The Gendered Impact of Covid: (Or “How to Covid, Like a Girl”)

[1] We’ve all seen them.  Those oh-so-charming news segments in which the expert is holding forth on international relations and in barges a rogue child.  In the viral video of the BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly first one then a second child bursts in followed by a frantic woman ushering them back behind the door.  Kelly says in the follow up interviews that he was hoping his wife could “kind of run them out of the room” and that his wife “deserves a medal.”[1]

[2]  It’s meant to be charming.  And he’s meant to sound gracious as the expert interrupted from his important business.  This spawned essentializing satire, the most targeted of which shows a woman expert continuing with her line of international analysis while tending children, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning toilets, diffusing a bomb, and helping an essentialized clueless husband find his socks, all without so much as breaking a sentence.[2]  While there have been a few popular examples of “mommy” the expert being interrupted[3] and there is a whole reddit genre of mostly female teachers interrupted by kids at home who are also remote learning, the Coronavirus epidemic with its closures of schools and remote workplaces has unquestionably hit women, and especially women of color, disproportionately.[4]  And this surprises no one with eyes to see.

[3] In a time when more than half the doctoral degrees are earned by women in US (whether we call them Dr., well that’s in the news too isn’t it?)[5] there are nonetheless still fewer women in leadership, dramatic pay gaps, widened disparities for women and non binary people of color in many professional fields. Care giving professions and frontline workers, meanwhile, see over-representation by women of color and under-allocation of resources.  All of this is exponentially amplified in pandemic. In academia, there are more all male conferences panels, the “manel” of satire but also ubiquity.  There are more male only or male-dominated scholarly anthologies- the sadly still ubiquitous “manthologies.” Women and non-binary scholars continue to be passed over for grants, for substantive and enduring jobs (see the statistics on who is given contigent work), all the while receiving more critical teaching evaluations often aimed at appearances. Intersectional discrimination abounds.[6]

[4] Without question this systemic misrepresentation of human thought and practice is myopic and insufficiently robust.  When women aren’t at the decision tables, creative and often new and different approaches to material gets lost. For those who have built a conference and had only male scholars on the panels, and said “but we asked women and they didn’t come” this conversation is most pressing.   I am present in this discussion, for example, only as a creative stop gap solution to a systematic problem when no women appeared on the Lutheran Ethics panel about Covid responses.  About Covid responses that are disproportionately a burden to women.[7] This disconnect, I will argue, is not accidental.  Nor is it hopeless.

[5] As a recent board member of a K-5 school, a Ford Foundation fellow who has run workshops for high school teachers on religious literacy, a trainer in religious literacy for lawyers, and as a feminist scholar who is a single mother teaching a full program remotely while navigating three children distance learning, I’m tuned in both anecdotally and systemically to the gendered issues embedded in any crisis, and particularly a health crisis that puts everyone into the home.

[6] In flurries of exchanges on twitter, on AAR planning, on fellowship nominations, on editorial boards we have been talking about who provisions in households- not just who cooks and how frequently, but who attains, stores, navigates all the eaters of the household.  Who works uninterrupted by children and who gets passed the notes that say “the cat threw up on the carpet again” or “kid #4 cut his hand slicing that sourdough”? Even more deeply, who answers the anxious question from a teenager “Mom, what the heck is going on in the Capitol right now ?”?  All this occurs while mom is in anti-racism training for her university. Who provides the structured help for online learning of different types and abilities, different access to technology, different modes of communicating with teachers? In my school board work, for example, we noted that the overwhelmingly female faculty and staff often had very young children at home with daycares closed during pandemic.  We asked them to be creative, inspired, and empathetic with our children.  To do so, they often had to ignore their own.

[7] Disproportionately the extra work of this pandemic has landed on women. While there is ample and ever-increasing investigative journalism on the reasons for such systemic, gendered inequities, here our conversation is different.  I hope we can simply (but critically) acknowledge the disparity as the starting point.  We needn’t rehash the inequities of a society that provides for some types of work and not for others. We can state as given that such a division is based on class, gender, race.

[8] Here among Lutheran ethicists we want to ask also the deeply theological reasons for these gendered responses to pandemic living. To spur conversation among us, I offer a thesis from feminist and historical theology: namely that some forms of Lutheran theological anthropology prevent an equitable gendered/raced/classed experience of pandemic.  These teachings burden those associated with certain bodies, treat them as less valued, and relegate them to cheerful and expected voluntarism, even while aspiring towards a more robust and inclusive vocational theology.  If by vocation we imagine primarily an abstract mind/spirit in an afterlife, we will not meet the crisis of pandemic as one body in Christ.  Or if we think of vocation as self-abnegation, we burden those already negated with more self-effacing practices.[8]  Those who have historically been more associated with body, not as powerful model of the birthing God, but as a lesser storehouse or prison of the elevated soul, will continue to suffer.  Women, people of color, the land, home, all feminized and lesser in the mind/body dualisms of certain notions of the human person will always represent that which is to be overcome instead of that which is to be cherished as an image of God.

[9] Historically, Lutheran theology has inhabited a low theological anthropology.  If not naming a total depravity of human nature, it has registered a severe skepticism of a person’s ability to cooperate with grace to bring about salvation.[9]  While a vital corrective to overtly works-based calculations about human striving as arrogant and short-sighted, this emphasis has tended to impoverish the notion of humans as healthy image of God.  It reaches instead for imagery of the soul or image of God as tarnished, dimmed, irreparably damaged (at least in this lifetime).

[10] Yet also within Lutheran theology, we hear of another kind of freedom.  This freedom for Christians is to set aside worries of individualist salvation and separatist actions needed to attain it, and to celebrate instead freedom for serving other humans and the broader creation.[10]  To make earth as it is in heaven.  This turn from the anti-material, solitary, salvation image can ensure a radical egalitarianism that reflects and communes with the perfect splendor of an interactive God of Love and Justice.  Lutheran theology in particular can thus advocate egalitarian relationships and the vocations made from those relationships as incarnation, as substantiation of the body of Christ. It can turn to the incarnational, sacramental power of the holy amidst us, of the holy as brought forth, liturgically and ethically manifested, of Emmanuel, of a relational God who displays power by connecting us to God’s very own Being, to each other, and to the created world, then we can turn around these societal disparities.  Indeed, Lutheran theological anthropology in this mode could be a light unto the nations.  Christians, here Lutheran Christians, could represent, could …what’s that root word of salvation again? Oh yes,. . . heal.  In the Covid-time of great disparity, when everyone does what is right in his own eyes (pronoun used meaningfully here), caught up in our misguided tendency to put some people’s wellness, power and interests before others’ we need something different.  We need the call to embody an integrative, relational, abundant God in the very way we live and move in the ailing world.  This would begin to heal our ruptured world, a full and wondrous world that the Creative Life Force saw and pronounced, for all the following generations to uphold, good.  Very good.


Questions for Discussion:

How is the workload of home divided in your own household? Sit down with an actual chart to divide all the parts of the process of home-making.

Do you see the vocational tasks within the home as equally valuable to those outside of the home? How do you embody that in the spiritual practice of your daily life?

Where is the holy? What is salvation? Will it occur in a second-life post-death? What could be a healing interrelation among us here on earth? What consequences for Covid response result from your answers?

What is your understanding of human nature? Of God’s? Where do those understandings come from? How do either of those affect how you understand the value of types of work?

Does Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian,” where he teaches that we need not worry about our ultimate salvation because that is up to God and this frees us to serve all people as servants of Christ, open us up to a more equitable response to pandemic? How/not?



[1]  ;




[3] One “mommy” interrupted by Scarlett trying to find right location for unicorn.


[4] United Nations tracking of global data on the inequity of Covid impact BBC coverage:  The AMA tracks the intersectional inequities in Covid response.



[6] See Mara Benjamin, “On the Uses of Academic Privilege @the Table: Manthologies” Feminist Studies in Religion has published several thematic issues devoted to the topic at

[7] As a co-chair of the American Academy of Religion History of Christianity Unit, I have joined my colleagues in working to ensure our Calls for Papers elicit diverse responses and respondents.  If they don’t, we reassess the Call.  That is, we assume our approach had built in assumptions that skewed on racial, gendered, and class lines.  We have been working on this for years, like many colleagues in many organizations, and there is much more good work to be done.


[8] If “sin” is named primarily as pride and not tied to direct embodied practice, for instance, it directs itself to those who have the privileged position of being “over” others and enacting their self-aggrandizing pride over others.  But to teach that as the same sin for those who are on the underside of power systemically only serves to further disenfranchise the disempowered.


[9] See Luther’s Bondage of the Will for a clear example


[10] Luther, On the Freedom of a Christian

Trish Beckman

Dr. Trish Beckman is an Associate Professor of Practice in Religion at St. Olaf College.