One piece of advice I give young women most as they set their sights on marriage is to make sure they marry people who are willing to be their full partners. It’s the advice I needed desperately, and didn’t have, before getting married. I also lacked an example of full partnership growing up, even with my father being present and active in our home and in the lives of his children.
I moved into marriage believing that working full-time, being in charge of my home, and also being the primary caregiver of the children we would have was simply how things should go. It was the norm—what I had seen all the women in my life do. At the time I thought taking care of home was women’s work, work that men couldn’t be trusted to do. I followed this script perfectly…until things fell apart. Those things were my marriage, my life plans, and my own body, to a certain degree. My health was failing. I was exhausted and depressed. And I hated who I had become as a wife and a mother—working my fingers to the bone because of some ridiculous (and impossible) expectations created from gender roles founded in White patriarchal ideology. My ex-husband wasn’t interested in being my full partner in the life that we were building, and I understood (after much therapy and self-reflection) that I wasn’t interested in a marriage where I would be reduced to a mule. Our marriage ended, and that just may be saving my life.
Apparently, I made the right choice. Over at Fusion.net, Taryn HIllin writes that researchers at Ohio University and the Mayo Clinic tracked the work life and health of over 7,000 men and women to see how a strenuous work life might impact their health, and whether the health issues found varied according to gender. Do women who work 40, or more, hour weeks face more health risks than men who work the same amount of time? The answer is yes, and the reason behind the answer Is exactly what I faced in my marriage, and what many women face in theirs.
According to Hillin, researchers discovered that working long hours (40-50 hours, or more) per week was associated with elevated risks for four types of the chronic conditions:
1. Heart disease risk was elevated for people working 51 or more hours per week.
2. Non-skin cancer risk was elevated for people working 51 or more hours per week.
3. Arthritis risk was elevated for people working 40 or more hours per week.
4. Diabetes was more likely to be reported by people who worked more than 40 hours per week.
Here’s more, “The researchers hypothesize that one reason women are experiencing more adverse health effects is because, beyond carrying a full-time job, women are also saddled with the brunt of housework and child rearing—what many sociologists refer to as the ‘second shift’—which increases their work time and stress levels.”
Of course we know that this data applies to married women, and surely a majority of single mothers who are custodial parents too. I’m a single mother who is not only working a first and “second shift,” but I’m also managing a home on a single income. I am also aware, being Black and a woman, that racism deeply impacts my health as well. Jason Silverstein argues here, that facing discrimination (perpetuated by racism) causes severe stress, and that such stress affects the mental and physical health of Black people. Silverstein further reasons, “…But this is not only because stress breaks the body down. It is also because stress pushes people to cope in unhealthy ways. When we feel stressed, we may want a drink and, if we want a drink, we may also want a cigarette.” Essentially, racism causes exceptional stress (which impacts our health), and an inability to healthily cope with that stress makes us even more sick.
It is imperative that Black women seek full partnership in marriage. In fact, it may be lifesaving. The question isn’t whether we are capable of carrying the entire load. We are doing it. We have seen many of the women in our lives do it. The question, rather, is whether we are slowly killing ourselves (in the words of Kiese Laymon), to prove we are superwomen. As Jesse Williams reminded us at the BET Awards, we are magic but we are real. We are human. We need help. We need to demand that help in the kitchen, with the children, and with the house chores. We also need to make sure that we are making space for the help that we need and ask for, and that we are not gradually working our way towards martyrdom.
Here’s to one more reason to throw of our Superwoman capes in order to live fuller, healthier lives!