Saturday, January 22, 2011

Should Mothering Be Paid For?

The moment you try to visit feminist websites, you unfortunately alight on statements that are so illogical and silly that you don't want to come back anymore. Today, for example, I read the following comment, which I encounter fairly often: "Mothering is a form of labor (that society should value and pay for)." So many things are wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to begin.

First of all, what about fathering? Why should fathers not be remunerated just as much as the mothers? How does it promote gender equality to suggest yet again that everything that has to do with children is exclusively part of "a woman's world"?

Another question is why society should pay for this particular personal choice and not any other. How about people who choose not to have children? It can be argued that their service to society is greater since their decision reduces their carbon footprint and helps combat the horrible overpopulation that is the scourge of this planet. The argument that is often made to counter this statement is that society needs to have taxpayers, which is why people who have children perform an important service to society. If that were the case, however, we could simply legalize the 12 million illegal immigrants and get them to pay taxes. This would have the added benefit of giving us 12 million of fully grown adults who are ready to start paying taxes right now and who don't need any investment into their schooling.

Feminism has fought long and hard - and the battle still continues - to promote the idea that having children should be a matter of personal choice. In developed countries, women are not forced to give birth against their will. However, choices bring about responsibilities. If you have made an informed personal choice either to have or not to have children, why should you expect other people to pay for it? If society is paying for motherhood, should it also not be able to enforce it?

If "mothering is a form of labor," women should be prepared to be treated just like any employee. To give an example, as an employee of my university who gets paid for her labor, I don't get to choose whether I come to work or not. I am also obligated to perform a long list of duties that are specified in our faculty handbook. Should I fail to perform those duties, I will be fired. If mothering starts being treated as labor that is performed by women as if they were society's paid employees, will they be handed out a handbook of rules right after they give birth? Will they have to file regular reports on how well they performed their duties (which I am, for example, scheduled to do at my place of employment in two weeks)? Should they be fired from motherhood for failure to perform their duties as specified in a long checklist? Will we see "mothering contracts" that society has to renew every year just like my university renews mine?

Most importantly, has anybody asked women if they want to sell their freedom of whether to have or not to have children and how to parent them to the government?

If we want feminism not to become completely irrelevant to the mainstream population, we need to start being very careful about such supremely misguided suggestions. 


Leah Jane said...

This idea isn't very new actually:

I've heard of similar things in Australia and Spain as well, and the idea was popular with people in Japan when the topic came up. I've also heard it touted by right-wingers who are all in a tizzy about declining white middle class birth rates in America.
Maybe I am biased as someone who is uneasy about the idea of having children and has contemplated a tubal ligation before, but I think there are better ways to value motherhood than monetary payment.
How about a strong social welfare system, so that mothers don't have to choose between a fulfilling career outside the home and motherhood? Supporting strong schools, good-quality public green spaces like parks, and good access to medical care? That seems more mother-friendly than going off the old tropes about the "average salary of the housewife".

Clarissa said...

"I've also heard it touted by right-wingers who are all in a tizzy about declining white middle class birth rates in America."

-This proves my point that third-wave feminism only reinforces fully patriarchal views on gender.

fairykarma said...

If I had a huge chance of ending up in a nursing home, I too would be in support of such a salary. This country baffles me sometimes.

Clarissa said...

I didn't understand about the nursing home. Is that where old people live?

I didn't get enough sleep so I'm not getting the comment.

fairykarma said...

I guess you can call it "live". While I don't agree that all nursing homes are bad, I do think the conditions in the majority are deplorable for both staff (low-level ones) and residents. Sometimes I think the people put in there are paying back karma. Those and the elderly who are currently living on really restricted incomes.

My point was that people who see a not so pleasant future for themselves in old age might be the ones who clamor for the mother to get a salary. But that was rather shortsighted of me to think that people actually look that far into the future.

Clarissa said...

Oh, now I get it and it makes a lot of sense. Sorry, being slow today.

Rimi said...

"How about people who choose not to have children? It can be argued that their service to society is greater since their decision reduces their carbon footprint and helps combat the horrible overpopulation that is the scourge of this planet."

Suggesting this once has made me fall out of favour with people I held in contempt, thus releasing me from the need to be politely sociable with them. That logic is my friend.

I think, Clarissa, that the 'payment for mothers' argument is in response to the ideology that a woman's work is to stay at home, take care of the homestead, and nurture her husband and children. If you must keep her at home and call that her "job", then you'd damn well be paying her for it, is what the feminists seem to be saying.

Since this article is specific to child-bearing/rearing and not housework, I'd also like to draw your attention to the small spark of protest against banning abortion, whereby women said if the state policed the use of their wombs, it would bloody well have to pay them rent for its occupation.

Those are the possible roots of this claim, but I must admit that I find a lot of contemporary feminism thoughtlessly hand-in-glove with patriarchal hegemony, simply because most 'feminists' don't take a minute to analyse the next 'brilliant' slogan they're about to raise their fists for.

Rimi said...

On the other hand, just to play the devil's advocate, I should point out that the employer-employee contract trumping older social contracts is a very libertarian, free-market principle that I am wary of employing in the much murkier and variable/subjective field of social/familial/gender relations.

In our current society, I would still scoff at being paid for motherhood (unless it was a case of surrogacy, but then donors would be private individuals), but I would watch out for insidious libertarian rhetoric to support it.

eric said...

We must not forget that something like this already happens: dependent children are a tax write-off.

But as Leah Jane notes above, if we really wish to recompense mother (or parent-)hood, a robust social welfare system would go a long way, and would obviate such idiotic contrivances as "playdates", which I'm sure are just as torturous for parents as they are for kids.

dead chicken said...

I think there is some tension between the idea of children as a public good and a private one.

Places where the pension systems are under a lot of strain are apt to see children as a public good and be willing to help subsidize the next gen.

It's not going to happen here for a long time though.