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The Second Shift Essay Sample

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The Second Shift Essay Sample

The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home written by Arlie Hochschild is a work of research that investigates the strife of a marriage with a two-job family.  The book relates lives of researched couples and their problem with the “second shift” which in this case is the work after work, the housework and childcare.  The author followed fifty families and interviewed the parents for ten years or more.  Her findings and conclusions about the effect of two-job families on the couples’ marriages are recorded in this book.

            Hochschild’s purpose for writing this book is to bring to society’s attention the need for change in how supportive communities are to women providing a second income and most of the “second shift” at home.  It is not just the struggle between the husband and wife about sharing household and childcare responsibilities, but the reason the struggle exists and that it is difficult to resolve falls on the shoulders of society and expected and learned gender ideologies. (Hochschild 15)

            Through her research Hochschild has concluded that most marriages that did not fail or that did not exist with a constant struggle and emotional strain on both partners, were marriages where both parents shared the responsibility of the “second shift”. (Hochschild 216)  She writes, ”In my study the men who shared the second shift had a happier family life…” (Hochschild 216)  This is her main thesis.

            Hochschild has three main points that reveal her own point of view.  One main point is that society portrays the working woman as busy, fun, a role model for her daughter, and personally able to handle it all.  She supports this with a New York Times Magazine article that has a front page cover of a working mother walking home with her daughter in hand.

The woman is young, smiling, windswept hair with her daughter carrying her briefcase for her with a smile on her face. According to Hochschild, “The Times article gives the impression that the working mother is doing so well because she is personally competent, not because she has a sound social arrangement.  Indeed the image of her private characteristics obscures all that is missing in public support.” (Hochschild 23)

This leads to Hochschild’s second main point: working mothers are expected to be supermoms and handle traditional roles at home as well as a second job outside the home and to not be affected by the extraordinary workload. “… the common portrayal of the supermom working mother suggests that she is ‘energetic’ and ‘competent’ because these are her personal characteristics, not because she has been forced to adapt to an overly demanding schedule  What is hidden…is the extra burden on women.” (Hochschild 24)

The third main point Hochschild reveals is that unless society begins to support male sharing in the household and childcare chores, the revolution for women will move ahead without community and spousal support and thereby fail.  This Hochschild refers to as a “stalled revolution.”

                        The work force has changed.  Women have changed.

                        But most workplaces have remained inflexible in the

                        face of the family demands of their workers and at

                        home,  most men have yet to really adapt to the

                        changes in women.  This strain between the change in

                        women and the absence of change in much else leads

                        me to speak of a “stalled revolution.” (Hochschild 12)

This does not mean that women will stop working outside the home, just that women will be unsatisfied and exhausted and not realize their goals as good mothers and career women as well as good wives.  Instead they can only hope to give minimal effort to all jobs, creating unsatisfied parties on all sides, including neglected children, nagged and ignored husbands, and dissatisfied bosses.  Thus the woman is becoming the victim of this arrangement, but is seen as the villain who cannot hold it all together. (Hochschild 93)

Arlie Hochschild did not come by these conclusions without hard work and thorough investigation.  She researched by interviewing and observing fifty families in many different social classes and racial classes for over ten years.  Hochschild visited these families in person and stayed with them in the evenings after work, ate with them, shared family outings with them.  Then she followed up with individual interviews and stayed in touch with them months and years later to see how things were progressing.

With the help of a research assistant, Anne Machung, Hochschild accomplished years of real study of these families, not through books.  However, in her writing she does mention other works that she had read, studies about the same issue of two income families.  So, by personal research and by studying other research that had been done in the past, Hochschild comes to her own conclusion about the problem of the “second shift.”

Because Hochschild relates in depth situations, problems and attempts at solutions of ten of her fifty families, her research proves thorough and believable.  It supports her conclusions.  After watching the families, she listens to the individuals and then compares the reality of their lives, which she personally observed, to the “myth” that they believe when analyzing their own lives.

Some families need these myths in order to endure the inequality of sharing the second shift without resentment. “As I watched couples in their own homes, I began to realize that couples sometimes develop ‘family myths’-versions of reality that obscure a core truth in order to manage a family tension.” (Hochschild 19)  With her personal observations so revealed, it is apparent that her research was not lacking to provide evidence for her conclusions.

All of the families she interviewed and spent time with were two job families that experience the problem she was proving exists-the stress of the housework and childcare on the mother in particular, but also on the entire family.  But Hochschild was studying how society might relieve this tension by offering a different community support or encourage men to share in this “second shift”.

This is summarized in her final chapter, Stepping Into Old Biographies or Making History Happen?   In this chapter she discusses how the experiences young people today are having, while dealing with two job parents, will hopefully affect the households of the future in a good way.  The youth will grow up seeing the different ways their parents dealt with this problem and what worked for them and what did not .  Then they will weigh the positive and negatives of the outcomes and devise their own plans on making the two job household work for them. (Hochschild 254)

Arlie Hochschild is well qualified to study these couples and draw her conclusions.  In the preface of the book itself, she explains how she was a working mother, deciding to bring her baby to work with her at great expense to colleague respect, working difficult hours to receive tenure, and taking care of first one son, then two at home.  She states that she had the support she needed to survive the difficult years of raising small children and developing a career.

“My husband, Adam, didn’t take either of our boys to the office, but overall, we have cared for them equally…”(Hochschild xi) But she claims she lived with unusual circumstances that included, ”flexible work schedules,” and “a supportive community.” (Hochschild xi)  In fact, it was her achievement of a satisfying career and commendable mothering that led her to research other mothers with the same problem to discover whether they were given the support to achieve the same.

            Arlie Hochschild has more qualifications than being the woman in a two job family herself.  She is trained in drawing conclusions from observation in social situations, as a Professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkely, holding a PhD in Sociology. (UC Berkely)  Hochschild has researched and written articles and books that have been published about society and economy effects and influence on the family.

Some of these are (2002) Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy, and (1997) The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work.  Her status in the psychology and sociology educational environment is at a high level.  She has received awards from the Fulbright, Gugenheim, and Alfred P. Sloan foundations, and from the National Institute of Public Health.  She is also the director for the Center of Working Families at the University of Berkely California where she works. (Audiobook1)

Overall, Hochschild did a thorough job of researching and writing this book.  She outlines a believable argument and supports all her conclusions with sound, real research, as well as supports her findings with written works of her colleagues. The book’s major strength is the lengths to which the research was conducted and followed up on.  The only weakness is that of society’s acceptance of the subject.  Modernists like to believe they are revolutionists, but they probably do not want to realize their responsibility to support the women in whom they are demanding changes.

My basic feeling about this book is that as much as I knew the role of women in the household was changing, I did not realize the effects this had on women themselves.  After reading The Second Shift, I feel strongly about men taking equal share in the household and childcare chores at home.

I wonder to myself why this does not just automatically happen when the wife is overworked in other areas, but then I remember the comments that Hochschild’s research subject husbands made about deserving more leisure for earning more or working longer hours outside the home.  They just don’t understand.  The husband should take over as much as he needs to so that spouses can share equal leisure time.  That would be the goal that would cause less stress and make the two job family a fun and livable arrangement for everyone involved.  Maybe Hochschild’s book can make the modern man see this.

Works Cited

Hochschild, Arlie with Anne Machung. The Second Shift. New York: Penguin Books,   1989.

University California, Berkely [Online] Available from:             http://sociology.berkeley.edu/faculty/hochschild/publications.htm [Accessed       April 22, 2007].

Audiobook1 Scholarly Audio [Online] Available from:      http://www.audiobook1.com/autbiog2.html [Accessed: April 22, 2007]

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