Thursday, 17 April 2014

Do mothers have the "toughest job in the world"?

So the point of this video (which went viral earlier this week) is to tell everyone in America how great "moms" are (psssst, buy a card from Cardstore). Cynicism aside, celebrating mums is great! We all need reminding of the amount of blood sweat and tears that goes into birthing and nurturing sprogs, and women definitely do not get enough recognition for the work they do. In fact, UN Special Rapporteur Magdalena Sepulveda said that women's unpaid care work is a major human rights issue.

The people being 'interviewed' for the hardest job in the world were quite rightly outraged at the job description:

  • "the job requires that you must be able to work standing up most or all of the time"
  • "you must be constantly exerting yourself" for "135 hours to unlimited hours a week"
  • "There are no vacations - on holidays your workload will increase"
  • "There is no time to sleep"
  • "If you had a life we'd ask you to give that life up"

One perplexed candidate for the 'job' asks "is that even legal?" Well, quite. For 'real jobs' we have labour laws making sure we get leisure time, breaks, comfortable working conditions, and fair pay. When those things are absent, we're used to interpreting the situation as a human rights violation (one interviewee calls the requirements "inhumane").

Just the fact that they can pull this stunt off, with a big reveal at the end that the 'job' is actually motherhood (haha, who'd have thought it, motherhood being touted as a job!)- proves the fact that we simply aren't used to thinking of childrearing as 'proper work'. Why not?

Society sees it as just something that women do, because they're biologically programmed to do it. It's still considered somewhat weird and deviant not to. If I ever tell anyone I'm not sure if I want kids, they have an infuriating propensity to smile knowingly and tell me that "the time will come". This sounds to me like a death knell of impending doom, but no matter.

The point is that women are mothers by default. As soon as girls are born they're born to be mothers. Whatever else they may turn out to be professionally, their reproductive capacity means that society expects them to settle down and have children. And just as girls are assumed to like playing with dolls, so motherhood is always assumed to be something women do because they just love babies SO. FRIGGIN. MUCH!!! OMG! Babies!!! EEEEE!!

"But you enjoy your job, so it's not a job really, is it?" Imagine if your salary decreased as your job satisfaction went up. "Don't look like you're enjoying your career too much, we'll assume it comes naturally to you and make you do it for free for the good of mankind." That logic is very warped.

So what are the merits of recognising women's care work as 'proper work'?

How about increased welfare payments to primary carers? Mandatory creche facilities in the workplace? Free childcare facilities? Dads sharing more of the workload?

Now, before I stand accused of inverse sexism, check out these statistics from EIGE and pipe down.

What's the problem with not viewing women's unpaid care work as work? Well, for a start it leads to the wealth ignorance displayed on the YouTube comments page. More importantly, it means that, where increasingly women work and raise children, they end up with a double-burden to shoulder. Because the caring part isn't seen as a legitimate job but rather something that women do by default, men simply don't help out as much as they could. Don't argue, it's in the stats.

The whole unpaid care-work thing might not be such a big deal if you live in a welfare state, or a state whose legal system recognises that women often take time out of work to care for children in divorce settlements. Or even, shock horror, a legal system that recognises that, post-breakup, children still cost money and women should get financial assistance for with their upkeep. But what about women whose governments don't provide for them? Whose legal system denies them rights to property, equal employment rights, or even equal status under the law?

The fact that their care work doesn't count as 'real' work has massive repercussions. Take, for instance, the homemaker who tried to claim for an equal share in the property with her husband only for the judge to accuse her of trying to "sit on her husband's back with her hand in his pocket." Think about all the micro-finance schemes for developing nations which all focus on women's apparently infinite capacity to make bracelets for tourists and create their own pottery start-ups while the men are out doing 'real work'. Did the people who came up with these schemes consider the fact that women's time is not infinitely elastic?! Just because they're working in the home doesn't mean they're not working.

Taking care of children may not be 'work' in the eyes of society, but it's just as exhausting. Plus, whatever the ad might say about "the meaningful connections" and that "feeling that you get from really helping your 'associate'", it's often a pretty thankless task.

"The position is going to pay absolutely nothing". Too right. Still, if you're lucky, you might get a card.  


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