This post was inspired by Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought. (A ‘wife’ being a person of any gender who isn’t in paid employment or is in part-time employment in order to support their spouse who is working full-time). Annabel is an Australian journalist. She writes very readable prose and has a good eye for the ins and outs of gender roles. She notes that over the last few decades women have found it easier to get access to the paid workforce but men haven’t found it any easier to exit – the male breadwinner model is largely unaltered.

 

Female and Male

I think equal pay for equal work is a matter of fairness and justice (This still isn’t happening in Australia. Having one person financially dependent on another is likely to lead to exploitation (sad but true in my view).

  • I think that both males and females are entitled to control of their own bodies.
  • I think that both females and males should have access to paid employment.
  • I think the genders are equally entitled to political representation.
  • I think the strengths and gifts are distributed close to identically amongst women and men (once cultural training is taken into account) and that tiny differences receive disproportionate attention.
  • These are all pretty much motherhood statements I think.

It is my perception that women are often valued as less worthwhile than men. I think the patriarchy is alive and well and still doing its damage – to both women and men. Perhaps these statements are a bit more controversial – though I think many would find it easy to agree. And part of the patriarchy is that some activities are seen as more worthwhile than others. And I think there are two big factors in the evaluation used by the patriarchy –

  • work done by females is less valuable than that done by males
  • work associated with the private/home space is less valuable than that associated with public space.

 

Private and Public

Generally speaking I think cooking, cleaning and childcare are regarded as less prestigious than policy analysis, city planning and politics. I think this shows pretty clearly that the public is valued more highly than the private.

And here is where it gets complicated. Because women have been (and still are I think) more associated with the private realm and males more with the public realm.

My contention is that the devaluing of the private realm is a separate but related issue to the devaluing of femaleness. The professions haven’t suffered loss of prestige due to women joining their ranks, and the work associated with caring and domesticity haven’t been raised by male employment in them.

This is where the debate about payment for ‘housework’ comes in – and why it is so difficult. The ‘value’ proposed for housework is a public system of valuing – money. Which is to say that this way moves the private into the public realm, which some of us find uncomfortable.

I am one of the uncomfortable ones. I find the values associated with the private realm (comfort, fun, pleasure) much more worthy than the values associated with the public realm (contest, accumulation, assertion).

This discomfort may be the reason why the discussion about the financial valuing of housework hasn’t really got started, so far as I can tell.

 

The Dawn of an Idol

I think we are witnessing the birth of a new religion: work.

And by work here is meant paid employment.

Work is replacing citizenship and tax-payers are replacing citizens. And I think this is deeply worrying. Many people can’t find paid employment through no fault of their own (either personal or social) and this is no shame to them; which is no impediment to the wealthy and powerful heaping shame upon them.

There are many ways to contribute to others, paid employment probably is one of the less valuable ones.

  • Paid employment is rarely done for intrinsic rewards
  • Paid employment often has negative effects on individuals and those who care for them
  • Paid employment often contributes to social inequity and ecological disaster.

These things make it pretty clear that paid employment isn’t necessarily a good thing. My overall impression is that we would all benefit from more leisure, loving relationships and meaningful activity and from less time spent in paid employment.

 

Your Thoughts

I’m wanting this post to be a discussion starter (or on a blog, I suppose, a comment starter).

All thoughts and responses most welcome.

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