Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Third Shift

Christmas is hard work. I mean, eating all that delicious food is a big job. And all that merriment? It can really tire a person out.

Linda, a mother I interviewed, claims, “To me, Christmas is a bother;” unabashedly honest, she explains further, “But when it gets to be Halloween, I start thinking about it. And I dread it every year.”

Christmas is hard work. For women.

It won't shock most moms when they hear that women work in and out of the home an average of fifteen hours more than men each week. To put that in perspective, that's an extra month of 24 hour days a year, folks. Back in the 1980s, researcher Arlie Hochschild named all the extra work moms do on top of their regular work day the "Second Shift." It's the laundry, making dinner, organizing the kids' lunches, cleaning, and oh-so-much more. This is not to say men are completely unengaged with the daily chores involved in running a home, however. In fact, compared to generations gone by, men are much more involved in all these processes than they were.

Yes, the second shift still sucks. But I think we have missed a major piece in the discussion of gender and families. Ladies and gents, I present you with...


The third shift is comprised of what researchers call kin work. Kin work includes all tasks involved in maintaining relationships. It's the work related to forming and sustaining family rituals, such as Christmas or 4th of July celebrations. It's the correspondence such as phone calls, invitations, and thank you cards. It's documenting the moments by taking photos and scrapbooking. It's not only purchasing gifts for family members, but also brainstorming the perfect idea and then finding the right price. It's pretty much the who, what, when, where, how, and why of family connections and gatherings, both small and large. It's also the details of "Be sure you use dairy free butter in the pie crust because of cousin Laura's allergy." It's remembering birthdays and other days of significance for family and friends and then sending a card from the "whole family," even though George has no clue it's his nephew's birthday.

In its current form, kin work is quite dangerous because it is conducted so mindlessly. It is so engrained in our culture that women are hardly aware that they're doing it. Two large issues are presented with women's roles in kin work:

1. Our culture doesn't perceive kin work as work.

Women are still paid less than men, which can be attributed to several reasons, kin work being one of them. Part of the problem is that sending cards and gifts, talking to (or negotiating with) family members, and planning meals appears to be fun. And because family functions are (usually/hopefully) fun, why wouldn't all the planning be enjoyable as well? Or at least more fun than scrubbing the floors and toilets. Is it? Most people probably think so. I know I do. But it's still a form of work. It requires mental capacity and time that, if shared with men, might allow women to get ahead in their jobs (if they so desire). Or at least might narrow the "leisure gap" between men and women, in which men are proven to have much more relaxation time on weekends and after paid labor than women do.

2. Men don't do it. Because they don't know they don't do it. Because women don't know they're doing it.

Even more than household chores, kin work is done primarily by women. Unlike vacuuming and dusting, kin work is almost impossible to hire someone to do, because it involves a relational intelligence, history, and investment. This is also why it is so difficult to involve men in kin work. But it's also why it's so important. In order for any change to occur, men will need to get involved! And women will have to stand a bit of chaos for awhile, while disrupting the already well-oiled machine that is kin work.

It's not just about Christmas. Kin work happens every day of every year, and women don't love all aspects of it. This blog will explore kin work through sharing women's stories and connecting them to scholarship. Join me!


  1. This sounds really interesting, Anna! I've done some work on 19th century British women in India and how they were charged with making their Indian homes as "English" as possible, and I think there are some interesting correlations here. Can't wait to read more!

  2. Thanks for reading, Maura! I'd love to hear about your work, too. When are you coming home next?!

  3. Anna! This is just uncanny--my husband and I were just talking about this very topic not too long ago. I asked him if he could be more involved because we have so many weddings this year it would be nice to have some help picking out gifts/cards, coordinating hotels etc. It is SO interesting to hear there is something more behind this!!! I'm totally printing this off/forwarding this to him!!! Keep up the good work, very interesting information!!

  4. Excellent introduction my friend!

  5. Oh my goodness, I am always trying to explain to my husband how much work I put into exactly these things, and he appreciates it, but he doesn't GET it. I am thrilled to learn there's an actual term for this, and plan to use it frequently :) Thanks for the insights!