Sunday, November 27, 2005

One True Thing

There's been an interesting discussion in a number of American Feminist Blogs about a New York Timesarticle on caring for elderly parents. Or, because it's the New York Times, how rich women are giving up careers to look after elderly parents, because then they get to bash uppity women, and act like everyone has a six figure income, all at the same time.

Things aren't quite as bad in New Zealand as they would be in America, because we do have something resembling a public health system (La Lubu's comments in Jill's blog are just one example of how much worse an insurance based health system is). But the issues in terms of who does the care and how, is just as bad here. Paid caregiving work is treated badly enough; unpaid caregiving work is ignored. The only minimum provision is that you can use your own sick leave for a dependent (but if you had a good employer, you would have a case to make for leave to take your mother to the doctor, but only if you could show that you'd still keep the same level of productivity of someone who didn't take their parents to the doctor).

The discussion on Feministe was the one I found most interesting. Jill said:

I should make it clear that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it’s one of those things that, I think, is beyond classification as “good” or “bad”). It’s obviously not ideal that one gender is expected to devoting their entire lives to the service of others. But, not to get too cheesy, I think it’s valuable to not lose sight of what really matters in life — and while I hate to see things like caring for family become socially mandated for a group of people by simple virtue of their vagina-possession, the flip side is that it gives women the option of quitting their jobs or taking time off without too many people second-guessing them. I don’t think the same can be said for men. Imagine a 50-year-old man announcing in the boardroom that he’s quitting in order to care full-time for his elderly parents.
Now comenters on her post rightly pointed out that the thing that's stopping more men from giving up their jobs to care for their children isn't a lack of a vagina, but power and priviledge. But it shows how important that we both challenge the sexism that mean it is mostly women who do the work, and challenge the way the work is valued.

It is mostly women who do unpaid caring work looking after elderly parents, and our society would fall apart if we didn't do it. On an individual basis there are lots of different reasons that it's ususally the women who do the work (they live closest, they have more flexible working hours, they earn less and so cutting down the hours they work makes more sense, or because they're women), but on a societal level the reason women do most of the unpaid caring work is because we live in a incredibly sexist society. In fact I'd go further and say one of the reasons we live in a sexist society is because capitalism can't afford to value caring work, and therefore it is incredibly important that it gets done for free.

We need to change the way women's work is valued, as Jill said:
I’m saying that I think caring for others is valuable, important work, and that it’s thoroughly fucked that it’s underpaid and undervalued, but I’m glad I have the option to do it. I’m tired of a system that places what men do as the epitome of achievement, and I’m definitely growing tired of the idea that to be successful, women have to emulate whatever men have traditionally done, because that’s what’s good. I want to live in a world where I can take time off from my job to take care of my parents when they need me — I just want that world to hold men to the same standard, and to value my work as a caregiver as much or more as they value traditional “male” work.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:17 pm

    Nice blog!

    Yeah, I'm basically in the position of crossing my fingers and hoping that my daughter doesn't get any serious illness or injury that would require hospitalization. And I supposedly have a "cadillac plan" that is supposed to represent the cream of the crop of insurance! It costs over twelve-thousand a year, with roughly half contributed by my employer and half by me.

    Conservatives here say, "well, get another plan." Number one, that's not how ERISA plans work; insurance is part of your negotiated benefits. You don't have a choice. It's automatically part of your benefit package, and that has advantages and drawbacks.

    Number two, I'm young and healthy enough to be able to buy my own insurance, in the case of my insurance plan collapsing and me getting that money on my check (I can't afford insurance above-and-beyond what I'm already paying, and even if I could, it wouldn't give me extra benefits, just extra cost---the medical bills would be split evenly between the two insurances). There's no way I'd be able to find an insurer who would take my daughter, period, let alone at affordable rates. I mean, period.

    That's another thing the conservatives here don't get---that insurers have absolute right to turn anyone down. Those who most need coverage are usually uninsurable....unless they are fortunate enough to get a job like mine that features insurance benefits required to insure every employee (and their family).

    It gets worse. Having insurance gives you a hefty "discount" on your bill, straight off the top. Hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, etc. charge more money to the uninsured. Sometimes, more than twice as much. For example, the typical doctor's visit here costs $120. Of that, the insurance pays $70, and if you are insured, you'll have a $10 "co-pay". The doctor's office writes the other forty bucks off the top as "discount". If you are uninsured, the whole $120 is yours to pay.

    If you can even get a doc to see you. Most will not, unless you pay up front, which most uninsured people cannot. You have to be damn poor to get a Medicaid (health insurance for the poor) card--I couldn't get one when I was on unemployment (unemployment benefits). Unemployment pays "too much money". Even so, doctors and hospitals are not obligated to take Medicaid patients.

    Now, I want you to raise your arms, thank your lucky stars, and shout to the sky that you don't have this type of health care system!! It BLOWS!!!!

    La Lubu