Thursday, March 29, 2012


In keeping with my ongoing theme of synchronicity, this piece popped on my car radio in the five minutes I was driving to the store yesterday, a precise examination of exactly the dilemma most people like me—artists, homemakers, homesteaders, activists—have to deal with. Yesterday, in the car, burning my fossil fuels, it felt like an answer from God. There are people out there, even if they're in New Zealand, who are struggling to redefine the paradigms of contemporary culture. Listen to the whole thing, if you can.

It's all brilliant. I may have to transcribe more, later, but here's a snippet:
If success means embodying and exemplifying the traits that the economic system values--selfishness, cold rationality, efficiency--then I'm not sure how valuable it is to succeed within it. I don't want to try to fit into the parameters of the market. The market is a human construction. Its parameters should include humanity, all, all of us, everybody. I don't want women's success in a man's world, you know.

I want a new world, which is for everybody. I'll just make explicit what I mean by the system being partial to the construct of white male. And it doesn't mean that because you happen to be a white man you're a sexist racist. It does mean that you benefit from a system which favors the constructs with which you identify.

It makes complete sense that it would be partial to white men, as it is a system designed exclusively by white men, particular men who thought of the population as being comprised primarily of white men as a social class. That's just a historical fact. The way the thought patterns of those designers of capitalism manifest is things like the use of GDP as an overall measure of a country's health.... as much of the economically productive work the market does register is performed by men, while most of the productive work the market does not measure is performed by women. And it extends further to the general social privileging of paid labor over unpaid labor.

Even now, in this current new strong-mandate national government, they would rather have anybody on the DPB or benefits of any kind—they would rather have them off the benefit and working a minimum-wage job, no matter what kind of job it is. Any paid labor is preferable to any volunteer labor. It doesn't matter what you're doing. Like, for example, it's a constant source of struggle for people like me who primarily are focused on things like the arts and activism and social criticism and stuff like that.

Those things are not considered valuable. I always have to have some kind of crappy, minimum-wage service job, which is wasteful and exploitative, and somehow that is considered more valuable than me doing things that I'm actually good at and passionate about. And, of course, millions of people have this same story, and it's not always about being an artist. Sometimes it's about raising your children.

That, to me, is the biggest one, that it is less valuable in this current economic climate to raise your children than it is to have a minimum-wage job—I don't know, pumping gas--and spend most of your paycheck on daycare. It's so backwards, but it is a manifestation of the idea that any paid labor is preferable to unpaid labor of any kind. And in terms of work and income, the neglect is sizable. Over fifty percent of the labor done in the world is unpaid labor.

Dr. Prue Hyman, who I spoke to in August, argues that the distinction between work that is paid and work that is not paid is largely arbitrary, that many jobs which are paid have a counterpart in the unpaid sector, things like agriculture, child care, education, health care, elderly care, management. More than that, quite often, the paid and unpaid performances happen simultaneously, next to each other, in the same place. Parents volunteering in schools, for example. So, how absurd, then, that the paid work has become the basis for our estimations of prestige and status, when half of all the work that's done in the world is unpaid.

Furthermore, an emphasis on paid employment puts a great deal of pressure on single parents to be seeking only paid work. The unpaid work of raising children carries with it fewer and fewer social benefits, and those few that are available are always couched in the rhetoric of a handout, a free ride, rather than as a communal investment in a future of well-raised adults contributing productively to society. I mean, this is simple economics to me. You don't have to take any kind of ideological stance on it. It doesn't have to be from a feminist perspective. It can be pure utilitarian economics.

So I've been talking about reclaiming work done in the home for feminism and feminist discussion. And this ties in closely to what feminist economists are trying to do, which ties into the fact that GDP and the market in general don't take all productive activity into account, and GDP is used to extrapolate the health of nation, and policies are made based on partial information. And the people who are excluded from that information are primarily women, particularly poor women, and women of color. Now, I'm very much against the simple sort of assignations of market value to the tasks performed in the home. I wouldn't want to just see women being paid for their housework. Because most of those jobs, in the paid sector, earn minimum wage or less, depending on where you live....

We have to reassess the fundamental structure of the modern market, rather than trying to fit all unpaid and informal labor into the existing market parameters. Now the process of reassessing those structures should seek to move the conversation away from classical economic examinations of selfishness, scarcity, competition, and efficiency, and towards examinations of necessity, surplus, consumption, and community. --Ana Martino

No comments: