Originally published on The Radical Housewife.
So Hilary Rosen Ann Romney blah blah blah. You didn’t get comment from me on the matter because last week was the buildup to the 2012 Minnesota NOW conference, which involved a great deal of work…..for which I was not paid.
At the conference I was approached by a political campaign that was interested talking with me about my writing. ”Is this a volunteer opportunity or a job?” I asked.
You can guess the answer.
A friend of mine works more than 40 hours weekly where our daughters attend school. She monitors the cafeteria, goes on field trips, assists with special events, and fundraises like a maniac. I’m not exaggerating when I say that school would crumble without her. What’s her job title, you ask?
Co-Chair of the PTA. Yearly salary: nothing.
On Facebook, a friend posted one of the bajillion links to the Rosen/Romney feud and one of HER friends claimed that her stay-at-home-mommy work is “priceless” and she would be “offended” if the government paid her.
And I wasn’t kidding.
Jill at Feministe wrote a few thousand words on the subject before getting to the real heart of the matter, which is:
Free female labor props up our economy and saves us all tax money. …women with children, whether they work outside the home or not, aren’t just doing the inside the home care-taking work; they’re volunteering at schools, in community centers, on sports teams. They’re filling the gaps that state and federal funding leaves, so in the short term kids get necessary classroom assistance when lawmakers cut programs. Women are much more likely to be a (again unpaid) care-taker for an aging or ill relative. As a nation, we can afford to not pay for necessary things because there are so many women who are doing those things for free.
Again, in bold and all-caps: “FREE FEMALE LABOR PROPS UP OUR ECONOMY.”
Capitalism depends on our unpaid work. We are conditioned to do it at every turn. My job is so idealized by our culture that my colleagues in the business (women like the Facebook poster) feel ashamed to ask for what is their due. Ashamed! Can you believe it?
Second Wave feminism declared that women should have opportunities outside the home, but forgot to add that men need to shoulder the burdens inside the home. The revolution should have demanded as many stay-at-home dads as female CEOs. But it didn’t. The goals of the movement became allied with making money, which is one reason why feminism gets accused of being anti-family. Family is so precious is cannot be associated with something DIRTY like MAKING MONEY! It’s the madonna/whore binary all over again.
No matter what women do, we’re made to be either/or. To rob us of nuance is to rob us of autonomy, and that’s just how patriarchal capitalism likes it!
If you think that all of your decisions in life are your own, that you “choose your choice,” then you fail to question the systems in place that perpetuate oppression. Systems like capitalism, patriarchy, racism, classism, you name it.
Here’s an example.
Minneapolis Public Schools is in trouble. Every year, the budget cuts get deeper and deeper and the achievement gap between poor and not-poor students is astonishing. Yet somehow, my daughter’s school seems to persevere, and will continue to do so as the ax drops in the future. Why? Because of people like that PTA co-chair I know. One day I asked her: “Would you consider going on strike to highlight how much free work the district gets out of you?” She looked at me like I was nuts, and I knew why–a PTA strike in our school would only hurt the children, and women are conditioned to think of the children and not themselves. Minneapolis Public Schools counts on the free labor of middle- to upper-class women to prop up schools when their budgets are cut. Schools without the free labor force are left to fend for themselves, and their test scores show it. Class systems stay rigidly enforced.
If women went on strike and refused to volunteer, our school district would have to put much more, and I do mean MUCH MORE, pressure on government officials to fund them adequately. If the women who prop up our school system went on strike, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak would be forced to put $150 million of city tax money towards hiring school staff, not towards a Vikings stadium–whose profits will be funneled straight into the pockets of the 1%.
Here’s a picture of our poor, old, inadequate football stadium. I think it just needs an army of unpaid women to puff it back up again, don’t you? Maybe we gals could install some of those fancy new corporate suites that the menfolk say they need to conduct the networking business whatchamacallit.
The Official Mommy War Narrative™ would have this PTA co-chair incredibly offended by me suggesting such radical ideas. We live under consumer capitalism, a system that encourages competition and discontent–if I’m right, you’re wrong. Either/or. If I pick a philosophical fight with Hilary Rosen, Ann Romney, the PTA moms, Linda Hirshman, Jessica Valenti, Phyllis Schlafly, The Feminist Breeder, Amanda Marcotte, the editors at Jezebel, and/or Hillary Clinton, I’ll be distracted. In my absence, Minneapolis will build a billion dollar football stadium, and its achievement gap will remain one of the worst in the nation.
The (white, male) rich will get richer, the poor will get…..