The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a new Amazon series about a 1950s housewife who decides to become a stand-up comic after her husband cheats on her with his secretary. It’s progressive in the ways it shows Mrs. Maisel breaking into a notoriously male dominated and sexist occupation, but it stereotypes the secretary as a shiksa – disparaging her as a woman you “practice on but don’t marry.”
Gender dynamics in families may hinder women’s progress at work in overt ways too. It’s unlikely that men who demean women at work act as equal partners in their personal relationships. For instance, television personality Bill O’Reilly was fired for sexual harassment at work and was previously accused of domestic violence at home. About half of domestic violence victims are harassed by their abuser at work. The year following an assault by their partner, 50% of victims leave their jobs. That’s one reason domestic violence costs the economy $5.8 billion each year. The spillover between home and work also affects single women, who may avoid actions that benefit their careers if they perceive those choices will undermine their prospects for marriage.
#MeToo has prompted justified outrage about the loss of women’s talent in the workplace. At the same time, everyday inequality in families holds women back. But can we legislate equality in families, the way antidiscrimination law targets inequality at work? Righteous anger against overt discrimination is easier to rally around than changing nebulous gender norms in private contexts. One possible pathway is leveraging the momentum of #MeToo, such as by requiring employers to offer workers paid sick and safe leave so women don’t have to choose between their safety and a paycheck. Research also shows that fathers’ parental leave is related to more equitable divisions of household labor, women’s employment is critical to their ability to leave bad relationships, and equal pay may translate into more equal division of labor in families. Employer policies can alter power imbalances in the home and at work. As exemplified by the actions of Mrs. Maisel’s husband, intractable gender inequality must be challenged in workplaces and in the home.