Tuesday, August 29, 2006


There's been a 'study' done of New Zealanders attitudes to - well see for yourself:

Eighty three per cent of respondents approved of married woman working full-time before they have children but only 2 per cent approve of full-time work when women have children under school age.

Approval is higher (30 per cent) for mothers of young children working part-time and increases to 14 per cent for women working full-time after the youngest child starts school.
17 per cent of people don't approve of women working after they get married? Where did they find these people? Because any answer but the 1930s scares me muchly.

Since when is 30 per cent a high level of approval for mothers of young children working part time? Do 86 per cent of New Zealanders disapprove of women working full-time if they have school aged kids? Did anyone ask about men? This is all some kind of weird hoax right?

And most importantly where the hell do people get off thinking it's any of their business. Who asks questions that pre-suppose that people have a right to pass that sort of judgement?

Oh and less than 50% of people think men should do more housework.

There are a lot of really serious critiques I could make about this sort of research (it doesn't actually make any sense- far more than 2% of mothers with pre-school children work - the dissonance betwen reality and stated opinions is insane). Alternatively I could self-combust with my own fury (I don't think I will, it was touch and go for a while there). But instead I think I'll use those figures as a launching pad for a the discussion on motherhood that I've been meaning to write for some time.

But before I do you must go read Liz Conor's post on the subject - if you didn't click on that link last time I posted on the subject, you must now. It says everything I'm trying to say but better (I considered just not writing my post, but if we all had to stop writing when other people said it better there'd be no internet).

I think the starting point for any feminist analysis of child-rearing, and the way that it affects women is to look at how it is done in our society (which in my case means New Zealand):

1. The vast majority of reproductive work is done by women and is treated as women's responsibility. I don't expect there are that many people who would argue for that, even without the nonsense I just quoted.*

2. The majority of child-rearing work is done in isolation, and is usually one person's responsibility (best case scenario it's two). While there are lots of exceptions to the isolation issue - school is the biggest, commodified child-care is another, people also make informal arrangements - that is still the assumption under which we organise our society - and

3 Child-rearing is not resourced collectively - costs (both in terms of money and in terms of time) of raising children are mostly met by the parents.

4. Child-rearing is work, and absolutely essential work at that. The requirements of societies in general, and capitalism in particular is for new people, new people require a shit-load of work.

Now I think these are the four most important facts about child-rearing in our society, it should come as no surprise that they're all very bad things. Together they make child-rearing incredibly stressful work that isn't rewarded or respected. There are very few formal support networks available to anyone who is parenting, and if you're going to get any relief you have to organise it yourself (no calling in sick, certainly no annual leave). Many public spaces are not child-friendly (particularly young children), which severely restricts the lives of women who are the vast majority of primary caregivers.

These are important feminist issues - it's women who suffer, because of the way child-rearing is raised in our society. Most women will be directly affected by society's attitude towards child-rearing at some stage in their life.

I think 99.999% of feminists would agree that #1 needs to change, and that it must always be the starting (I get driven so batty by writers - mostly Marxists and Marxist feminists - who manage to write a whole bunch of stuff about how they need to change child-rearing without mentioning the work that men aren't doing). But I really don't believe that men doing half the child-rearing would be enough.

Until we acknowledge that caring for children is work - and restructure our society accordingly - women are going to continue to be screwed over by the double shift. I'm not suggesting it can be done under capitalism (I don't believe it can). But I think we can fight for changes in the right direction - anything that makes it easier for parents, that makes space more accesible for parents, that offers more support for parents, and makes child-rearing more a collective responsibility, will make women's lives better.


  1. The study was a skewed piece of **** not worth any paper it is printed on.

    There was no corollary question:
    Do you think a parent should be at home if they have pre-school aged kids.

    And so the answer to the:
    "Do you think a mother should be at home if they have pre-school aged kids?" actually answers that question.

    In the absence of qualifiers the question answered is not necessarily the question asked.

  2. One thing that I've been wondering about is if the concept of one parent (usually the mother) staying at home to care for children is not so much traditional for everyone as it is middle class traditional. Seems to me that for many working class families the concept of both parents in paid work to get by has long been the case, it's just been hidden.

    Or maybe I should base my analysis on more than just having read Oracles and Miracles a few years back ;-)

  3. Iiq37 makes the appropriate point; the statistics quoted as they stand don't support the use to which you (or the media) are putting them.


    > Together they make child-rearing incredibly stressful work that isn't rewarded or respected.

    Personally I find it massively rewarding. So far anyway.

    So I guess the point of incentives is to take people who would not have found having children rewarding and give them just enough money or whatever to actually want to do it in order to prop up the system.... Sounds a little dubious to me having said that, making the world child friendly seems a good idea for example my problem below.

    > And if you're going to get any relief you have to organize it yourself (no calling in sick, certainly no annual leave).

    Hmm if my baby was sick I'd just do it. It takes a boss with big "nuts" to take me on over how work should take priority over baby welfare.

    > Many public spaces are not child-friendly (particularly young children), which severely restricts the lives of women who are the vast majority of primary caregivers.

    And if you want unchild friendly try running around the town hall trying to find an appropriate baby changing room when you are a male and the only one is in the women's toilet on the verge of kicking out some people and just laying out the towel on the couch in the waiting area.

  4. Presumably if one person was on a benefit and then you marry then the person who did get it looses it so being part of a family tends to cost people on a low income money. I presume for those on a high income (and an accountant) you split the income and it saves you money.

  5. I agree with people criticising the study (hence the bit about how I thought it was full of shit). But that people could ask those questions, other people could answer them and the media could then report on them is deeply disturbing.

    Genius I said that child-rearing isn't rewarded, not that it isn't rewarding.