A. UNPAID LABOR WHAT ITS LIKE TO BE INVISIBLE
If we think back to the earliest societies, the huntergatherer male would get food and would protect the hearth while
the women bore and tended the young, sick and elderly and prepared food. The two roles were both vital to each other and interdependent
but as money entered the picture, it was linked to the labor of men, not care roles.
These roles at home still had to be fulfilled but were not factored in to GDP, productivity, labor force or employment
statistics. In some ways this was like a court trial where the justice says to an improperly attired barrister I cant see
you. Courts recognize or see only those with standing.
Similarly, economic systems did not see women at home at all, and certainly did not see their roles as relevant in an
1200 Feudalism Men got power from landholding and inheritance
Women were valued only if they could produce heirs
1660 England Fathers not mothers were the legal guardians of
1776 US Adam Smith argues that labor only has value if it confers
monetary profit and any labor in the home
has no value.
1848 Russia Karl Marx argues that women only have value if
they are wageearners in industry.
1867 Canada the BNA Act forming the nation says that women
are not persons in matters of rights and privileges
1870 US – Census shows that 69% of women are homemakers
but they are not counted as an official occupation category, not
gainfully employed and their labor is not seen to produce
any visible product
1880 Canada Dominion of Canada law states that No woman or
lunatic can vote
1900 Canada Supreme Court case versus Mabel French . The court
rules that French cannot become a barrister because as a woman
she is not a person under the law
1984 Canada The Canada Labour Force Survey excludes housework
and childrearing as work
Upon marriage the woman ceased to have many of the few rights she had as a single adult. She was pressured to have no
income of her own, was summarily dismissed from her paid job, and much like a slave or servant was not only assumed but forced
to take on a caregiver role not because it had value but because it was her lot in life. In many nations the married woman
could not have her own bank account, could not own property in her own name and was forced into financial dependency on a
male earner, much like she was now his slave. If the spouse died, she did not necessarily inherit anything. She was not permitted
to make a will at all or if she was, was not legally permitted to assign her assets based on her own preference.
1895 Canada The Toronto School board will not hire married
women or women over 30.
1945 Canada married women are not permitted to be
nurses or telephone operators. If they marry
they may be fired.
Observers today are aware of the dire low status of women of earlier times mostly through the small steps of legislation
to give her recognition in her own right
1801 Canada for the first time women could make wills distributing
their assets as they wished
1870 Britain Married Womens Property Acts – married women
could for the first time acquire and retain assets separately from their
1872 Canada Married Womens Property Act married women for
the first time had the right to own property
1885 Canada Dominion Property Act says that only male property
owners can vote. Women could own property and had to pay property
tax but still could not vote. Eventually single female property owners
were allowed to vote but married female property owners could not.
1897 Canada Married women who did not own property
were for the first time permitted to sign contracts
1900 Canada unmarried women could vote for school trustee in
some provinces but married women still could not.
1900 Canada Married Womens Property Act is amended so that
women were now recognized as jointly responsible with men
for the support of children
1904 US Women were arrested in New York City for smoking
1911 Canada In Alberta the Dower Act for the first time legislates
that when a man dies his wife is entitled to onethird of his estate
1913 Canada Rural Municipality laws permit women to vote
but not to hold political office
1918 Canada allows all women the right to vote, except
in the province of Quebec
1920 Canada Alberta The Infants Act for the first time recognizes
the mother an father as joint guardians of children. However the
province of Saskatchewan rules that mothers are legal guardians till
the child is 14 and fathers are legal guardians thereafter.
1923 Canada The Bank Law for the fist time permits married
women to deposit as much as $2,000 in her own name at a bank.
1929 Canada Five women appeal to the Privy Council in England
which rules that women are persons and can hold public office in
The small baby had no rights and was deemed property of the parent, to be disposed of as the parent saw fit. In earlier
societies child sacrifice, child murder, abandonment of the handicapped child might be permitted for convenience and no questions
need be asked.
To have a child and raise it might be useful for the household but only if that child could pull its own weight and do
useful work. In societies where large families were encouraged it was usually so that males would provide more hands as hunter
gatherers and so that females could help with the household duties. The benefit of having a child was deemed personal, certainly
not for the community. Children were private property.
1600 England Under British common law the child was the property
of the parent who had the right to educate, chastise, instruct or employ
the child at his discretion
` 1840 Children were deemed the responsibility of each family not
of the community or society. In cases of distress or need, churches set
up orphanages and schools.
As traditional economics became more academic, implications of this invisibility of the care role created definitions
of work, productivity, gross domestic product, labor force and employment that excluded the caregiver and domestic role at
home.. In baseball an umpire once was berated for how he called strikes or balls and replied It aint anything till I calls
it. His view of reality was the definition of reality, full stop. The tax systems of most industrialized nations similarly
became the definition of reality and what happened in the home did not exist. It was not work, no money changed hands, no
goods were visibly produced and the hearth role was considered not just outside the economy, but, because it did not count
as labor, more akin to laziness.
The person at home doing those invisible caregiving and domestic roles, was seen then as unemployed, and not contributing
to the economy. By implication then laws that ignored the role for any benefits it may produce moved past ignoring to discouraging
continuing the roles. In some countries disincentives were eventually set up to urge women out of the home so they could do
something deemed more useful or more briefly put, so they could work.
The laws were gender neutral. Men or women doing care roles at home, were equally urged to leave the home so they could
Marx and Engels argued that for full productivity of the nation, all adults should have paid employment and Russia was
one of the first nations to give women paid workforce rights. It did this however as part of the philosophy of the homemaking
role as being valueless.
1918 Soviet Union gives women the right to vote, maternity leave, government funded childcare, equal pay for equal work,
equal education for women and
men, and permits women to hold any political office
1922 Russia Lenin says that housework is the most
unproductive work a woman can do.
The result was that those who were at home taking care of a newborn child, someone ill, handicapped, frail, elderly or
dying were viewed officially as not working, and in tax systems were forced to be financially dependent on someone else.
If they depended on an earner, they were seen as akin to children, without minds, without rights of property or bank accounts,
without decision making, without the vote or right to sit in government and certainly as lesser citizens. The expression just
a housewife was a term of derision. This trend continued in many nations for decades.
1931 China Communist government under Mao tse tung pressures
women to enter the paid labor force. Nurseries are collectivized
and women who continue to be home with small children are considered of lower social status and branded Family women
In the 1800s it was common to say that a child was a burden to society, a small adult to be pushed along as fast as possible
to adultlike value by earning. Children had no value except if they could earn.
If there was no earner to depend on, the person at home tending someone needing care was particularly in distress. Left
without that one link to societal participation, a male earner, the single mother was now the object of particular scorn as
well as poverty. Poor houses were set up for such women and sometimes their children were taken away from them. Often though
the married mother was not eligible for paid employment, her children may be so she would sometimes take them out of school
so they could earn to support the family. Child labor laws were slow to adjust to this poverty
1911 US In Illinois a law was passed to give a mothers pension
to married women whose spouse was at risk of going to the poorhouse because the male spouse was unable to earn income.
The program ends however during the Depression for lack of funds
The state might reluctantly pass laws to extend charity and pity to such women in severe distress, but there was a stigma
to this money. The welfare or dole stigma historically extended to those unable to find paid work, carried with it already
a societal impression of living off the state, laziness, lack of initiative and being a drain on society. If the woman had
small children, somehow the contempt was increased as if her dirty laundry were hanging in public and some selfish guilty
sexual pleasure now was fully displayed for its shamefulness. Welfare may have been designed for the wellbeing of recipients
so they could fare well but a welfare mom was kept intentionally poor, as societys statement of scorn for her mistaken life
choices. Some even thought helping mothers on welfare would only encourage them to have children as if to do so was a way
to escape work.
1995 Canada Ontarios welfare program to help young mothers
is adjusted to require them to earn – work for welfare or
workfare. After a drop in federal funding and electoral promises
to reduce alleged abuse of welfare, benefits are slashed 21.6% to nudge mothers away from the home to do paid work .