Reporter's Notebook

Undercover: July 2019

The story behind our cover story on women and the "second shift"


Illustra­tion by
Michael Koelsch

women working in the home

Do I look like your maid?

I testily pose the question while elbow-deep in soapy water, scrubbing the pots and pans I used to prepare dinner. Not surprisingly, my husband and son don't quite know how to answer. 

It's a nightly ritual that plays out in millions of households across the United States. Despite the historic strides made by women since the days of Leave It to Beaver—females work 52 percent of professional-level jobs and earn 60 percent of all undergraduate and master's degrees—they still clock in for the "second shift" more often than their male partners. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, women spend 135 minutes per day on household activities—cooking, cleaning, and caring for the kids—compared to 85 minutes for men.

Everything's changed and yet nothing's changed.

To illustrate Andrew Erickson's cover story, we hired award-winning artist Michael Koelsch, whose work evokes the colorful retro vibe of the McCall's patterns of the 1950s—the jumping off point for our brainstorming session. Our challenge to Michael: Create two scenes with the same working mother, one set in 1957 and the other in the present-day. We wanted to show that, while household chores have in some ways gotten easier (the broom in the vintage sketch is replaced by a Roomba in its modern counterpart), cooking and cleaning still falls primarily to women.

We couldn't be more pleased with Michael's illustrations, which are hand-painted in each of the era's signature shades ('50s turquoise and cherry red and sleek, twentieth-century greys and metallics). For him—and for us—this story was truly a labor of love.