A STYYCB entry.
If Todd Akin’s absurd comment on women’s biology has you thinking that parts of the GOP look at women as if we’re another species, you’re not alone. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to see feminist/animal rights activist Carol J. Adams’ point, that women are sometimes portrayed as animals, and vice versa. Akin’s ignorance illustrates a common thread in right-wing politics, in which women’s bodies are simply a means to an end; after all, the right-wing site The Daily Caller saw fit to publish an article asking “What are Women For?”
But as we focus on the latest outrageous right-wing assault on women’s humanity, I believe we lose sight of a larger pattern in Campaign 2012: when not speaking of women as some kind of bizarre species, economic campaign rhetoric often makes the unspoken assumption that the “standard” person is a male. As such, the unique contributions of, and consequences for, women are often obscured.
In its “economic” mode, the rhetoric of both sides tends to talk in terms of “generic workers” who are unencumbered by issues of family care. As Martha Fineman points out in The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency:
“Workplaces historically have been designed with the unencumbered worker in mind. The law only demands that women now have equal access to jobs and careers and be treated the same as that ‘autonomous,’ unencumbered individual.”
This rhetorical bounce that portrays women as alternatively aliens or invisible, creates a paradox whereby our unique contributions are crucial enough to compel, but not valued enough to reward – as opposed to the mythical “job creator.” However, you don’t have to stereotype women to recognize that unpaid care work is as much a part of our infrastructure as any government program, and that it is a burden disproportionately borne by women. And with the baby boomers aging, the care of seniors is becoming a larger part of that infrastructure.
The argument for “counting” this type of contribution is not new; Selma James argued for it during the long forgotten “Wages for Housework” campaign, and New Zealand feminist economist Marilyn Waring has long argued for an adjustment to UN accounting systems to reflect women’s worldwide unpaid work:
“The lack of visibility of women’s contribution to the economy results in policies which perpetuate economic, social and political inequality between women and men…. if you are invisible as a producer in a nation’s economy, you are invisible in the distribution of benefits….”
Waring’s work scored a victory with the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995, which made a commitment to counting the unpaid work done by women that contribute to economies throughout the world. A recent study cited by the New York Times found that, throughout the world:
“Not only do women earn less for similar work, they also do more work for no pay at all.”
Canada delves into the issue of women’s unpaid labor, in this publication by the United Nations Platform for Action Committee Manitoba:
“Unpaid work is perhaps the biggest contribution that women make to the economy. In Canada unpaid work is estimated to be worth up to $319 billion in the money economy or 41% of GDP; globally the numbers skyrocket to $11 trillion US. Most unpaid work in Canada and around the world is performed by women.”
If Campaign 2012 keeps returning to the GOP’s obsession with women’s reproduction, it is perhaps because the issue of unpaid care work is lurking in the American psyche as unfinished business. But as we battle issues of taxes, social security, Medicare and other federal spending, we need to recognize that the unpaid work of women belongs right up there with roads, bridges, and heroic “job creators.” Wouldn’t it be nice if women could have a place in public policy discussions all the time, not just when crazy theories about our bodies slip out?