Covid-19 and the Politics of Care

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed weaknesses in the United States child care infrastructure to make who had not paid attention to the issue before. This essay, published at the Social Science Research Council’s Items blog, draws on my research with food allergy families to observe how caretaking in a crisis falls back on cultural ideas of who is most “naturally” fit to care for children.

Excerpt from the essay:

The school situation and the consequences of closures for families highlight how two older and interlinked crises of the family are being exacerbated by the pandemic: the crisis of the privatization of the family and the crisis of patriarchy within it. In the absence of normally operating schools, and with limited daycare options and a meager financial safety net, families are expected to take care of themselves socially, financially, and medically without any outside help. Furthermore, in these times of strain, cultural scripts that encode women as “naturally” the best caretakers of children and other vulnerable loved ones offer a seemingly simple way out of the problem.

The situation today reminds me of similar patterns documented by social scientists over decades of research on families, chronic illness, and disability. My own firsthand observations during more than two years of ethnographic research with food allergic people demonstrated to me how families are considered the primary bastion of safety and security. While my research and this short essay focus on the dynamics around childcare, research on elders, end-of-life care, and disability communities and activism demonstrate that the dynamics I have observed about the gendering and privatization of care are generalizable well beyond caring for children. In light of the specific patterns of vulnerability produced by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, old age, immunosuppression, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes join young age as biological and demographic characteristics that demand extra care to be taken by affected individuals and more work to be done by feminized, kin and non-kin caretakers. In pandemic society, as in so many other contexts and situations, falling back on gendered allocations of care work within families solves the problem on the face of it by placing responsibilities on the shoulders of women.

Danya Glabau, Covid-19 and the Politics of Care

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