Over the past several weeks, I’ve been contemplating the unpaid labor of mothers. The caregiving we do, essential in its own right, is also an economic contribution that goes on mostly in secret. I do apologize in advance for being lazy in my terminology through some of my posts, using the terms “women” and “mothers” as if we are the only ones who take on primary caregiving roles. Here are links to all the posts I’ve made:
I started out thinking about women’s liberation, and how it did and did not happen. I wrote: “Our role as primary caregiver, combined with economic exploitation, means that a woman is left largely alone to take on the multi-year, 24-hour-a-day responsibility to bring up the child.” I pointed out that although women who have money, or a wage, or a spouse with money, can pay somebody to do childcare, but these are all essentially workarounds to the primary problem that in an economy that requires a wage for simple survival, we don’t get one for the work we do.
Next up, I talked about how the wider economy uses women as a free source of human capital. I noted that “The unpaid labor mothers do, when we are perceived to be “not working,” has economic value to somebody outside our family, and people in power have measured that value.”
Then I named the unpaid labor done by parents, for the economic benefit of someone else, using Ivan Illich’s term “shadow work.” First I introduce the problem, then I give a longer analysis of Illich’s work, and finally, I consider two kinds of unpaid labor, shadow and subsistence, and two kinds of economies: household and market.
Next, I discussed shadow labor and gift economies.
There’s work yet to be done, and I hope I will get to it. It’s likely I won’t, at least in the forseeable future.
I am really interested in talking about shadow work and the prison-industrial complex. Is prison labor shadow work? What happens to a household economy when a worker, whether it be a shadow worker or a wage worker, is taken away to do prison labor?
I’m interested in looking at fertile and infertile women as two gender categories. Infertile women operate in our economy much like men, while fertile women end up stuck with shadow work and all it entails. I’d also like to challenge feminism and ask whether it really liberated women, or whether it just created a new class of men (infertile women) who may or may not be destined to flip genders.
I’m also interested in doing an economic thought experiment. What if all caregivers got a wage for the work they did? If it happened by way of wage earners getting a bigger wage, to cover all the caregiving work done for their families, and you gave the wage earner and the caregiver equal wages, then wages would have to double infinitely, wouldn’t they?
Finally, what about unions and shadow work? If I’m doing work and not earning a wage, and there’s nobody to ask for a wage from, then what is a union to me?
Another time, I hope!