The unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant different things to different people, but its widespread effects have extended across the globe. It has driven us to produce new research on the implications of Covid-19 for public health and urban justice, while the difficulties of confinement have prompted us to rethink the practice of academia itself. In the spirit of moving towards that ethics of care to which we aspire, in this post we share the personal experiences of our lab members during this exceptional time, who, aware of their privileged positions, have nonetheless struggled with expectations of gender and productivity during one of the strictest Covid-19 confinements in the world.
“Confinement has meant living through constant chaos, caught between helping my children cope with the absence of school and trying to support lab colleagues for whom I felt responsible. I found myself constantly multi-tasking between being a (not-exactly-loved) teacher, an (untalented) cook, a (good-enough) cleaner, a (trying-to-be-present) daughter, and working while being interrupted at home by the screams of two confined siblings. Even though my husband worked almost full time, he was there sharing all of this, and I felt privileged—all things considered. As academics in the field seemed to churn out new papers at an incomprehensible rate, I felt the added pressure to contribute COVID-related research that is relevant to our lab’s field of study and in high demand. Finding non-judgmental, loving support from BCNUEJ lab members has been such a cherished source of energy. I realized more than ever how society expects women to be resilient, powerful, multi-tasking robots, while men are not held to these multiple care expectations. I felt alone in many ways as a lab coordinator during the exceptional circumstances of a pandemic.” — Isabelle Anguelovski
“While my female colleagues with children are busy pulling their hair out trying to balance life and work during confinement, I find my situation is quite different. In the old normal, I worried constantly about being 39, single, and childless. Despite that we non-conforming women are not that uncommon in academia, I was constantly feeling that I wasn’t “trying hard enough” while at the same time knowing that this preoccupation would get in the way of finding a partner and having children. Oddly, suddenly being confined alone to my home, and knowing that everyone else was in the same situation was a relief. There was absolutely no action I could take. Dating was a thing of the past…maybe families were too? Awkward, stressful online dating has never worked for me. I can only imagine that post-apocalyptic dating will not even be worth it. Without this worry, and without any maternal responsibilities, I could just do my work for once, rather contently and somewhat relieved to have foregone the stress experienced by my overburdened colleagues.” — Helen Cole
“Confinement made me realize how privileged I was to be living in a community near a forest, enabling daily access to nature that curbed my stress. I don’t know how I would have dealt with my altered state if I’d been confined to a small apartment in the city. The pandemic broke as I slowly gained back my academic self-confidence after two years of on and off maternity leave. All of a sudden I had only three hours to myself, the rest dedicated to the household and childcare. While I felt defeated at first, I realized how lucky I was to be alive and healthy. Fortunately, I was able to take the decision to sacrifice a little bit of my working time to focus on my inner connection, which I feel are far more important than my external achievements. I am thankful for what I have, which is already so much.” — Filka Sekulova
“Confinement has been a roller coaster of emotions. As I struggled to re-negotiate childcare with my partner and dealt with a 3-year-old trapped at home, I tried to concentrate on writing and adapting to working online. Despite my personal interest in the issues surrounding Covid-19, I felt it too soon to think analytically about it, especially having to deal with family, work and emotional stress. I felt overwhelmed by the idea of writing grants and proposals that I had been hoping to advance, and suddenly future aspirations came way down my list of concerns. Only after weeks of re-adjustment and support from neighbours, friends and colleagues, I began to feel better, realizing the privilege of living in a seaside village, in a spacious apartment with a view. I thought the best I could do is lower my expectations of myself, and those around me, act with more empathy and gather strength and resources for the future.” — Panagiota Kotsila
“As a 26-year old woman in pursuit of my third degree, I sometimes wonder if I use education as a way to avoid confronting my inevitable adulthood. I don’t feel like I know enough or am competent enough to start my career, and yet a career is something I long to have, and feel like I should have already begun. At the same time, I feel my biological clock starting to tick; I see my friends meeting their partners and wish I could do the same, even though I am overwhelmed by the thought of balancing a career with family. With the onset of Covid-19, I have felt even more trapped in this limbo, even further away from becoming an “adult”. I wonder why I didn’t take advantage of the freedom I had before the pandemic. The fear of not being “on the right track” has only been exacerbated. All the while, I recognise how privileged I am to have these concerns; I am in good health, I am able to pursue this (endless) education, I have the unwavering support of my family and friends—I know that I’ll be okay.” — Taliah Dommerholt
“At the beginning of lockdown I heard that Isaac Newton discovered gravity and invented calculus during quarantine in the Great Plague. Immediately, I wondered if Newton made these groundbreaking discoveries while having to home-school and feed his children and do house-keeping and other less intellectual duties. Newton is one of humanity’s brightest minds and by no means I am trying to compare myself to him, but if something has proved difficult for me during confinement in an apartment with two small children, it has been to find quality time to concentrate on research and writing. I am lucky and privileged to have stayed healthy during the pandemic, to spend quality time with my children and to be part of an amazing feminist lab whose director has even published a manifesto arguing that academia must foster an ethics of care in the time of Covid-19! My only worry: since I don’t have a permanent contract and I need to find a new position in the forthcoming months, will I have a chance amidst the “new Newtons” who perhaps had the luxury of working more rather than less during lockdown?” — Francesc Baró
“I was about to start fieldwork when the confinement started. Needless to say, that didn’t pan out. My partner is an “essential worker” (a farmer) which meant I had to dedicate more time to our 1-year old baby, and though frustrating at times, I enjoyed the extra time with my daughter. But by the end of April, with my uncle at the ICU in Madrid for 6 weeks, I felt exhausted and distracted. These limitations made me reflect mainly on two things. First, I like the idea of working five hours a day in the long term. It is a reasonable amount of time to spend in front of a computer, physically and mentally, and ideal from a family-work balance perspective. Yet I know how difficult it would be to advance my career working only part-time. The second reflection is related to research priorities. For the first time, I was able—because I had no choice—to leave aside the urgency of academic papers, and dedicate time to lighter tasks like writing blog posts and articles for popular media, which are very important and gratifying. I always wonder how amazing it must feel for my partner, as a farmer, to be able to see the results of your work in the short term. Academic work is, on the contrary, a long-distance race, which at times makes it incredibly frustrating and challenging.” — Lucia Argüelles
“During the six weeks of strict confinement I tried to appreciate the little things, especially going from our 65 m2 flat up to the building’s rooftop daily with my daughter, who went from crawling to running during this time. But most days were an emotional roller coaster. My partner was temporarily laid off, like a million other people across Spain. This was a huge worry at first but then a bit of a relief, as we don’t know how else we could have managed the caring-while-working-from-home juggling act. I was, and am, keenly aware of my privileged position: I still have a job (albeit a non-permanent contract with one year left), we are healthy, we don’t have to worry about paying bills, buying food, or possible work-related exposure to Covid-19. Soon into confinement I simply refused to put pressure on myself to perform and achieve. I felt like there was no other way: caring for ourselves and others was, and continues to be, the priority. It’s definitely not easy slowing down, but I deeply appreciate being part of a lab that adopts feminist work-life balance principles that we collectively struggle to put into practice.” — Melissa García Lamarca
“The impact of Covid-19 in the region I live was unforeseen and unprecedented for someone of my generation. I have been confined in a small apartment in Barcelona. I have virtually shared with many people the fear of our loved ones becoming ill, or the worry of this epidemic being only the tip of the iceberg. I compulsively consumed news and played the ugly and exhausting role of warrior against a flood of fake news and inflammatory conspiracies in many WhatsApp groups. And that made me feel sad, useless and anxious. I started volunteering to monitor medical staff diagnosed with Covid-19 that were hospitalized at home. I was in contact with the day-to-day evolution of people that had been infected while at work. Their reported experiences in the hospital prior to becoming sick as well as their present symptoms were very tangible. I shared this time with patients and a wonderful group of epidemiologists, doctors and nurses caring for their co-workers. Somehow this experience brought me back into the concrete reality of the everyday. Calling patients. Working. Spending time at home. Enjoying more time with my partner. Realising that I socialize beyond my capabilities. Finding my own rhythm. Suddenly, feeling grateful and not so anxious about not having words to describe what is happening.” — Carmen Pérez del Pulgar
“The first few days of confinement were dominated by fear and curiosity. My newly wedded husband and I invented new games and found creative ways to exercise in our 65 m2 apartment in Barcelona. I felt privileged to have a stable doctoral contract and a caring and helpful partner. I also felt lucky that we didn’t have kids and didn’t need to go to work. But as lockdown dragged on, all that positivity shifted towards anxiety, discouragement and frustration. I tried to be productive, but even with so much time on my hands, I felt like I couldn’t get anything done. I started comparing myself to others and suffered an acute case of impostor syndrome. People were socializing online, but I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. Talk about social distancing! As confinement began to lift, things started slowly improving. Being able to go outside, even if just for an hour, was life-changing! I had almost forgotten how good it felt to walk farther than the waste container! Now I am finding a new routine, trying to balance productivity with patience and self-care.” — Ana Terra Amorim Maia
BCNUEJ - Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice & Sustainability
The Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice & Sustainability (BCNUEJ) is a Barcelona-based research laboratory supported by ICTA-UAB that develops international research on urban environmental justice and sustainability with the aim of informing policy decisions to build healthier and more equitable cities.