Sunday, June 25, 2006

Motherhood Wage

There's been another big kerfuffle about Linda Hirschman - an American philosopher who I called capitalist radical feminism last time round. She's defended herself, and in doing so says "I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings."

This pisses me off on so many levels and I'm not going to dignify most of them with a response. But in this world there is shit that needs to be cleaned, food that needs to be provided, clothes that need to be sewn. Every single thing in your house was made by people, and most of it involves repetitive work that is not enough for the full-time and talents of any human being.

I believe that we should each do a bit of that work. We should each do some of the repetitive work that is required to make and maintain things, and we should certainly all do some of the incredibly varied and important work that is required to make and care for people.* I believe that we should all do our share these forms of work, and that if we did we would also all have the opportunity to develop our skills, interests and passions, and that wouldn't be limited to a few.

For me, part of changing that is make sure the work that has traditionally done by women, the work of reproduction is recognised and respected not just with words but with resources. So I'm going to talk about a motherhood wage. I'll start with South America. Article 88 of the Venezualan constitution says

The State guarantees equality and equity between men and women in the exercise of their right to work. The State recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates added values and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security.**
Hugo Chavez has just increased the resources Venezuala provide to single mothers, and other women who do caring work (via Super Baby Mama). I think this is an important, feminist, step in the right direction.

New Zealand came reasonably close to introducing a motherhood wage in the early 1970s. A motherhood wage was one of the central demands of the early women's liberation movement. When the Kirk government came in they thought they'd give it a go, but the amount they offered was so low that they were basically laughed at and they backed away.

There are all sorts of problems with demanding a parenting wage under our capitalism. Unless wages were paid as part of a package that also included free child-care it would make returning to other forms of work really financially difficult and any money offered would be a complete pittance compared to what the work actually required.

But I believe that raising children should not be treated as a hobby. People who are raising children are doing incredibly important work, they shouldn't have to do it in isolation, and they should be provided resources, just like the people who do other important work in society - like advertising executives.

* I have a friend who believes that after we over-throw capitalism all the work will be done by robots, and all we'll have to do is watch the robots every so often. I replied that he's ignoring all the work that involves caring for people and so would not be able to be done by robots (so he doesn't do that any more) - other friends threaten to form a robot liberation front - this is what happens when Marxists and Anarchists argue.

** Thanks to Ampersand for explaining to me how awful America's social security system is. Social democracy may have some serious flaws, but the united states definately missed out on all the good bits.


  1. Absolutely and right on. I've seen that argument many times before, and i've always said the problem isn't intrinsic to the work, it's in how it gets portrayed as undigified, and how certain classes of people are given such labor as their *only* opportunity.

    Until the magical cleaning robots come, housework is not escapable. It is possible to equitably distribute that work.

  2. I basically agree with what you say- but I'm waiting for robots to start pulling their weight around the house too. When you are caring for a baby you end up doing enormous amounts of washing. The caring part has to be done by a human- the washing part- I'm not so sure.

    And in fact there are a number of relatively non-political things that could be done to lessen the load of housework. For example- Houses could be so much better designed to be low maintenance. In fact I think housing is key to a lot of the social change I personally would like to see. If it wasn't so expensive it would be possible for a lot of us to work less and thus have more time for other things.

  3. Mike my point is that raising children is necessary work, and just because capitalism hasn't managed to commodify it (yet) doesn't mean that it isn't worth of resources and respect.

    Make tea not war, I'm with you on houses. Also that a lot of housework (as opposed to child-rearing, it annoys me when they're rammed together because they're very different sorts of jobs) could be made easier and possiblly done in a way that would use less labour and resources.

    I also think it'd be cool if we had washing doing robots (and dishing doing robots, I'd be really into dishes doing robots).

  4. I did answer the question - I consider raising chidlren work not a lifestyle.

  5. Mike - I'm not going to defend capitalism, I think it sucks. I'm all for overthrowing capitalism, asking me how something should work under capitalism is ridiculous.

    Cagmag - that's why I referred to it as a parent wage when I started looking at what I'd want, rather than talking about the debate.

  6. If people voluntarily agreed with that point of view, they'd voluntarily vote in a government that did things that way. It's no good advocating for absolute economic freedom while deriding the way people use their political freedom.

    If 75 out of 80 people voluntarily agreed to have an orgy, and forced the remaining 5 to join them, is that rape, or is it democracy?

    But what you’re not acknowledging is that raising children is work.

    Yes, but if they are not my children, the work isn't being done for me, so why should I have to pay?

    Not to mention that this type of policy would encourage the least intelligent, least productive, least desirable elements of society - those who cannot support themselves - to breed. Very dysgenic.