as equal and independent as we had been when we were first married, we decided to make an agreement in which we could define our roles our own way.

We wanted to share completely the responsibility for caring for our household and children, by then five and seven. We recognized that we would have to be extremely wary of backsliding into our old domestic habits. If it was my husband’s night to take care of the children, I would have to avoid checking up on how he was managing, and if the babysitter didn’t show up it would be his problem. When our agreement was merely verbal it didn’t work, despite our best intentions, so we wrote it out instead.

Marriage Agreement

i. Principles

We reject the notion that the work which brings in more money is the more valuable. The ability to earn more money is already a privilege which must not be compounded by enabling the larger earner to buy out of his/her duties and put the burden on the one who earns less, or on someone hired from the outside.

As parents, we believe we must share all responsibility for taking care of our children and home — not only the work, but the responsibility. At least during the first year of this agreement, sharing responsibility shall mean dividing the jobs and dividing the time. In principle, jobs should be shared equally, 50-50, but deals may be made by mutual agreement. The schedule may be flexible, but changes must be formally agreed upon.

ii. Job Breakdown and Schedule

a) Children

1. Mornings: Waking children; getting their clothes out, making their lunches; seeing that they have notes, homework, money, passes, books, etc.; brushing their hair; giving them breakfast; making coffee for us. Every other week each parent does all.

2. Transportation: Getting children to and from lessons, doctors, dentists, friends’ houses, park, parties, movies, library, etc. Making appointments. Parts occurring between 3:00 and 6:30 PM fall to wife. Husband does all weekend transportation and pickups after 6.

3. Help: Helping with homework, personal problems, projects like cooking, making gifts, experiments, planting, etc.; answering questions, explaining things. Parts occurring between 3:00 and 6:30 PM fall to wife. After 6, husband does Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Wife does Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Friday is split according to who has done extra work during the week.

4. Nighttime: Getting children to take baths, brush their teeth, go to bed, put away their toys and clothes; reading with them; tucking them in and having night-talks; handling if they wake and call in the night. Nighttime (and all Help after 6:30): Husband does Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Wife does Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Friday is split according to who has done extra work during the week.

5. Babysitters: Getting babysitters, which sometimes takes an hour of phoning. Sitters must be called by the parent being replaced. If no sitter shows, that parent stays home.

6. Sick care: Calling doctors, checking out symptoms, getting prescriptions filled, remembering to give medicine, taking days off to stay home with sick child; providing special activities. To be worked out, since wife seems to do it all.

7. Weekends: All of the above, plus special activities (beach, park, zoo, etc.). Split equally. Husband is free all day Saturday, wife is free all day Sunday.

b) Housework

8. Cooking: Breakfast, dinners (children, parents, guests). Husband does weekend breakfasts, dinner on Sunday and when he’s on duty if wife is out. Wife does all the rest.

9. Shopping: Food, housewares, children’s clothes and supplies. Divide by convenience.

10. Cleaning: Dishes daily; apartment weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Wife does dishes Monday, Wednesday, Saturday; husband Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. Husband does all house cleaning in exchange for wife’s extra childcare and sick care.

11. Laundry: Home laundry; dry cleaning (take and pick up). Wife does home laundry. Husband takes care of dry cleaning.  

A fuller version of this “Marriage Agreement” first ran in 1970 in the journal Up From Under and is adapted from A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing (Open Road Media, 2012).

Alix Kates Shulman’s new novel, Ménage, is also out this year (Other Press).

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