Yes, this is late. I was working an 11 hour shift on Friday, and when I got home I basically had a bath and fell asleep in front of the TV.
A recent report estimates stay at home mothers are doing the work of 10 different jobs (housekeeper, cook, day care center teacher, laundry machine operator, van driver, facilities manager, janitor, computer operator, chief executive officer and psychologist), work on average a 92 hour week (that’s 52 hours of overtime), and all this work, if it was paid, would be worth $138,095 USD a year. Women who work outside the home full-time would be paid an extra $85,939 for their domestic labour.
And instead, they are paid $0.
Now, I dunno about all those jobs – some of these (like psychologist, early childhood educator, and CEO) require a lot of formal education that many stay at home moms just don’t have (hat tip: DBB, who has a very different view on this than I do). Some of these I think are pretty accurate: laundry, cook (DBB didn’t like this one because he thinks it’s based on “chef” and that people who cook at restaurants don’t get paid to feed themselves, which is bogus because I know for a fact that many people who work at restaurants eat there for free everyday, sometimes twice a day, and also it really depends where they get their figures for this salary, because not all cooks are chefs with formal culinary training) driving, facilities manager – these all sound about right to me. Also, I think they could have added personal shopper and personal stylist in there, considering that most parents who stay at home end up doing all this sort of work as well.
However, I do want to talk about this a little bit. First of all, the report is framed as “stay at home MOTHERS” rather than “stay at home PARENTS” – which is reflective of reality in the majority of cases but doesn’t exactly help matters. There is nothing about any of these jobs that are gender-specific – just as there is nothing about ANY job that is gender-specific. More men are staying at home with their young children, and that leaves them out of the equation here. But I do wonder if stay at home DADS would be worth more money, seeing as men still get paid more for the same job as women. Just a small, tongue in cheek point, but perhaps one that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Which brings me to my second point: none of these jobs are gender-specific, but many of them, and certainly all of them together under the name “stay at home mother” are naturalized as female jobs. Cooking and cleaning and childcare and laundry are all still seen as women’s work, and the argument is that women are “naturally” better at these things than men, because women have something inherent about them that makes them well-suited to this kind of labour (whether paid or unpaid).
But the main point I want to discuss is how domestic labour, the work of reproduction, is left out of the capitalist economy of production. Production work is the only work that is assigned a value in the capitalist system, but reproduction work is considered to be very different. It is considered to be a duty, an obligation, and thus undeserving of pay – a labour of love. This is work that we are supposed to be happy to do, to be grateful to do, in the name of our families and despite deep personal sacrifice, and doing that work is supposed to be fulfilling in and of itself. Indeed, this is work that is inherent to women, work that women are born to do. And so, many balk at the idea of assigning it a monetary value. That just seems so callous, so “unnatural”. By assigning this loving labour a value, a price, it suggests that perhaps this work is not “natural”, that these workers are not happy and grateful and fulfilled to do it, that perhaps the personal sacrifice is not made willingly.
But, truth be told, this is a heavy expectation. Every job has value to someone, and raising the next generation of people is a pretty important one, I think, on a broad social level. It’s time to start recognizing that mothering is a job, it is work, and it is difficult. Recognizing the “labour” part doesn’t automatically negate the “love” part – it simply gives credit where credit is way overdue.
And so, I support this report, despite my hesitations with a few of the items included. I support it in principle because I do not believe any role should be naturalized, nor should anyone be made to feel like they must play a role to be a “real” woman (or man). This report helps to identify institutionalized gender essentialism, and I’m all for breaking that shit apart.