New normal, new gender roles during COVID-19 lockdown

An authored article by Pallavi Mathur Lal, Senior Client Officer, Ipsos India.

In these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and lockdown we have learnt, unlearnt and relearnt many things.  The biggest learning has been of Work-from-home (WFH) intermingled with household chores, sans the support system of household help. The new normal is compelling us to adjust and how!

Emma and The Mental Load… and now more

Here's an article by the Guardian on 'The gender wars of household chores: a feminist comic'.

I believe in #eachforequal and gender equality. In the current situation, we are getting to hear of men increasingly rising to the task of contributing to the household chores and in the supervision of kids, like never before. For the women though, it has never been this tough, ever.

If you are a woman, whether a homemaker or a working woman, you may have seen this wonderful articulation of what feminists call the ‘mental load’ by the French comic artist Emma (she only goes by the name of Emma).

When I read this comic strip years ago, there was a flashbulb moment and I loved Emma for putting this down and making it real for a lot of us. This is the Mental Load we were living with even before COVID-19 struck.

During the COVID -19 times, increased mental load with increased physical load, is making women go back to the drawing board, as the initial weeks of the lockdown unleashed chaos, hampering the ability to deliver on work schedules as before, as they confronted disruption. The collapse of the house help system needed to pave way for a new workable system. After speaking with many working women and from my own personal experiences, there are few tips I’m sharing that can bring greater orderliness in the new normal.

The new normal – every woman’s survival kit

Accommodate, not just Assimilate

Jean  Piaget, a Swiss psychologist known for his theory of Cognitive Development, gave us the concepts of Assimilation and Accommodation, which are highly pertinent here.

In very basic terms, as one goes through life’s experiences, we build a framework in our minds of concepts that we interact with and use, to build our world in our heads. As one progresses, life’s experiences that fit into the current schema or framework get Assimilated and strengthen it. However, when a pandemic comes along, the resultant shake-up and the new scheme that forms is called Accommodation – the changing and creating of a new framework. I have borrowed a simple explanation from the net to illustrate and help explain this to you. Vist:

This is what everyone is experiencing right now. Earlier roles, routines, behaviours not working, should be reset with a new reality. Resisting this adaptation, isn’t helpful and being rigid offers us no advantage. Embracing this change and working around the new hurdles leads to acclimatization and better adjustment.

We are often advised to “keep it simple”. Extra work loads should wire us to choose the absolute essential: Everyday mopping, dusting, laundry, is it necessary? Can it be done every other day?

Divide and Conquer the chores + Play to everyone’s strengths

As a woman, you might be adept at handling household responsibilities. Lockdown has triggered some changes – to actively draw up schedules for family members to complete chores, a new set of routines and habits for every family member to stay healthy physically and mentally and many more. These changes have a better chance of working if 1) everyone feels what is being asked of them is reasonable and fair, and 2) The asks from them are in line with their preferences and their strengths. There isn’t a point in overloading anyone or giving them jobs that they abhor.

Once the structural changes are in place, and the family understands the shared purpose there comes in a sense of harmony. This helps direct your mental energies towards other tasks like work, bringing in the much-required focus.

Playing to your strengths is a great construct that comes from Positive Psychology. This is applicable for everyone in all spheres of their lives. Not only for the family, but for work and other areas of life too. (If you are interested, you can read about why you should focus on character strengths) You can find your strengths here.

Deadlines and Compartmentalization

Those who have done WFH (Work from Home) before, know that work will be interrupted with doorbells, the cacophony of children and dogs, and lunch preparation. As WFH has become the standard in the past 40 days, this has needed newer ways of coping. Meetings and calls are natural time blockers. Rather than work as before where one could manage longer periods of concentration at office, it is smarter to break down tasks to smaller tasks or modules.

The mantra - keep the tasks short, blocking the calendar for strict deadlines. Deadlines bring in the focus and pragmatism. Compartmentalizing of work and home sets the tone for handling both with minimal disruption.Resilience is your Superpower today

The right perspective hones resilience.

 Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of situations of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. Current events are adverse and are causing stress by disrupting our comfort, our regular lives. This is where everyone’s individual resilience comes in. Resilience is like a muscle – everyone has it, but some have built it up more, while others can still do so.

How is Resilience built? Gratitude, a positive outlook and the right perspective are the key ingredients in this recipe. Consider it your good fortune if your job is safe, you have a home and a family close-by, good health, access to essential supplies and medical assistance and so on. Getting bogged down by the isolation and being indoors or lamenting about work isn’t helpful. Best advice? Zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture. Think of the disadvantaged without facilities or resources. People are losing jobs or stuck in another city or country away from families and there are those who don’t have meals to eat. Millions of people are affected globally and losing their lives.

Once you come from this perspective, it works wonders. You realize you are far better off than others. Brings in gratitude and a paradigm shift. Reorienting you to grow and get a better grip on everything around you that you may be confronting. In fact, you can help others by doing your bit from the comfort and safety of your homes.

Personally, I realized, small changes were not adequate for regaining focus. The level of disruption called for fundamental adaptations and alterations, for diurnal activities, handling of mental load, work productivity and home management.

Here’s hoping these experience-based handy tips and learnings will help you sail through the day in the new normal.



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