I’m sort of sick of the word “feminism.” If I had my way, we’d replace it with something less gender-specific, like “caregiverism.” That’s ugly, I know. We’d have to come up with something better. But “feminist,” to me, falls short of the meaning that Adichie describes in the clip played by Beyoncé: “the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” We won’t achieve that kind of equality just by telling girls they, too, can be ambitious, as Adichie does. We have to go much deeper. We have to make it unacceptable to denigrate the work of care, which means challenging a hierarchy of values that goes back at least to the Ancient Greeks.
Feminists should become caregiverists as a way of establishing that the invisibility and unprotected status of caregivers is by no means only a women’s issue. … Work-life balance (that odious euphemism!) must also be seen as part of a larger structural problem. Limiting work hours used to be one of the great causes of the labor movement; even as the working day has grown longer and longer, this issue has dropped off the agenda—for many reasons … Nonetheless, without this broader perspective, we tend to think of our solutions to the problem of undone domestic labor as personal dilemmas—opting out, opting in—rather than as Hobson’s choices imposed on us by a shrinking amount of time available to do chores.
There are also some articles on feminist economics that seem to take a similar stance, at Women in Scotland’s Economy (I must admit I have not read them properly yet).
I think these ideas are important. Caregiving is hugely undervalued. “Success” is too narrowly defined, and feminism should not be about getting women to the top so they, too, can dominate and exploit others.
But I’ve been struggling a bit to reconcile this with a sense I have that caregiving should be less gendered than it is, too. If caregiving could be valued more, why would it still matter which gender did more of it?
I think it matters, partly because the dominance of any one gender in a particular area of life / field of work can lead to exaggerated gender traits and problematic behaviour. This is seen in overly competitive, overly confident or reckless behaviours in fields like banking, big business and science; and it is seen in perfectionism around “mothering” or housework to the point of being consumed by mindless drudgery and neglect of the self.
And it matters partly because the idea that women are more nurturing than men is doing harm. There are plenty of men and women who value caregiving within the family so highly that they believe it’s best done as a full-time job – almost always done by the woman, and of course, unpaid; although it could be argued that women are compensated for the lost earnings in the event of a divorce, through a settlement. But research suggests that mothers working and children attending nurseries (part-time, especially) is probably better for both than staying at home full-time (cited in Jessica Valenti, “Why Have Kids?”). And the world outside the home definitely needs women’s talents. (Would we want Mhairi Black chained to a kitchen sink in a few years’ time?) Am I denigrating caregiving by saying these things? Or am I denigrating a genderised form of it that is merely designed, by patriarchy, to keep women down?
Besides, it’s unlikely we will really value caregiving more highly until men start doing more of it.