Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Women's Work

On the thread of my mother's Day post Psycho Milt asked a question:

So, is raising children women's work or not? I always supported what I thought was the feminist argument, that raising children doesn't require gender specialisation once it gets beyond breastfeeding, so that's what we should be aiming for. This post seems to suggest otherwise.
That was not my intention.

There are some parts of child rearing that are women's work by biology. Taking a embryo and making a baby is work, so is breast-feeding. The fact that neither of these activities is valued and often women are penalised for partaking them, is really fucking sexist.

After that it's entirely true that either men or women could raise children. When I talk of the work of raising children as women's work I am using the term descriptively, it is work that is almost entirely done by women. It is because that work is done by women (or possibly because women do this work that they get devalued, I suspect it's a chicken/egg situation).

I think there's nothing inconsistent in demanding that women's work be valued, and demanding that not just women do it.


  1. I realise I was being nit-picky asking that question, but while reading the post I could picture Jeremy Clarkson reading it and saying "Right, so we're agreed it is women's work then."

    Personally I think putting effort into making housework and childrearing not women's work is more likely to be productive than demanding that housework and childrearing be valued. Basically, they're mundane tasks that everyone needs done and nobody's ever going to reward anyone for them - you won't get rich or famous or even respected for your housework skills, which gives us a strong hint as to exactly why men have always palmed such tasks off onto women. It's like washing - your employer will not financially reward the work that you do in washing yourself occasionally, but they'll certainly care about it if you stop.

  2. I agree with you that "women's work" should be both valued and shared. Of course, if raising children and making a home were really valued, males would muscle females out of the way to do it themselves. ;)

    A complicating factor, however, can be the children themselves. I worked as a pricy soulless lawyer when my children were young while my husband was a writer working from home. When I was at the office the kids seemed to survive without me, but when both my husband and I were at home the kids clung to me and let him read his newspaper in peace--I didn't read a magazine, book, newspaper or brief at home for at least six years! Unfortunately, children don't pay for the services they demand.

  3. "- you won't get rich or famous or even respected for your housework skills, which gives us a strong hint as to exactly why men have always palmed such tasks off onto women."

    Agreed. I'd also add that maybe if all men started doing 50% of this work, then either it might start getting recognized (financially and otherwise), because a lot of men raised in patriarchy would probably resent doing a huge amount of work for no pay or recognition. Or, even if no one gets paid for doing housework and childrearing, at least if all men did half of it, it might start being considered economically valuable instead of being ignored.