Devaluing Women’s Work, Devaluing Women: A Feminist Perspective On Staying at Home

True freedom is about choices.  It is about having the ability, the agency, to evaluation options and choose for oneself the best course.  Feminists have fought long and hard for women to be able to choose careers they desire-~-for gender to no longer be a reason or an excuse for keeping women out of any given field.  But in doing so, there has been some risk of vilifying staying at home, and we’re long overdue to fight for women who choose not to enter the workforce, to fight for a more fair evaluation of homemaking.

Homemaking is the traditional “women’s work”: housekeeping, cooking, raising children, etc.  While feminists have fought for women to be able to do more than simply stay at home, the reality is that staying at home may well be the life that some women desire, a life that they choose.  When feminists allow for this work to be degraded, what in fact happens is that women’s work, and consequently women and their contributions to society, are devalued.

The primary reason why women’s work is devalued in our modern society is simple: homemaking is not classified as productive work, but rather as reproductive work.  Consequently, it is a non-income-generating activity, and in a society that bases value in terms of wages and cost-benefit analyses, it become impossible to adequately assign a value to this kind of work.  But that’s not to say it doesn’t have value.  On the contrary, homemaking still needs to occur regardless of whether or not both parents in a household are able to or choose to work, because children still need to be raised and food still needs to be put on the table.  Regardless of whether or not homemaking generates income, it is incredibly important.

On top of that, when we degrade homemaking, we place a negative connotation on something that should be an option for women, if it’s financial feasible.  While it is true that many households require two incomes in order to sustain their desired lifestyles, the truth is that if a woman has the ability to stay home with the children, that should be an option she should be able to pursue without feeling like she HAS to be doing something more.  Even more importantly, degrading this work reinforces the idea that this work is undesirable, which adds to the struggle to gain gender equity with regards to homemaking: that is, men are less likely to want to take part in homemaking, or to consider staying home with the kids, if this remains stigmatized or frowned upon by society.  Placing greater value on and according greater respect for domestic work is going to be an important part of improving this area of balance.  Feminists can’t keep acting like this work is not valuable and then insisting that men help out: we are sending mixed messages that are just getting muddled.

There’s another aspect of this worth considering: there are women who take on homemaking and care-giving jobs for income, and if we are going to advance their position in society, we need to accord greater respect for the work that they do and the contributions they make.  This is particularly important from the perspective of intersectionality, because women of color are more likely to take on jobs working in domestic labor, and they in turn become degraded or devalued when feminism insists that this kind of work is not valuable, or that they should be aspiring to more.  I’m all for feminism fighting for women of color to have choices, but not for feminism to stand by and let women who do this important work be talked down to or treated like they are lesser members of society.  Who is to say that the woman watching your children is doing something less important than the teacher leading class or the lawyer defending a drug trafficker?  Who is to say that the woman cleaning your house isn’t providing you with a service just as valuable as the service provided by your accountant?

Earlier this month, Venezuela made an incredible move to change the way homemaking is seen within the country: by creating a system that would allow for full-time mothers to collect pensions.  This is huge, and I’m not sure why we’re not hearing about it.  It makes a clear statement on the value of homemaking, and it provides women with some sense of security in their retirement, such that they aren’t fully dependent on husbands in their old age.  It’s a new program, and I am sure there will be some hiccups, but the sentiment is fantastic: women’s work is real work, and we should treat it as such.

I am not saying the US is in a position to start providing pensions for all stay-at-home moms.  But I do think it’s time to change how we talk about homemaking, and about stay-at-home mothers.  We need to stop devaluing this work, and devaluing the women who do this work.  We need to start treating homemaking as something important…because otherwise, we’re not really sticking up for women and validating their choices.  Feminism needs to be for women, regardless of their social location, regardless of what they choose to do with their lives…and this includes women who choose to be in the kitchen.

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~ by Randi Saunders on May 21, 2013.

3 Responses to “Devaluing Women’s Work, Devaluing Women: A Feminist Perspective On Staying at Home”

  1. It is unfortunate that the basic tasks of taking care of oneself became considered demeaning and menial, and I resent the people who try to say the femininst movement cuased the problem. Domestic work had been de-valued by patriarchal systems from way, way back in history. It is an important part of the femininst movement to change the way the world thinks about domestic work, or what makes life acually worth living. Thanks for writing this.

  2. I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!|

  3. […] 2. Devaluing Women’s Work, Devaluing Women: A Feminist Perspective On Staying Home […]

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