April 08, 2020

Boy Rides Dog and Other Impacts of COVID-19

author photoBy Janis Prince Inniss

A boy of about seven years stood with one foot on each side of a little dog and slowly sat on him for about five seconds. The dog does not seem to have been injured from his stint as a pony, probably because the child is relatively light and because this pose was only held for a short time.

Stunning as this sight was, I guess such are the pastimes of bored children as week one of being at home came to an end. I saw this scene from what I refer to as my sociology window: It’s a window in the front of my home, facing the street—about 10 feet from the sidewalk—with nothing obstructing my view of all that occurs on either side on most of the block.

From this view, I saw the dog rider and have been observing the shifts in life since most of my neighbors have had to work from home or simply have had to stay at home, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also been a good vantage point from which to see the children who have been on spring break this week, at a time when we’ve all become familiar with the term social distancing—which is being used to refer to physical distancing.

As far as I can tell from my sociology window observations, a little girl also lives in the same home as the dog rider, but I haven’t seen her playing outside. I have seen lots of boys riding past my home, but no girls. Right outside my sociology window, across the street, there is a young family with two girls who look like they are about 6 and 8 years old; they didn’t make an appearance all of last week. And this morning when the girls came outside, it was with their mother whom they followed on what seems to have been a short walk.

It is understandable that parents would try to keep their children away from other neighborhood kids now, but these two girls could play together on their driveway, presumably with little or no more exposure to COVID-19 than inside their homes. I imagine that gender continues to define how parents let their children play—and maybe, faced with a pandemic, parents are even more cautious and protective of their daughters.

From my sociology window, and from my daily neighborhood walks, I can tell that a lot more people are riding and walking in my community than usual. As it turns out, I’m in a good position to note these changes because I have been using my sociology window since I moved to this house two and a half years ago, to do what comes naturally to a sociologist—conduct research, albeit unsystematically.

Most weeks since the move, I worked from home at least two days a week—and moved my computer cart to the front of the house so that I could observe the comings and goings of my neighbors—because the world is full of research opportunities when you love being a sociologist! And this semester, I am enjoying my first sabbatical leave so have been spending almost every day in that position. So I have observations from a convenience sample, to make a before and after comparison: there are a lot of new—to mepeople walking and riding past my house this week. I am sure these changes are the result of so many people working from home and staying in the neighborhood.

Fantastic though it is, my sociology window does not provide me with access inside my neighbors’ homes. I thought about that fact as I passed one father sitting outside reading a book as his three children played with their toys on the driveway. Does the mom in that family work at home? Are both parents working from home? And if so, how are childcare duties being split between parents? Unable to rely on external childcare (nannies, daycares, and schools), women are likely to be the default parent to whom these tasks fall. For same-sex parents, the same questions would apply, although research indicates that gay couples tend to be more egalitarian than heterosexual couples. If Mom is doing all or most of the childcare and she’s working from home, when does she attend to her paid job? After the children go to bed? When they nap? Having the site of the first-shift change to the home may mean almost 24-hour second shift stints for women.

At least in these relatively early days, the COVID-19 virus does not seem to discriminate based on race, class, gender, or sexual orientation—the major categories that sociologists examine. I have read that more men are succumbing to the virus, but research on infection rates by gender appears unclear at this point. Higher social class does not seem to offer inoculation; for example, the rich and famous have not been able to avoid the virus. Idris Elba, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Sophie Grégoire, wife of Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have all tested positive for COVID-19.

This will likely change rapidly and the impact of the pandemic will be felt differently based on social location. For example, once tests become more widely available, the ability to pay for them will be a demarcation that will show how class and health are tightly interwoven in the U.S. And when a vaccine finally becomes available, unless it is free, sadly, we’ll see the inequalities with which sociologists are familiar. My sociology window observations and musings about the role of gender as we consider the impact of COVID-19 suggests just some of the ways in which gender and this pandemic are interwoven.


A pandemic causes many children to be bored at home, and adults have to devise all kinds of games for children.

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