Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Caregiving and Paid Work

How often have you heard the argument that women would be better off, and the cause of their empowerment greatly furthered, only if they worked? Even the most well meaning women and often men -read privileged, and blinded by it- will say it with all the emphasis at their disposal. Implicit in the statement, is the assumption that women normally don't "work"!

Going outside the home to work, and being compensated monetarily for that work, is quite a recent development in human history. The idea of work outside the home, monetised, is less then a hundred and fifty odd years old.  

So much of our lives are determined by money- the having of it, the ability to spend it and save it. - the consequence that if you don't have enough of it, or don't earn it at all, you are not worth much, is only to be expected.

 Since the work such as cooking, cleaning, washing, care giving, child rearing and care of the elderly and the infirm, generally considered women's work is not valued monetarily, it's fallout is the undervaluing of women's lives. Proof, if it were needed, is in this piece in Huffingtonpost India  saying that Indian women do ten times the unpaid work that men do.

One is likely to think, at this juncture, what's to stop a woman from going out to work? Many women are doing just that. But when it comes to women it all gets massively complicated. Because uterus, eggs, new humans. 

Having babies and furthering one's family- and the human race, by extension- would logically seem to be in the interests of men, too; a father is, after all, as much a parent as a mother. Yet the structures of patriarchy have been so constructed that over centuries, childcare and nurturing has been relegated to women and now they are deemed to be specialists at the job. A job that keeps them at home, unpaid and undervalued. 

If you read women's magazines you may be familiar with that rare beast, the "work-life balance". This struggle is restricted to a very small segment of the Indian population, women born into privilege, who were afforded an education and then could exercise the option to pursue a career. Yet many of these women had to opt out of flourishing and highly successful careers, specially when they had their children, as told in this recent story in Quartz. Like I said, uterus, eggs, new humans. 

Needless to say, men need make no such attempt at balance because the life part is well taken care of for them and they are free to look into their careers with single minded focus. If they do pitch in with care work, they earn extra brownie points for it. Women, on the other hand, even when earning an income outside the home, are saddled with child rearing and care giving. Men are encouraged and expected to seek partners with less earning capacity than themselves for this reason.

There's a website with pretences to feminism which goes by the tagline: "for women who do". Left unnamed, presumably, is the category of the millions of women who don't.  Of course, house work doesn't count as work. When the media does centre women, it talks to them condescendingly.

Not unsurprisingly,when the talk does veer to getting women into paying jobs the purpose is to boost the economy. Here's an example from CNBC.com that says why women should be allowed to do more paid work as it could be a huge boost to the economy. So even when there is an acknowledgement that a woman can't just up and walk out of her home into a job, no thought seems to be given to look into the hurdles in the way. The economy is centred, not the woman.

In summing up :
1. Large numbers of educated women stay home or give up jobs once they get married or especially once they have babies.
2. Women who were working outside the home, but cease to do so after marriage, do so either because their husbands or in-laws will not allow them as it's beneath their dignity or because the jobs available aren't well paying enough.
3. Women stop working outside the home after childbirth due to lack of proper child care facilities.

Here are my suggestions.
1. Give monetary support to mothers or other care givers. A fixed amount, per child or elder who needs full time care. This will add value to the care giving work, while making the obtaining of the supplies needed for taking care of the child or elderly. 
2. Encourage employers to provide child care facilities to their employees. 
3. Paternity leave should be extended and made mandatory. Child rearing should be as much a man's job as a woman's if you really wanted to bring the child into the world.
4. We could tie this up with added incentives for parents having a girl child. This kind of a gesture could also be of great symbolic value. Let's not forget that we have an abysmal sex ratio at birth. 

Post script: Only 933 girls are born for every 1000 boys in India as per the Government of India 2011 Census. The causes of that and its repercussions are a matter for another discussion, another day. 


  1. Agreed that women and what they do is hugely undervalued. I think the problem is money itself. It becomes a single metric by which a person's worth is evaluated and by it, women are made to seem as though they are worth less.

    But why should we bow to the simplistic nature of a single number giving us an indicator of value? We do it simply because we men, preferring things "straightforward" have created social structures that conform to that simplicity: "if you can't measure it, it didn't happen." Which may be all very well in science, but is inadequate when it comes to dealing with human relations and particularly human relations en masse: I've society.

    A single parameter idea like this will always give our societies an asymmetric nature.

    I entirely agree that, under the present system, more money for women, particularly for all the jobs the they do unpaid, is a step forward.

    But I can't help but feel that we men need to learn to deal with more complexity in our lives, with black and white competition not being the only norm, with an appreciation that sometimes things need to be complicated and ambiguous to be human.

    I know I will find it bewildering and disorienting. I may not even be able to function in such a society. But I would like it to come about anyway

  2. Thanks for your response. Actually it isn't only about money. There's a very complex system in place which keeps women undervalued and dehumanised in ways ways. The way women are portrayed as intellectually inferior to men, for instance, or portrayed as given to emotional outburst, always contrasted with mens's opposite behaviour held up as the ideal.
    Still, this could be one step in our attempts to dislodge patriarchy. Let's give it a go!