This week Mark Richardson made a comment on the telly that was reasonable, well thought-out, and well supported by evidence. Lols, just kidding! He decided, using his VAST experience with economic and social policy, that motherhood isn’t a ‘job’. He did acknowledge that it’s “hard work being a mum” and in fact was right on the money that it’s “goddamn difficult”. However he concluded that ultimately that it is “just what we do”: a “fact of life” and therefore not a job. “We raise children on this planet” he wisely intoned… since it’s just thing we all do to survive, lets not call it a job, right?
Cool. Thanks. I mean we also grow food on this planet; it’s a fact of life and yet we for some reason still call it a job? It seems really weird to me to argue that ‘work’ (he acknowledged it WAS a form of work) isn’t a ‘job’ just because it is necessary. Should only optional things (like standing on grass and playing with balls) be ‘jobs’? Or did he mean that work which people have traditionally been compelled to provide for free should be excluded automatically from the category ‘jobs’?
I think it’s really important to be clear here that he was specifically talking about women. This was a conversation about why “mothering” isn’t a job, not why “parenting” isn’t a job. The panel was discussing the fact that working MOTHERS are doing the equivalent of 2.5 full time jobs (98 hours a week) between work and home. He even asked the “frilly undie crowd” not to get too upset by his comments. It’s possible that I may be underestimating him… maybe he has a very gender inclusive view of frilly undies? But I’m pretty sure he was asking women not to get upset that he thinks he is entitled to our mothering labour. He wanted to publicly affirm it is OK to believe that just because up until now we haven’t properly valued or recognised mothers’ caring labour, that we should just accept that this our lot in life and not ask for things to be different… better, even. Ladies, maybe we should just stick to bringing the plate while the men folk do the real job of standing on the grass and playing with balls? Except I’m finding it difficult to prepare a plate while my (very unfrilly) mum undies are in such a MASSIVE RAGING BUNCH.
This article by Jess Brensten-Shaw (who unlike Mark has spent loads of time thinking about the economy and social policy) does a really good job of examining unpaid work in the NZ economy and asking why we treat it like we do. It’s not just mothers and it’s not just women but sooooo much of it is. In fact this statistics New Zealand time-use survey revealed that while 60% of men’s work is paid, 70% of women’s work is UNPAID. And for that work to be dismissed so easily on a national platform is incredibly frustrating.
One reason it matters to me is because I do both paid work and unpaid work. My unpaid work is within my household and within my wider community. My paid work is within the tertiary education sector. It is ALL valuable, and often not even that clearly different in scope or nature. For example, in the last 7 days I have project managed two projects with a total budget of over $100,000, set one more project in motion and been invited to submit an additional project proposal by a funding body: some of these were paid, some were unpaid. I also flown, with 7-month-old Esther, to an all day meeting in another city, where I successfully contributed to a community of professional practice WHILE providing childcare (P.S. thanks awesome meeting attendees for not freaking out that a baby was in the room). I have provided additional childcare for a family member while they visited the emergency department. I have spent seven hours in the emergency department providing support and care for a different family member, including co-ordinating care and admin after their hospital admission. I have run a community playgroup session. I have run a playgroup fundraising event. I have planned, shopped, and prepped food for a small cooking co-operative that helps my family and others reduce food cost and prep time. I have cooked and cleaned at home. I have delivered 3 hours of lectures on degree level programs. I have provided at least 150 hours of childcare (I’m on-call all night every night cause boobs). I have waved at husband as he passes in the distance or collects the children while I work my 9 contracted hours a week.
Which parts of this list aren’t valuable? They all add value to the community. They all improve the lives of others. They all require me to do skilled and specific work. People in different settings get paid for doing all of these things, as long as they aren’t doing it for people they are related to. So nothing on this list is fundamentally incompatible with the the idea of a ‘job.’
So, I guess my question is, why does Mark get to decide that the way we have constructed our ideas about work and jobs in the past are “just a fact of life”? To say that we’ve got it exactly right and shouldn’t try and improve it for those who are starting to peek out from under the enormous loads they’re shouldering? Could it be that he has a vested interest in not changing the status quo? Does it maybe suit him to be in a position where many people in his life are cared for by someone other than him, who he doesn’t have to pay? Even if he is a deeply caring person, statistically he isn’t in the category of people most likely to be providing significant care labour.
And ok, I get that being a mother isn’t exactly like a lot of other jobs. I know that I had these children by my own choosing and that I am responsible for them. I’m not expecting rounds of applause and cash falling from the sky everywhere I go with them (although just being consistently welcomed and catered for in public spaces would be nice). I know that as a human living in a community it is good and kind and helpful and healthy for me to invest some of my time in other humans without trying to place a strict dollar value it or expecting to profit from the interaction. But can we stop speaking about women’s emotional labour like it’s our duty to give it, and societies right to receive it?
If the work someone is doing is benefiting you (or anyone really) then maybe stop dismissing it or belittling the person doing it? If you have a national platform to speak on, maybe think carefully before offering an opinion on something you have no experience of? Maybe we haven’t called mothering a ‘job’ yet because we haven’t really addressed the systemic inequalities around unpaid (but hugely valuable) labour. Maybe instead of just equating “what is” with “what has to be” we could try and do just a little bit better? Because my night manager is calling and as much as I love her, this sure feels like work to me!