Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children

For Australian women of my generation, many issues of structural gender inequality can seem far removed from their daily experiences and, thus, difficult to relate to. Many civil rights, which were only recently (and only partially) achieved, are easily taken for granted when you have grown up assuming access to them. For this reason, it is not uncommon for women to be shocked when confronted the ongoing reality of structural inequality when they become mothers and they suddenly find themselves falling into gendered roles and suffering from gendered disadvantage as a result. Given this fact, it is a shame that the dominant form of feminism in Australia – liberal feminism – does not deal particularly well with the structural inequalities faced by mothers.

Liberal feminism has failed to adequately respond to the realities of motherhood, because it has primarily focused on helping women to overcome their historic status as second-class citizens by becoming independent. This vision of equality has led to the struggle for a range of positive measures for women, including:

  • the rights to education, to work and to receive equal pay;
  • the right own property;
  • the right to participate in public life by voting and running for political office; and
  • the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to refuse to consent to sex and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

All of these rights are important prerequisites to equality and all of them have historically been denied to women, particularly after marriage. The struggle for these rights is also an ongoing one, as they continue to be denied to the majority of women across the globe and remain under threat even where they have been achieved. Nonetheless, this vision of equality falls down when the reality of dependency enters the picture. For women who are, or become, dependent on partners, families or the State, liberal feminism’s vision of equality through independence becomes unattainable.

The right to education, to work, or to participate in public life is of limited value, for example, when participation requires that you disencumber yourself from dependents of your own. Just witness the treatment of female politicians who have tried to breastfeed on the floor of Parliament or brought their toddlers with them to a last minute division. Similarly, the right to bodily autonomy is rarely articulated in favour of women once they have chosen to carry their pregnancies to term. It is rarely used, for example, to fight for the rights of women in labour to control their own experience of giving birth, nor is it often extended to promote the idea that they ought to be supported by the community in caring for the baby once it has been born.

As a younger woman, my vision of equality was shaped in good part by the liberal feminist concept of emancipation through independence. I recognised my privilege in being able to access to many of the civil rights made possible through the feminist movement and didn’t expect to experience any significant barriers to achieving equality with my male peers. In this context, the experience of becoming pregnant and the impact that it had on my life took me completely by surprise.

From the first stages of my pregnancy I was alarmed by feelings of dependency on my partner that I had never experienced before. As my pregnancy progressed, my sense of physical vulnerability increased and my capacity to maintain my equality through independence was repeatedly challenged. Finally, when my daughter was born, her utter vulnerability shook me to the core and I realised that I could no longer operate in the world as a wholly autonomous unit. I was encumbered by this incredibly dependent little person who needed me for her very survival. My understanding of myself and of what I needed from the world shifted completely, as did my understanding of the feminist project. I could no longer relate to the ambivalence of liberal feminism to the needs, indeed rights, of dependent women (and children).

This ambivalence of liberal feminism to the rights of dependent women is one of the reasons that it finds favour with some areas of right-wing politics. The individualism and market focus of the independence model of equality dovetails neatly with economic liberalism (or neoliberalism) and the belief that the market is the best arbiter and distributor of value. Single mothers, for example, are readily vilified as ‘welfare queens’ greedily bludging off the State.

Left-wing liberal feminists responds differently to the issue of single mothers and are more likely to support their right to government assistance. Nonetheless, this assistance is rarely framed in terms of payment for the unpaid work of caring for children. Instead, it is viewed as a safety net to assist women to survive until they can rejoin the path to equality through autonomy. This is because left-wing liberal feminism still envisages liberation through market participation and, thus, tends to focus more on the issues of affordable childcare and (occasionally) flexible work arrangements in order to support women to more easily become independent post-motherhood.

You can see this attitude towards dependence reflected in many of the Gillard government’s policies. Single-parenting payments, for example, are paid to single parents (the majority of whom are women) until the youngest child turns eight, but at that point they are forced on to the (inadequate) Newstart allowance in order to ‘encourage’ them to join the paid workforce. To their credit, the government is consistent in that it does subsidise childcare and is working to increase both pay and standards within the sector. It has also introduced new measures to protect the right of employees to request flexible work arrangements (toothless though this right may be at present). Nonetheless, under this approach, dependency is treated as a temporary, largely avoidable state. As a result this approach has little to offer in terms of framing a vision of equality for those who exist within this state of dependency.

In a recent article on so-called ‘Retro Housewives‘ Alexandra Carlton quotes Anne Summers as being ‘exasperated by the domestic revival.’ According to Carlton, Summers is scathing of young women for walking away from their rights to ‘keep their jobs, to have equal access to promotion, and to be paid the same as men’ in order to become ‘yummy mummies.’ Similarly, Clementine Ford argues that ‘giving up everything to devote oneself to unpaid domestic work is self-sabotage.’

However, staying home to care for your children is only ‘self-sabotage’ if society is organised in such as way as to penalise you for doing it. Vilifying women for choosing to do so also fails to account for the reality of maternal desire and the very real needs of children. Focusing on the individual ‘choice’ of these women (who represent a very small percentage of society) also fails to account for the fact that staying home to perform unpaid domestic labour is the only realistic option available to many women, given the fact that affordable, accessible and high quality childcare, and working conditions that are flexible enough to make use of this care, remain a more of a dream than a reality for most. In this context, equating equality solely with autonomy will always result in a very large group of women being denied access.

I’m acutely aware that these arguments will be met by a chorus of claims that I am being sexist. What about fathers? Don’t these issues affect them as parents just as much as they affect mothers? This argument is put forward by Leslie Cannold, for example, who argues that ‘baby leave is not a women’s issue,’ because men should (and want to be) doing half of the unpaid childcare work.

However, this argument contains two separate assumptions, both of which are problematic. The first is that autonomy is the only path to equality. The second is that the dependency burden that goes along with parenthood can and should be equally shared. My major argument is with the first assumption (and I have partially set it out above), but I think the second also has flaws – primarily because it is fundamentally grounded in the first, but also because it denies biological realities.

Maternity leave is a women’s issue because it is women who get pregnant; who carry their children inside their bodies; birth them; and who are able to breastfeed them. The vulnerabilities and burdens that go along with these biological realities cannot be shared equally. Using the language of gender neutrality in relation to these realities only serves to obscure the highly gendered inequalities that currently result from them. Similarly, the value accorded to care work and the rights accorded to people in the midst of this dependent status are also women’s issues because the reality is that it is overwhelmingly women who do stay home to care for children and who do bear the burdens of dependency. Furthermore, when given the choice, many women still want to bear these burdens and there is no reason that this choice should have to equate to ‘self-sabotage.’

As Julie Stephens* has pointed out in response to Cannold,

a feminism promoting gender neutrality (in the name of equality) denies the bodily experience of women after they have given birth. Though a boon to the productive workplace, the breast pump may not necessarily protect the emotional needs of women and babies. To deny that baby leave is a women’s issue, to decouple ‘maternity’ from ‘leave’, is also to conceal human vulnerability and dependence. It reproduces what Iris Young has called ‘the normalising but impossible ideal’ that we are autonomous, unencumbered self-sufficient individuals, somehow beyond human dependency.

A further issue relates to the idea that the inequalities currently associated with performing unpaid domestic labour – particularly including caring for children – will somehow be erased if men take up half of the burden. People who perform paid care work, such as nurses, childcare workers and age-care workers, are also discriminated against and undervalued by society. Not coincidentally these are also professions that are dominated by women. However, it is rarely argued that the women who work in these professions have ‘chosen’ to be discriminated against and that their only path to equality lies in convincing men to take up careers within their sectors. Instead we understand that they are entitled to equality regardless of the number of men in their ranks. That even a highly feminised workforce should still be treated with respected and accorded equal value. Similarly, while a more equitable distribution of the burden of care work between men and women is a laudable goal, it doesn’t actually resolve the underlying inequalities and discrimination faced by those who do carry those burdens. It only serves to entrench this discrimination when we blame women for the inequalities they face, because somehow it isn’t a valid choice unless it is one that is also chosen by men.

What if instead of limiting our vision of equality to one of emancipation through independence we articulated one that accounts for both dependency and maternal desire? Such a vision would have to decouple our understanding of value from the market and acknowledge that the path to self-actualisation might sometimes entail willingly encumbering ourselves. It would also have to move beyond individualistic first generation rights to recognise our need for community support and our obligation to support others. Above all, such a vision would respond to the needs of all women, rather than only those who are willing and able to disencumber themselves and strive for independence.

For many Australian women, motherhood is a wake up call that confronts them with the ongoing reality of gender inequality in our society. Wouldn’t it be great if feminism was also there to greet them with a vision of equality that acknowledges their present reality?

*[Via blue milk]


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97 responses to “Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children”

  1. Helen

    I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that I was getting a teeny bit complacent as I got into my early 30s, and motherhood really shook me up and radicalised me again. Thanks, Cristy.

  2. conrad

    Whilst I agree with a lot this article (especially about the current crazy politics of sticking single mothers on Newstart), one thing I don’t agree with is the way people (including you in this article) call what is basically altruistic behavior “unpaid work”. This includes other things also not mentioned here (caring for the elderly etc.). To me this is dehumanising what is a very positive aspect about being human. It also seems to make the assumption that everything really is work, and this is clearly a bad assumption if you’re interested in decoupling the marketplace from these sorts of things. This is not to say some of these things shouldn’t be recognized and supported by the government, but the idea should be that we support them because they’re intrisically good and good for society, not because somehow people need to be compensated for work they do which isn’t paid for.

  3. Russell

    A piece so beautifully written it was a pleasure to read, as well as thought provoking.

  4. Jumpy

    biological realities.

    Works both ways.

  5. Golly Gosh

    Wow. Brilliant article, Cristy. Writing of this calibre deserves a wide audience.

  6. Alison

    I agree with Russell.

  7. Peter Murphy

    What Russell said.

  8. Mindy

    we support them because they’re intrisically good and good for society, not because somehow people need to be compensated for work they do which isn’t paid for.

    The being intrinsically good has always been a reason not to pay for it though. We rely on unpaid work to make society function. It is the fact that society is set up in such a way to force some people, mainly women, to do this work that sucks and needs changing.

  9. FDB

    Very very good Cristy.

    Very.

    I’ve always thought that an ideal counterpoint to maternity leave would be a system of paternity leave kicking in only at the point where breastfeeding ends, tapering in as maternity leave tapers out. Or something. The idea in any case being that we prioritise early maternal care while smoothing the transition back into work for women by paying the man to chip in once he’s actually going to be of any use.

    Though of course this will only help dual-income hetero parents.

  10. Cristy

    FDR. Yes. I like this concept and agree with you about it’s limitations.

  11. desipis

    Interesting post.

    Maternity leave is a women’s issue because it is women who get pregnant; who carry their children inside their bodies; birth them; and who are able to breastfeed them. The vulnerabilities and burdens that go along with these biological realities cannot be shared equally.

    Those vulnerabilities could be better addressed and burdens better shared with the father/partner if they were temporarily relieved of their other obligations during the time the mother was significantly burdened and vulnerable. If you want an approach that acknowledges dependency, shouldn’t it be one that facilitates dependency between partners at such critical times?

    It would also have to move beyond individualistic first generation rights to recognise our need for community support and our obligation to support others.

    That’s a noble ideal. The community support flowing to mothers is the clear in the post. However, what do you see as the obligations a mother (or her children) would have to the community? Would there be some sort of quantity or quality requirements on paid parenting; does the community’s obligation to raise the next generation supersede parental rights and responsibilities? Or does the obligation you envisage only flow one way?

  12. Lefty E

    Yes well written Cristy. FDBs on to something there – I totally agree with you on the the way paternity leave early on (beyond a week or two of general support) pretty much misses the mark, it’d be much better post-weening.

    Im in the middle of using my long service leave to be the primary carer for a 9 and (more relevantly) a 2 year old. Dont mind using the LSL this way; its a privilege many dont have to spend this much time with them. And sure, it wont really balance the two separate years Ms LE took off her career, but its been a grand experience.

    The politics of child-rearing is a bit of a minefield, and well done for walking a bold straight line through it.

  13. Chris

    I agree wholeheartedly with FDB @ 9. Also as I discovered there’s no right to share parental leave eg have the mother and father both work part time. Which even in the first year would be possible when the mother is not breastfeeding (not unusual after about 3-6 months anyway) or able and willing to pump. I think you’d see a more equal outcome in other domestic responsibilities if childcare was shared more evenly early on.

    I do take a bit of an issue around the description of caring of a child by a parent always being described as “unpaid”. In financial terms yes (though many now can access paid maternity leave, FTA/FTB) but it ignores the non financial “payment” which is the depth and quality of the relationship you get with your child from spending all that time with them. Although I had a good relationship with my daughter when I was married, I didn’t realise what I was missing out on until I separated and ended up with 50/50 shared care of her when she was just 2.

  14. Jill Hill

    Christy, this is a really important bit of writing. Congratulations.

  15. Sceptic

    I agree with much you have written Cristy but I am also sympathetic to the view of Russell in particular. In addition there is an interesting piece on The Drum by an academic in Toronto who writes that a Swedish style parental scheme is preferable to paid maternity. He believes the Libs’ plan is misrepresented as parental leave.

  16. Martin B

    Ok, I’ll bite – there doesn’t seem to be much of a chorus :-)

    I agree with much of what you have written, especially about the current valorization of economic autonomy and a reconsideration of the value of interdependence (although that should be the case for women and men, no?) But I do want to sound a note of caution about reifying “biological realities”. Pregnancy and breastfeeding may be such realities – but the way they are expressed (pun intended) most certainly are not.

    Just by dint of circumstances – and ones that I would not wish on others – our first child ended up as one who could do breast or bottle from the outset, and we also came home from hospital with litres of expressed milk. As a result I could do as much of the feeding as my partner for almost the whole first year. Those circumstances were particular and I know that not all women are willing or able to express milk in such quantities. But it at least indicates that “biological realities” don’t have to play out in just one way.

    More significantly, I have something of a red flag go up when people start justifying social arrangements on the basis of “choice”. As it happens, I was having an argument with some friends about a similar issue the other night… My standard example is surnames. Many couples make a conscious choice about this, and there is (almost) always some reason given – I never really liked my name, he’s an only child, this one is too hard to spell etc. And yet something like 90% of these couples choose to give the man’s surname. I don’t for the least bit deny the sincerity of these decisions. But it is obvious (to me) that they are not free choices, made independently of broader patriarchal structures.

    Now what to do about this is difficult, to steer a line between the Scylla of authoritarian social engineering and the Charabdis of simply perpetuating existing social structures. We need to provide incentives (symbolic and material) to open up these choices; creative use of paternity leave as above is a great example. I would also argue that those people who are aware of how these structures operate in society should be especially reflective about how they might be operating at an individual level.

    Yes, these issues are women’s issues because of the current situation of society. However, speaking personally, I want to see both support in the face of the present reality of gender inequality and a suggestion that things don’t have to be exactly like this.

  17. Paul Norton

    There is much that could be written in response to this excellent post. One point that I would make is that the assumption of an autonomous (and implicitly male) citizen-subject as the norm is fundamental to the major traditional ideologies, particularly liberalism but also socialism to a considerable extent, and so the critique of that assumption that Cristy has presented here has wide implications.

    The other side of the coin is that recognising that we are all babies before we become individuals drives a horse and cart through the notion of the fully-formed pre-social individual that is also assumed by varieties of liberalism (some of which are strongly represented in the blogosphere).

  18. Diana

    Beautifully written, well argued piece. I would love to see it rewritten in everyday English so that the message becomes accessible to the majority of Australians who don’t have the benefit of higher education.

  19. Cristy

    Martin B, I totally agree. I would love greater support for women to make REAL choices when it comes to staying come and/or working outside the home. I also think greater paternity leave would be great for fathers, children and mothers (and potentially workplaces for a range of reasons). But I just think that’s a separate issue from the leave needed for women to take in the last part of their pregnancy, during recovery from labour and when breastfeeding (should they choose to do this). I apologise that this wasn’t clear.

    I breastfeed my daughter until she was almost 3 and am still breastfeeding my son who turns 3 in October. My personal experiences have coloured my feelings about what is needed, but if course there should be flexibility to cover other approaches.

  20. Cristy

    Breastfed.

  21. Cristy

    Diana: ouch, but point taken.

  22. conrad

    “The being intrinsically good has always been a reason not to pay for it though. We rely on unpaid work to make society function. ”

    The government uses huge amounts of money subsidizing many things that don’t require us to conceptualize them as a market place or work. For example, do we think of age pensions as something we give old people because there is a long term market failure so that not enough money goes to old people, or do we give people age pensions so they live more happy lives? If it was really the former, we could think of many more ways to pay them less.

  23. Mindy

    You are missing the ‘gendered-ness’ of it though Conrad. The unpaid caring work is predominantly carried out by women and expected of them.

  24. Paul Norton

    Another issue that this raises is that a certain kind of advocacy of delegating government provision of services to “third sector” or “civil society” organisations, rather than public servants in “bureaucratic” state agencies, amounts to advocating the exploitation of the underpaid or unpaid labour of (mainly) women. This is not to say that such delegation is a bad thing per se, but to point out a danger in some proposals of this kind.

  25. Matt in the Springs

    I’ve just been reading a book called “Moral Boundaries” by Joan Tronto. It is essentially articulating a political argument for an ethic of “care”- which focuses on the interpersonal- rather than one of “rights and responsibilities” which is founded on the idea of free an unencumbered individuals. In making this argument she connects morals and politics, pointing out that the traditional understanding- of care as “women’s morality” is the thing that needs to be challenged. She says this because the undermining of care as a moral and political behaviour enables those in positions of privilege to maintain this privilege. The point that I take away, and Cristy alludes to in her post, is that the discourse of what it means to live a good life is what we need to focus on. To talk of rights, particularly as that pertains to seeing participation in the public sphere as the ultimate achievement, obscures the work we could be doing to understand different, more diverse and hopefully more fulfilling ways of being (together).

  26. conrad

    “You are missing the ‘gendered-ness’ of it though Conrad. The unpaid caring work is predominantly carried out by women and expected of them.”

    I didn’t say it wasn’t gender issue — one can be rewarded for non-work things as well work things, and it’s clear people often get rewarded and appraised differently for the same thing depending on their gender and what is being done.

    I still don’t see why people (including yourself), are so willing to call this work. It should be no surprise that once the rest of the population thinks this is work, they have no trouble imagining market strategies and so on deal with it. And if it really is work, this is presumably the way it should be dealt with.

    The other thing that bothers me is that apart from my philosophical objections, it seems likely that there is a fairly innate human tendency to considers things that we would otherwise consider altruistic acts work if you get extrinsically rewarded for doing them. This appears to occur from very early ages (e.g., this). So if this really is the case, maybe we really should considered it work if we have past the point of no return, and accept the devaluation of the act and all of the rest crap that comes with it. Given I don’t want see that happen, my preference is that people are rewarded as an implicit thanks for what they do, and not as an extrinsic payment for work done that otherwise they wouldn’t have thought about.

  27. Liz

    Conrad, the trouble with the intrinsic thanks, instead of the extrinsic payment means that it makes the work of caring very hard to do.

    For instance, look at people on the carer’s payment. It actually saves the State a great deal of money if elderly, ill, or disabled people are cared for at home. But, it tends to make the carer’s poverty stricken and living with a great deal of stress.

    Why not pay someone a wage for this caring work? It’s real labour which prevents people from making a living in other ways. With a decent payment, you’d still be saving the State money and you would make everyone’s lives better.

  28. AHLondon

    Excellent article and discussion. I’ll leave it all to continue, but you touched on the thing that gets me the most: surprise. There is no good reason, in this day and 50 years on from the Second Wave that young women should be surprised by motherhood. We older women just lie to you, about motherhood, marriage, balance, love…
    I recently attended a webcast interview of Ann Marie Slaughter. When she was writing her Atlantic, Still Can’t Have It All, article she floated it to a bunch of women. Younger women told her she had to publish it. Older women told her “You can’t publish this.” Yes, heaven forbid we actually leveled with you rather than tried to manipulate you to stick with the original plan, as if this time it’ll work.
    Sorry. I see the surprise a lot. Steams me every time.

  29. conrad

    Liz, I’m not saying we shouldn’t give people money (as noted above), and indeed at present I agree with you that this sort of money saves the government oodles in this case (c.f. e.g., taking your kids to the park on the weekend and many other parenting duties — is this work too?). But there’s still problems in considering it work like any other.

    For example, let’s just say company X comes along and works out a far cheaper way of looking after old people than could be done via paying individuals on a carers payment (e.g., large blocks of old people’s homes). If it is a payment for work, then why shouldn’t the government pay the company instead and save money? This clearly puts a cap on the amount you could pay individuals if it is considered work. Now, you might like to respond to this by saying that caring for your own relatives may well make them happier than someone else caring for them. But why should the government worry about this if it’s basic goal is to provide a basic level of service to everyone rather than a premium service to those that are fortunate?

  30. Mindy

    Just out of interest Conrad have you done any caring work or raising children? I think our understanding of what is entailed is quite different.

    Taking your kids to the park in and of itself probably isn’t work, but if the nanny or childcare worker does it, it counts as work. But given that parents do a lot more than just take their kids to the park I don’t see a problem with recognising it as work. It is work because society as a whole benefits from it, although with children it can take a while to get the payoff. Although given how readily children adapt to technology and the younger and younger ages of kids designing apps and the like that gap is getting smaller.

    If company X can work out a way of caring for the elderly that gives them quality care then I have no problem with the govt paying company X rather than individual carers and I suspect that many carers would feel the same. I have worked with carers desperate for a break, trying to find them a placement for their relative so that they can have some overdue time off. Places are hard to find and you only get a couple of weeks a year.

  31. Martha

    Thank you so much for writing this excellent article. You have articulated many of my frustrations as a mother and a feminist, two ill-matched states. Would love to read more!

  32. Russell

    Conrad – Cristy’s piece made me think about how people are valued. You seem to be valuing people on their output, what they do – could it be done cheaper in other ways. But aren’t we being asked to think about ways of valuing people?

    If we agree that we would like to give everyone the dignity of autonomy, could we then work out what measures are appropriate, possible? After a working life, if you need assistance to retain a reasonable standard of living, a pension should be provided.

    A problem with providing assistance to a mother looking after children is that the partner may be earning enough to provide that reasonable standard of living, so, in a world of finite resources do we provide money to the mother in order that she retains the dignity of autonomy?

    My own feeling is that partners are much more equal than they used to be, and the plan to have children is much more discussed and thus seen as a joint enterprise – the partner’s income is the family’s income. A mother or father should have the right to choose to look after their children, and if the family income falls below a reasonable standard assistance should be provided.

  33. Katherine

    Thank you Cristy. The economic approach to feminism of providing affordable childcare so women can return to work as soon as possible after childbirth misses the maternal desire point you raise. Also – this is a delicate one to express – childcare for young babies in a group setting outside the home might not be for all babies or all families. And if the baby has any medical conditions or regular illnesses, it can be difficult if not impossible to return to paid work when they are young.
    I am pleased to see you taking on Anne Summers and Clementine Ford!
    And it should be noted that it is a very very different thing to stay at home for say 2 years while your baby is small, to being a stay at home parent once all children are at school.

  34. conrad

    “Just out of interest Conrad have you done any caring work or raising children?”

    Mindy:

    The first, and I have many friends would just love a break from the second so I’m well aware of the problem (indeed, it’s likely I’ll have it myself soon, and I’m certainly not doing it to give myself more work!).

    “It is work because society as a whole benefits from it”

    There’s any number of things that society as whole benefit from, so it isn’t a good definition of work.

    Russell:

    “You seem to be valuing people on their output, what they do – could it be done cheaper in other ways.”

    My point is just the opposite — this is why you don’t want to consider it work, because then it makes to sense to evaluate it like that. If it’s not work, then there are other things to think about.

    “A mother or father should have the right to choose to look after their children, and if the family income falls below a reasonable standard assistance should be provided”

    I’m happy with that too Russell.

  35. Debbieanne

    Wow! Thank you Cristy. This beautifully articulates many of my personal feelings and thoughts.

  36. akn

    Thanks Cristy. I haven’t had so much fun reading in years. Wonderful article and discussion. I take note in particular of Paul Norton’s pointing towards the intellectual history of liberalism. It started with Hobbes and continues, unabated, today. Hobbes argued that we should imagine citizens as sprung out of the ground, like mushrooms, or words to that effect. As if we all weren’t born of women!

    Utopian feminists like Marge Piercy and Ursula Le Guin and early feminist radicals like Rosa Luxemborg and Alexandra Kollontai always proposed a communal response as the solution to how to raise children in such a way as to liberate women from the oppressions associated with biological and nurturant necessities of raising children.

    Liberalism, as you correctly identify, occludes even imagining a communal response to reproduction and rearing children. It does this because it is profoundly (medievally) masculined and because it is incapable of recognising human sociality which is absolutely of our essence.

    Cheers. More power to your elbow,

  37. Taylor

    The issue is interesting Cristy, but I thought the style was a bit clumsy to be honest. You over-used the passive mood. And you tortured your general propositions with too many qualifications and adverbs. Make your statement. Then qualify it if you must. Forget, if you can, your undergraduate sociology readings. I’ve re-written the first para to demonstrate how you could make the style more appealing. I hope it helps.

    “Australian women of my generation find issues of structural gender inequality removed from their daily experience. They take for granted civil rights which were only recently (and partly) achieved. These women, when they become mothers, are frequently shocked by the reality of structural inequality. They find themselves falling into gendered roles, and gendered disadvantage. Sadly, the dominant form of feminism in Australia – liberal feminism – does not deal well with these problems.”

  38. Cristy

    Yes, fair point.

  39. Mariella

    I am not Australian, but as a mother I find this is the first article I have read in a long time that dares to speak about feminism and motherhood by shifting the focus from emancipation to other, equally important issues we are currently facing. I agree with every word and I would like also to add something. Apart from the concept that emancipation comes only from independence, why women’s value and achievements in the society should only be measured up by a standard that has been put up by men and for men? meaning a woman, is strong , independent and granted real equality only if she”works as a men’, gets paid as a men , is “powerful’ as a man. In other words, if she fails to be up to this standard she is just a woman relegated to the role of taking care of children, just like those mothers, or nurses , or kindergarten teachers and so on. It seems to me that the work of taking care of children , is heavily undervalued in our society and the complexity of a woman’s life and choices completely ignored.And instead of refusing to comply to such rules sometimes we are the first ones to promote this way of thinking. Freedom of choice is an important issue too, but somehow gets overlooked in the debate.

  40. John D

    We were fortunate that I was well enough paid for my wife to be free to decide whether she worked or not during the period when we were raising children. My wife had strong views on the subject so she did almost no paid work from before the first child was born until she started part time work when the last child reached high school.
    This didn’t mean that my wife did nothing but care for our children. She was active in the community, did a year of maths, French honours and got qualifications in ESL during this period of child raising. Not working allowed her the freedom to do a whole of interesting and useful things that she would not have been able to do if she had stuck to her career.
    My wife’s attitude is that women’s liberation meant that she was free to choose what she did and that liberation should be about people liberation, not just women’s liberation. (Both men and women were often locked into roles that were not appropriate to the individual.)
    She rejects the idea that liberation means moving from being told what to do by men to being told what to do by senior feminists.
    Our attitude was that collectively we had to earn enough money to live while making a contribution to society that went beyond what I did at work.
    I have seen plenty of examples where raising children led to serious inequalities. However, for some women, under some circumstances taking years away from work to raise children can create opportunities that aren’t there when you are working.

  41. Cristy

    I agree with you John. I found that having a period out of the paid work force opened me up to a world of possibilities and enabled me to re-evaluate what I wanted out of life. It was genuinely liberating.

  42. Cristy

    I also agree with you Mariella that assessing our value through the lens if the male norm is really unhelpful.

  43. Lefty E

    I agree with you John. I found that having a period out of the paid work force opened me up to a world of possibilities and enabled me to re-evaluate what I wanted out of life. It was genuinely liberating.

    Word. I started to long service declaring I would finish a book I was working on. Blew that off a month ago, now I’m writing songs and learning Portuguese.

    When the kids let me anyway.

  44. AHLondon

    For everyone, but in direct reply to Mariella and John D.
    Betty Friedan quote:
    ”Some militants repudiated all the parts of the personhood of women that have been and are still expressed in family, home and love. In trying to ape men’s lives, they have truncated themselves away from grounding experiences. If young women lock themselves into the roles of ambitious men, I’m not sure it’s a good bargain. It can be terribly imprisoning and life denying.”
    Source here. Note the dateline. (FYI, the 99 in the address, probably when they got it up on the website.)
    https://www.nytimes.com/books/99/05/09/specials/friedan-stage.html

  45. Moz@home

    AHL, there are disturbingly few new arguments in modern feminism. And much modern thought in general. But quotes like that do helpfully remind us that the great monolithic feminist project contains a lot more than can easily fit in a soundbite.

    Mariella, I’m not so sure that this “standard for men” is built by and desired by men as a uniform mass – I think it’s very much a strawman put forth by the ruling classes in their own interests. That phrasing reminds me of the beauty myth argument that performing femininity is very much about meeting the expectations of other women, rather than men. No, it’s about dancing to the tune of the powerful, who in turn are identified more by wealth than gender.

    But back to babies, I do think Conrad’s point is at the heart of it. If we see raising babies as work performed in a market, then its value will inevitably tend toward zero. Few mothers will abandon their babies if not paid for mothering them, giving a market value of that work of… zero. I’m not wild about “investment in the future” as an argument for paying parents if for no other reason than that it justifies a huge intergenerational debt load (that investment made explicit).

    So we need to come up with a non-market frame for the value of motherhood/parenthood.

  46. Liz

    I really like your article, Cristy. But, I’m getting a bit worried about the way some people here are creating a gendered divide in which paid work is male and unpaid work is female. Just, no. I’m also reminded of all my friends who hightailed it back to their paid jobs as soon as possible, because they were bored out of their brains by childbearing.

    Staying out of the paid workforce for a significant length of time is a dangerous game to play, especially if the marriage breaks up and the woman is left holding the baby, literally. Let’s also remember there’s lots of women who don’t want to have the role of carer.

    I’d like to see a world in which everyone is guaranteed a living wage regardless of what they do. That way everyone gets to live and work with dignity.

  47. Chris

    But back to babies, I do think Conrad’s point is at the heart of it. If we see raising babies as work performed in a market, then its value will inevitably tend toward zero

    The other issue is if we start to consider parent or carer related payments as work rather than welfare then we also end up with a bunch of other requirements. For example, if you want to work in childcare you need to have police checks, first aid certificates and TAFE qualifications. I think there’s also a requirement now for someone in the place to have a teaching degree. To get the government funding and permission to operate you also need to have curriculum, make regular written observations of the children in your care, not only for the parent’s sake but so progress and problem areas can be identified. None of this is required to get FTA/FTB or parenting payments.

    Similarly, if you want to get paid to work in aged care you’ll probably need a nursing degree or at least a multi year TAFE qualification. To get a carer’s payment you don’t need that. I imagine there’s a lot of paperwork involved to ensure accountability.

    That’s not to say that parents and carers don’t end up acquiring a lot of skills as part of doing their parenting/caring responsibilities, but in return for private and government funding for people to do this as a job we also impose a fair amount of regulation and minimum standard skill requirements.

  48. Cristy

    Liz, absolutely yes. I didn’t intend to imply an essentialised view of what either men or women want (or should do). My argument is that women are frequently left ‘holding the baby’ either by choice or otherwise and we need a vision of equality that accounts for this.

    Regarding the ‘work’ thing, I really reject the idea that it is a word that cannot be separated from the market. We use the words ‘creative work’ and ‘life’s work,’ for example, to describe something else. There is no reason that an endeavour needs to be given market value in orde to qualify as ‘work’.

    Nonetheless I acknowledge that the idea of paying people for care work performed in the home does stray into this issue. I don’t think the solution is as simple as just continuing to provide a welfare safety net. I’m not sure what the ideal solution is. I need to think about this more.

  49. jules

    I’m not so sure that this “standard for men” is built by and desired by men as a uniform mass – I think it’s very much a strawman put forth by the ruling classes in their own interests.

    Yeah, obviously. Its not this males standard for a start. Then again men buy into wholeheartedly and it certainly benefits them. Personally I certainly see more value in the volunteer work I do than the paid stuff. (Tho over the years the tree planting I did has a value of its own separate from cash.) And its added more “value” to my community. Tho the recognition of that volunteer work stuff is certainly far higher than the recognition of child related work stuff. (Especially if you’re an officer ina fire brigade – thats on par with being an Anzac these days.)

    The whole idea of the protestant work ethic, and the concept that work makes us free needs to be reassessed imo. Its too bound up in market related meanings its shapes the way people think and allows thinks like child rearing, caring for people, and other tasks involving some of the most important human values to be seen as less meaningful than making someone or other rich.

    So we need to come up with a non-market frame for the value of motherhood/parenthood.

    So yes, this.

    And especially this:

    I’d like to see a world in which everyone is guaranteed a living wage regardless of what they do. That way everyone gets to live and work with dignity.

    Even if that means paying someone who wants to sit on their arse and play video games all day. (IMO No one wants to do this forever and will eventually get round to doing something useful.)

    Sorry if i’m getting off topic a bit.

  50. Cristy

    Jules I don’t think you’re getting off topic at all. A living wage for all would be an excellent starting point. And yes the value of volunteer labour is a nice comparison. We don’t need to pay for it to give it value as a society.

  51. Liz

    Crusty, I know you’re not implying that sort of gender essentialism. But, I think a couple of comments here head in that direction.

  52. Liz

    And I just called you, Crusty. My apologies. Damn autocorrect.

  53. Chris

    Staying out of the paid workforce for a significant length of time is a dangerous game to play, especially if the marriage breaks up and the woman is left holding the baby, literally. Let’s also remember there’s lots of women who don’t want to have the role of carer.

    Yes, which is why shared care and part time work for both parents is probably a good thing to encourage from early on. So if marriages do break up both parents are able to work and and have significant care of their children – the lack of the latter something fathers are often unhappy about after separation.

  54. Shingle

    Thank you for this article. Truly worth thinking about. So much I could say but for now I will just say, please consider this topic further as I would like to read more.

  55. Cristy

    Damn autocorrect indeed. I have signed off far too many correspondences as Crusty. :-)

  56. Liz

    Do you then add the Clown?

  57. Cristy

    Not regularly…

  58. jules

    Slightly OT I spose but does anyone know the deal with the coalitions Paid Parental Leave policy wrt to people on casual wages?

  59. myriad74

    When I tweeted praise of this article to Cristy and urged others to read it, we had an exchange where I said that one of the things I really love about her writing on feminism and motherhood is that as a ‘deliberately barren’ woman, it doesn’t leave me feeling excluded.

    Cristy luckily understood that this was a compliment, so hopefully won’t mind me expanding on it a little here, and sorry it does take us a bit off-topic.

    To cut to the chase, what this article and Cristy’s approach does for me is help shine a light not just on motherhood, but the whole issue of how we value and fund care in our society.

    If you’re cheerfully childless like me, one of the most deeply offensive and wrong-headed assumptions is that you must be selfish not to want children.

    Now my choice not to have children is multi-faceted (certainly a big one is being decidedly tokophobic!), but a really important consideration for me was the experience I’d had throughout my life of being a carer of children without having any of my own – as a long-term babysitter for the next door girls, to being a nanny for a year, to having cousins much younger than me and now nieces and dear friends with children.

    I like children immensely and their upbringing and future matter to me equally immensely. It confounds me that we’ve been so stupid to build a society where the role adults like myself play in helping care for children is largely dismissed. Yet my ability to help out friends and relatives with their children is in no small part dictated by my choice to be childless. Nor do I begrudge a significant portion of my taxes going into services that support other people’s children.

    Someone above made the comment that feminists like Le Guin in part answer the issues Cristy raises by inventing societies where child-raising is much more communal. But she didn’t invent them, just held up a mirror for us into other cultures where such practices still exist today.

    So this is my long-winded way of saying part of my decision not to have children was a direct lived experience of the importance of the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I see myself as an important part of my particular village, and I think villages need some childless adults to help share the job of raising kids.

    For a mildly controversial aside, I think one of the most obvious manifestations of how we’ve undermined this common-sense approach is how we’ve isolated parents and with that has grown a completely constructed falsity that parents automatically and magically know how best to parent and that an outsider (ie non-nuclear family member) can really have anything to offer. This particularly goes for childless people. For example, heaven help you if you discipline someone else’s child (whole angst-written books and tv dramas come out of the latter, not that I ever condone hitting children, period).

    My personal measure of the existence of this phenomenon in a culture is how children are treated in public spaces like restaurants. Here if a child is being naughty, other adults trying to help is generally greeted with offence and anger. In other cultures I’ve been in failing to intercede to help a parent out with a naughty / upset etc kid in a place like a restaurant is just plain rude.

    Anyway, back to care in the broad. I’d like to think if we could sort out something as essential as how to value the work of motherhood and child raising, at the same time perhaps we could also work out how to value looking after the elderly or a loved one who is disabled etc.

    The only time I truly feel occasional resentment regarding the benefits that flow to parents is when I examine my own situation, where the one tax benefit I get to help me look after a partner with chronic pain (but excluded naturally from the definition of disability for support services) is the tiny dependent spouse tax offset. That’s being phased out completely in case you haven’t heard.

    Of course I wasn’t meant to claim it for years because my spouse is same-sex therefore we didn’t actually legally exist as a couple. Equally I was meant to pay additional tax penalties for not having private health cover because in the eyes of the law I was single and therefore the single income threshold applied to me. So sure, Family Tax Benefits aren’t enough and parental leave & child care support is problematic. At least there is something there. There are whole segments of the population without any financial support at all.

    My point being, society isn’t just fucked in terms of motherhood, it’s fucked in terms of valuing support and care, full stop. It is littered with inequities and barriers to a reasonable standard of financial support and quality of life. Wherever it is found, we do not value care without our economy.

    So if we can’t get it for a group as large as mothers and fathers, by crikey we have a lot of work to do.

    Which is why it’s important that cheerfully childless women like me, and mothers, resist the forces trying to divide and conquer us around these central issues. The commonality is that all of us will need care in our life. We start with our lives being dependent on it, and we’ll end with the quality of our last days entirely contingent on it.

    And the key point, the reason none of it is properly valued and supported is because it’s defined as women’s work, and fundamentally devalued as a result.

    So whether we define it as ‘real’ work and fight to ensure that the latter is then understood far more broadly than in simple economic terms to avoid the fears Conrad raises; or whether we find another way to value and provide it equitably, I’ve not much to offer compared to the great thinking in this thread. I just know it’s an essential project.

  60. mindy

    society isn’t just fucked in terms of motherhood, it’s fucked in terms of valuing support and care, full stop.

    Beautifully put myriad74.

  61. myriad74

    LOL. I’m not sure ‘beautiful’ is correct given the swearing, but thanks for getting the point amongst the rambling Mindy ;-)

  62. jules

    myriad74, I also think it was beautifully put.

  63. Astra Niedra

    myriad74 “And the key point, the reason none of it is properly valued and supported is because it’s defined as women’s work, and fundamentally devalued as a result.”

    I have been thinking and writing about the issues in this article for a while now (ever since I became a mother) and myriad74 I think you are correct in your statement.

    I have often wondered how society would cope if all women who became mothers (and all people who are carers and helpers to mothers) all simultaneously decided to oursource their mothering/caring work so that they could go to do paid work. We’d very soon realise the value of mothering/caring and how we have so far relied on so many people working for ‘free’.

    My book Enlightenment Through Motherhood examines how we fail to value motherhood and what mothers do because we operate within a patriarchal paradigm which affects all aspects of our lives, even our how we see spirituality. This book is not only for the spiritually-inclined as it challenges much of what is taught in spiritual traditions, but what it does require is a sense of humour. Most parents will be able to relate to it, no matter what their spiritual orientation, as it is about coming to realise that we (society) have devalued and suppressed ‘the feminine’ on many levels.

  64. Chris

    I have often wondered how society would cope if all women who became mothers (and all people who are carers and helpers to mothers) all simultaneously decided to oursource their mothering/caring work so that they could go to do paid work..

    In terms of care of children I think the government would probably like that. After all, one of the economic reasons for subsidising childcare is to encourage women into the workforce. With no increase in childcare subsidies the extra cost of childcare would fall onto the families themselves whilst the size of the economy would grow because the women would be in paid work (possibly contributing to exports) plus there’d be a whole lot more people employed in the childcare sector.

    Regarding the ‘work’ thing, I really reject the idea that it is a word that cannot be separated from the market. We use the words ‘creative work’ and ‘life’s work,’ for example, to describe something else. There is no reason that an endeavour needs to be given market value in orde to qualify as ‘work’.

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but isn’t the argument around caring of children being classified as work often used as the tool to justify financial payment for that work? And that immediately links it to the market. Or are you arguing for just more social recognition like say volunteer firefighters get (and within that culture there seems to be a strong element against any payment at all because in a way it would devalue the contribution that people make).

  65. Myriad74

    Cheers Jules. It made a nice break from thinking about & writing in the impacts of trade liberalisation on food security. ;-)

  66. Myriad74

    On, dammit

  67. BilB

    This is nonsense

    “And the key point, the reason none of it is properly valued and supported is because it’s defined as women’s work, and fundamentally devalued as a result.”

    Life is all about women. Female humans have the most complex role in nature, and they cope with it routinely and amazingly.

    The reason why the process of raising families is not “paid work” is because there is insufficient economic throughput to achieve this.

    Historically why men were paid more than women was because the expectation was that most men would pair with a woman and the natural consequence of that was children leaving the man to fetch earn and build while the women nested bore nurtured fed educated and soothed.
    It was a team effort with community providing stability. When it worked properly. It is not (at least in our society) that “women’s work” was not valued, it was that what was earned was earned in common by both partners even if at different rates.

    The old order really began to unravel rapidly in the 60′s with the arrival of “the pill”. We are much of the way through a process of social and economic adjustment to a world of equal opportunity for both men and women with the procreation control that the contraceptive has made possible. That is all there is to it with all of its successes and failings. To build any more into it is to aver think it.

    Christy’s experience, I think, is a Vulcanesque recall to nature’s reality.

    ___________________________________________________________

    Separately, yet obliquely connected, in a BBC production which talked of the building of Carnarvon Castle we learnt that the head stone masons earned 28 shillings, master craftsmen earned 2 shillings, and base laborers earned 18 pence, a week or a month I can’t remember. I haven’t done the comparison to today’s CEO to factory floor, but it does say that the wealth disparity arrangement is a very old one.

  68. mindy

    Except for working class women who simply took their children with them to their long, hard, boring, poorly paid jobs. Much like many women in 3rd world countries today. Whose labour is also not valued, despite companies making enormous profits on their backs.

  69. BilB

    Far too many generalisations there, Mindy, to address. There is indeed a history of exploitation, not restricted to women. Children being exposed to the work environment is not all bad. That is a whole thread there.

    Long hard boring poorly paid work? That sounds unisex.

  70. Myriad74

    Speaking of generalisations Bilb I feel like I’ve face-planted in a 1950s anthropology text in your post at 67. I don’t know where to begin.

  71. BilB

    Perhaps, Myriad, you can begin by justifying your generalisation paraphrased “that which is defined as women’s work is fundamentally devalued”

  72. Brian

    Cristy, thanks for opening up this issue insightfully and rationally. I’d like to say much, but not sure I can find the right words.

    On work, I go back to Zygmunt Bauman’s book Work, consumerism and the new poor (I can’t find a decent review of it) where he sets up the concept of work and the ‘work ethic’ as conceived in modernity in the first chapter.

    In order to get something, we need to do something which is seen by others as valuable and worthy of being paid for. But then (Bauman regards this as “morally mischievous as well as silly”) it is also morally wrong to be satisfied with what you’ve got and so to settle for less rather than more.

    working is a value in its own right, a noble and ennobling activity.

    This is so even if the work is routine and meaningless to the worker.

    The true problem which the pioneers of modernization confronted was the need to force people, used to putting meaning into their work through setting its goals and controlling its course, to expend their skill and their work capacity in implementation of tasks now set and controlled by others and hence meaningless for their performers.

    The work ethic was, basically, about the surrender of freedom.

    There may be now a greater alignment between personal needs for growth and intrinsic satisfaction on the one hand and work on the other, but the basic function of work is to produce the consumer as well as the producer in a capitalist society. And as Jonathon Swift in (A Modest Proposal) told us, making babies has had no economic value that private capital is willing to pay for.

    Erik Erikson coined the tern “generativity” in his schema of psychosocial stages as the central concern of the period of work and parenthood. It was meant to include productivity, creativity and care. The purpose of generativity was to do something which has meaning beyond the individual, to contribute to broader human project.

    I think the term generativity allows us to consider our central life effort in terms other than the economic system.

    That said, someone has to clean out the latrines and jobs more horrible that that which can’t be cast in terms of personal emancipation or transformation. People doing such tasks arguably should be paid a premium to compensate for the lack of intrinsic rewards, or at least work short enough hours so that they can engage in an avocation that gives them such rewards.

    Not everyone is suitable for the capitalist system’s needs. I didn’t participate in the thread on human rights, but on my shopping list would be the right to live a dignified life, beyond the basics of survival. This would lead me to favour the provision of a social wage, independent of paid work in my ideal society. Short of that, what Russell said @ 32:

    A mother or father should have the right to choose to look after their children, and if the family income falls below a reasonable standard assistance should be provided.

  73. Brian

    The other thing I wanted to say was the central task of bringing a child into the world is to launch a new autonomous but socialised human being. This is hugely important, and perhaps people who go stir crazy on the job should avoid the responsibility.

    Better go to bed, before I get into trouble!

  74. Jumpy

    Happy Mothers Day :)

  75. Zabeel the Horse

    Luz @52, there’s nothung wrong wuth callung Crusty Crusty.

  76. BilB

    Happy Mother’s Day Christy, and to all the other Mumses herein posting, your special abilities are appreciated and highly valued.

  77. Liz

    Very true, Zabeel.

  78. myriad74

    Bilb, please google it. You’re asking me to pot up 50+ years of feminism, economics, sociology etc on the subject.

  79. akn

    As it is Mother’s Day I thought I’d just note that two people of my acquaintance are mothers of children who all pre-deceased them in violent circumstances. They both have a prolonged breakdown each year about this time of the year. The terror of what can go wrong for parents never ends. A very sad business.

  80. Yair

    I suspect the dependency is mostly a result of the structure of our society, not a result of our biology. If everyone got a guaranteed minimum income that allowed them to live a decent life, everybody would have lots more choices.

    Many women would be able to raise children on their own without any sort of dependency on a partner. Which might be, come to think of it, one of the reasons it will not happen any time soon.

    A guaranteed minimum income that allowed people a decent standard of life could be a death blow to patriarchy altogether.

  81. GregM

    If everyone got a guaranteed minimum income that allowed them to live a decent life, everybody would have lots more choices.

    What would that guaranteed minimum income be, who would guarantee it and how would they pay for it?

    And would there be different levels of the guaranteed minimum income to take account of people’s differing expectations of what is a decent standard of life?

  82. BilB

    OK, Myriad, so 50 years of feminist economists have told you what to think. But I was more interested in hearing how you saw this, in our area, in the present, and how you see that projecting into the future. Do you see transition? improvement?

  83. Jumpy

    Cristy
    Now that the thread is drawing to an end so howls of derailment shouldn’t be as loud, please consider how the mans work is ” valued”. ( examples may vary widely )

    He donates Monday and Tuesday to the government. Wednesday and a chunk of Thursday get donated to the landlord or bank. The rest of Thursday and Friday is for Wollies, Mobil, Target, Ergon…..etc..
    Saturday is for the future surprises( shit that breaks), presents, dreams and ” a better life ” down the track if tragic events don’t intervene.
    All this time spent with people he may not care about or even like.
    Sure, he gets a hour in the arvo with the kids after getting home at 6ish, but, as you know that’s dinner, bath and bed zone.
    Sunday is the best. Take the kids to sport morning.
    Of course he’s not payed in money for it, in fact part of Saturday pays for it.
    But then the selfish arsehole totally trashes all his ” valued work” by dropping the kids ( all tuckered out ) back home, grabs the golf clubs and lavishes 4 hours on himself. If it doesn’t rain.

  84. jane

    akn @79, I can’t begin to say how how sad I feel for those women.

    It’s our recent expectation that our children will outlive us and the premature death of a child is both shocking and harrowing.

    But such deaths are generally caused by illness or accident and although the sadness lingers for life, most parents are able to reconcile themselves to the loss.

    But to have your children wrenched from life by violence must be almost impossible to come to terms with.

    I hope their pain will lessen with time; it will never be absent, but I hope that it will become bearable.

    In the meantime, a stranger will think about them and their loss and in some way help share their burden of grief.

  85. Brian

    GregM @ 81, I’m not smart or arrogant enough to determine an amount, but when we were talking about superannuation we were told that financial planners often advise retiring couples that they will need about $60K pa for a comfortable life. That’s assuming they own their place of residence. You could start from there.

    I’d do it equitably. I can’t think of a reason why not.

    Yair @ 80 has picked up what I’m on about. It’s to give us back our freedom. As such it must come from the common pool. Eva Cox’s notion that parent leave pay should be seen in industrial terms provides employers with a reason not to employ women.

    I’m talking ideal society, so money is no object!

  86. Luna

    Yes Yes Yes! Chrisy this article articulates so many thoughts that I have had. It is so great to see someone writing about this. Congratulations, I hope lots of people read it.

  87. Cristy

    Highly relevant to this discussion: Annemarie Slaughter on supporting care work: http://m.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/05/how-to-make-the-us-a-better-place-for-caregivers/275807/

  88. dylwah

    G’day Cristy. Late to this, but wanted to say that I enjoyed your post and that the birth of my first child really confirmed my sense that independence is an illusion. Holding my tiny baby in the hospital, experiencing my first child related sleep deprivation and sense of relief, I was struck by the multitude contributions that had been made by family, friends and strangers that made that moment possible. It was terrifying and exhilarating.

  89. Brian

    Criosty Cristy, I’ve been monitoring the statistics on your post. On the day you put it up our stats almost doubled. Then it was our top post far almost five days in a row, to be narrowly edged then by interest in the budget.

    Well done!

    I’ve put up a post on the Save the Chidren State of the World’s Mothers report, which readers may find of interest.

  90. Paul Norton

    Why can’t people spell Kristy’s name properly?

  91. Brian

    Paul, you will note that on the keyboard “i” and “o” are next to each other. Ever since I had open heart surgery in 2000 my fine motor capabilities have suffered a bit. I often hit two keys or the key next door. It’s annoying, but it hasn’t gotten better in 12 years.

    That’s my story!

    BTW, in typing this comment it happened 4 times. That’s how bad it is!

  92. David Irving (no relation)

    At least you have an excuse, Brian. I do it all the tiometime as well, and I’ve never had open-heart surgery.

  93. Paul Norton

    Brian @91, in that light your efforts on Climate Clippings and your other posts are even more admirable.

  94. Cristy

    “Not everyone is suitable for the capitalist system’s needs. I didn’t participate in the thread on human rights, but on my shopping list would be the right to live a dignified life, beyond the basics of survival.”

    Brian, I’ve been wanting to comment on your comment, but life got in the way. Just briefly, your comment the right to live a dignified life is an issue that is prominent in debates around the content and foundation of human rights – particularly socioeconomic rights (such as the right to water) and it is a concept that I am strongly in favour of. If anyone was interested in the debates, they have been particularly active in relation to South Africa and there is some great scholarship coming from South African scholars on this issue: Bilchitz (who doesn’t favour it – see, eg, David Bilchitz, ‘Giving socio-economic rights teeth: The minimum core and its importance’ (2002) 119 South African Law Journal; David Bilchitz, ‘Towards a reasonable approach to the minimum core: Laying the foundations for future economic rights jurisprudence’ (2003) 19 South African Journal on Human Rights), Pieterse (who does – see, eg, Edgar Pieterse, ‘Eating socioeconomic rights: The usefulness of rights talk in alleviating social hardship revisited’ (2007) 29 Human Rights Quarterly 796, 802) and Liebenberg (see, eg, Sandra Liebenberg, Socio-Economic Rights: adjudication under a transformative constitution (2010)

  95. Brian

    Paul @ 93, thanks. The odd thing is that it’s only in my typing. I haven’t noticed it in anything else I do.

    In the debriefing sessions I attended at the time they did warn us that odd things like that can happen.

  96. Brian

    Christy @ 94, thankyou for responding to my comment @ 72. I think about rights a lot, but haven’t read all the standard literature on rights. I guess the references you cite are not available to non-scholars like me, but I’ll try to follow some of them up.

    When I wrote the comment I hadn’t read Axel Honneth’s Patterns of Intersubjective Recognition: Love, Rights, and Solidarity past the first section on love. The third section on solidarity is particularly relevant to notions of dignity.

    In the first section I have some criticism’s – significant others are absent, I’d like to see ‘synergy’ mentioned as well as ‘symbiosis’, he is unaware that the phenomenon of aggression in infants/young children in asserting their independence does not appear to be universal in all cultures – but I was quite taken with the notion of infants creating their world within the lifeworlds of those around them and being created by them. Also Hegel’s understanding of love as ‘being oneself in another’ as a way of talking about intimate relationships where there is intersubjectivity but the boundaries of self are maintained, indeed nurtured by the experience.

    The achievement of a degree of autonomy is something that must come very early in infancy, according to Erikson. I suspect that bonding between mother and child cannot occur until that autonomy is achieved.

    Similarly with adults. It takes two well-made selves to bond.

    There’s heaps more that could be said, but mostly I wanted to give a recommendation to Honneth’s piece, which I found by following a lead from akn with Lefty E’s endorsement on another thread.

  97. Beth

    I come to this party late, but exhilarated by your writing and by the exercise it gave my brain. You put words to many things I would not have known how to articulate. I feel that it is particularly pertinent to my current set of circumstances. A less dense/academic version would be worth the extra effort – just to push it out (sorry) to a wider readership. Thank you.