Discovery and reflection: A female perspective on the lockdown

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FACT, Liverpool in Lockdown: Warren Millar

Women’s lives have changed a result of the Covid-19 lockdown and Getintothis’ Jane Davies looks what how things may look in the future.

Countries fronted by female leaders have been praised for their decisiveness and effectiveness on tackling the Corona virus pandemic from New Zealand to South Korea to Scotland.

When it comes to paid employment, roles that are predominantly and traditionally taken by women, such as health and social care and retail have have seen staff left with no choice in the matter but to soldier on, especially if they have dependents or are single income households.

Sometimes the reward forn this is paying the ultimate price.

Those able to work from home are fortunate to have jobs that facilitate this and can work in relative safety with some degree of normality and mental health, continuing to earn a regular income.

One positive that we can draw from this for lots of workers, male and female, is that it will prove that working from home is a productive way to work and companies will find it very hard to turn down future requests to work in this way.

It can be a positive; more productive, less travel, less pollution, smaller premises required for your company. Possibly a win/win situation for employee and employer alike.

Women unable to work due to caring responsibilities, possibly isolating due to their own ill health or their family’s, and women of all ages whose sole income is state benefits will be the worst hit.

They cannot shop around so readily for cheaper food, food banks may be depleted, they may not have access to a car, plus single parents will have to take children with them to shops, pharmacies, putting them at risk.

For women furloughed or not in work and still being paid, this experience is giving a window on the world that many have long wondered about. The supposed life as a retiree or stay at home partner/mother but with restrictions on freedom of movement.

Many a time I am guilty of wondering what it would be like to not have to work, usually on a Monday morning as I run out of the door, ten minutes late.

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The old adage “be careful what you wish for” has come back to haunt me and my 15 year old daughter who complained daily about doing GCSEs this summer and that it was too soon.

Overnight, my daughter will be starting out in life as I did in the late eighties in an economically depressed landscape.

For now, I am stay at home mother and home schooler, finding myself in the mysterious and sometimes maligned and mocked world of home schooling. Children may be educated at home for various reasons; parental preference, medical reasons, bullying and now for reasons beyond our control and wildest dreams.

Many women will be trying to work and home school and I salute them. The younger the child, the more enormous the task to keep them on task.

We have to be grateful if we have a safe home in this crisis. For many women and children living under the shadow of domestic violence, the restrictions must be doubly horrific, although support organisations are out there ready to help.

These unprecedented times have given us time. There are less deadlines, appointments and things to rush to. Things we usually avoided for want of time; cleaning the house, the windows, the car are no longer a chore.

For the first time ever, my home is being lavished with love and affection. We can get extreme satisfaction by meticulously removing all the cat hairs from the sofa cushions with a lint roller, washing then ironing them.

I have taken pride in discovering scented disinfectants that don’t make the house smell like freshly cleaned public toilet.

Watermelon, berries, pineapple and coconut liven up the most mediocre of tasks. Donald Trump could serve himself a rather nice cocktail from the contents of my burgeoning under sink cupboard.

This brings me on to another matter. There have been reports of folks devoid of domestic staff not knowing where to start with housekeeping! I strongly recommend they have a read of Mrs Hinch’s hand book.

It’s been interesting having an insight into homemaker role. My late mother, a contradiction in terms in that she was always 15 minutes ahead of schedule, did not work after having children and found contentment in the home and building a small outside social network.

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She was able to stay at home. The crucial point being, she had a choice, we could survive on one income in those days.

She never had an unproductive moment; net curtains washed, a show garden, huge swathes of clean laundry billowing on a line the length of the garden, bins disinfected, the car washed weekly, jumpers knitted, clothes fashioned on the Singer and home cooked food daily from scratch.

It was her full on full time job.

In contrast, like most women nowadays I work full time and for me, I was lucky if I got the washing outside in summer andthen it  invariably rained on it whilst I was at work. It was a task we would comment on in the majority of our phone calls, “It was nice today, did you get the washing dried?”

For me it is a huge triumph of domesticity to get the weeks’ laundry dry without paying Scottish Power for the privilege.

This situation and this temporary shift will leave some women wondering about future changes, goals, what they want and need.

Turning now to the experience of retirement and women who are grandparents. Grandparents, unless resident with you are not allowed provide childcare.

I will admit I secretly resented mothers at my kids’ primary school who had free wrap around care courtesy of granny and uninterrupted ascendant careers as a result.

Now granny is the one we have to care for and relinquish her of her responsibilities for the good of her health.

Possibly some grandparents will be glad to be relieved of their duties for a while. Grandparents should be allowed to have their own life, take holidays and socialise and have hobbies.

In any case, a lot of the older generation are still in employment. Will their priorities change post Covid? Will they be more or less willing to resume childminding chores?

Older women living alone over the age will be further isolated if they are not technically equipped to stay in touch with family friends and support services. Again local and national support organisations will hopefully engage with these people.

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Women do have a tendency to be poorer in old age than male counterparts, due to career interruptions.

I don’t use the term “break”. Break infers it is optional; a holiday break something you choose, where and when. Women invariably bear the brunt of child care, caring for partners and then older relatives and then grandchildren. Perpetual carers. This ultimately impacts on earning potential and later life security.

Younger women on insecure contracts are now having a break in income and possibly were not in a pension scheme which will impact later.

What about young women? I imagine that this situation is pretty dire for 20 somethings. The lack of social life and hairdressing salons and beauty treatments will be felt significantly.

For those with live in partners, will this enforced unity make or break a relationship? What about the newly forged couples who hastily and prematurely moved in together for lockdown and are now regretting it?

Relate may be very busy this autumn.

High maintenance women of all ages will be suffering unruly eyebrows, bad hair days, and tatty eyelashes and acrylic nails. Isn’t it good though to not have to spend so much time getting ready in a morning?

Shopping is a now a chore. You can only buy food. It’s a mission. Get in, get done get out.

Once home, we quarantine the food for three days in the garage or set to work immediately with soap or wipes. We worry for the face of future clothes shops. Solo trips, no trying on of clothes, no in store café and no toilets.

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Lockdown has bought us a time out pass and we don’t know when it will expire. It has been a stress relief not rushing to work, rushing to make quick meals after a busy day then driving children to clubs and classes. It would be nice to have a choice and to work 3 days on, 3 off and that flexibility.

Lots of women have got creative. A friend made a herb garden from a repurposed pallet.  Another commented that she was getting huge job satisfaction from cleaning the bathroom. Others are baking with gusto when ingredients allow and painting their own works of art for the first time in years.

Will we be able to continue with this when things return to a new normal?

The Second World War stopped normal life similar to now. Women in the Second World War kept home fires burning but also went out to work. So they may not have had a choice, but if they returned to full time house work after, they had at least had an opportunity to discover what life was like at work.

If I can draw anything positive out of all this, it has been a sense of discovery and reflection. What do I want to do next, how do I want to move forward or change my life after, or as a result of this?

Above all, women have discovered how much they do in one day, what matters the most and found enjoyment in simple things and gratitude above all for having survived so far.

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