As international women’s day was marked around the world on the 8th of March, my TikTok feed was filled with one sound – a portion of the song ‘Labour’ by Paris Paloma due to be released later in the month. Perhaps this song is unfamiliar to many people, given the fact that at this point my For You Page knows more about me than I do. (Apparently this sound is only trending for history-obsessed eldest daughters who want to end the patriarchy.) For those unaware of what I’m talking about, the song can only be described as the sound of female rage, a lyrical diatribe against a patriarchal society that has existed for centuries. ‘You make me do too much labour,’ the chorus declares; the song also including the line ‘all day, every day, therapist, mother, maid, nymph then a virgin, nurse then a servant.’ Aside from simply being a memorable song, ‘Labour’ draws attention to the burdens of unpaid work which have historically been placed on women, and are sadly still an issue even today in 2023.
In the past, women were seen primarily as wives and mothers, whose roles were first and foremost to care for their children, husbands and homes. They were confined to the private sphere, the domestic space of the home, whilst men dominated the public sphere of the workplace and government. In more recent years, these strict gender roles have been pushed aside, at least in this part of the world, with women having more freedom to pursue careers, have roles in politics, join the military or pursue interests in academia.
The idea of a woman’s place being ‘in the home’ is thankfully now mostly an old fashioned one, but is this freedom all that it seems? Women continue to spend around three times as many hours doing unpaid labour than men, unpaid labour meaning domestic chores and caring responsibilities. For instance, a UN Women report from November 2020 found that 48% of men said that they did not usually cook or serve meals whereas only 17% of women said the same thing. Similarly, 48% of men said that they did not usually help care for children whilst 36% of women said that they did not help with caring for children.
Around the world, 16.4 billion hours are spent on unpaid labour every day, certainly not a trivial amount. In most countries, women spend practically the equivalent to the time spent at a full-time job on childcare – over 30 hours a week. Add to this the time spent trying to maintain a paid job, and the phrase ‘too much labour’ suddenly seems alarmingly relevant. Whilst women may now have more freedom to pursue careers, societal expectations surrounding domestic work and childcare don’t seem to be progressing at the same pace, leaving women with multiple burdens. Getting married and starting a family is still viewed as the ultimate goal for women, with those who choose to remain single or not have children often facing criticism and judgement. For women who do manage to balance a career with having children, there is still the issue of the gender pay gap, which somehow still exists even in 2023. The pay gap between men and women is currently around 15%, however this increases dramatically after women have children. The term ‘motherhood penalty’ has been used to describe this impact, as women are often seen as being less committed to their jobs after having children.
Whilst women’s rights, at least in this country, have clearly come a long way from the days when society confined women to the kitchen, the echoes of this attitude are still being felt today. Paris Paloma’s description of the many roles placed on women is scarily accurate for many. ‘Therapist’, ‘mother’, ‘maid’: these words reflect the data that shows that women are still the primary caregivers for children, still doing most of the domestic chores in the household, and still being punished in their careers for being mothers. With Mothers’ Day just around the corner, I’m more grateful than ever to my own mother who put her career on hold to have children. I can only hope that as time goes on, we can move even further away from the misogynistic attitudes of the past. Towards a future where a song nicknamed ‘too much labour’ doesn’t resonate with as many women as it does today.