Invisible Labor noticed at last
Flashes of Becoming Visible
B. FLASHES OF BECOMING VISIBLE
Despite the official blindness of the state to unpaid work, there were through history however sporadic glimpses that
it might exist.
These flashes of insight however, each time seen as a new idea were usually later quietly shelved as the massive engine
of traditional economics took over again.
1. care of a child
Sometimes circumstance motivated governments to notice the caregiver role.
When a married man was in jail, in a mental asylum, seriously ill and unable to earn, some governments felt that it was
not fair to put the family in the poor house . A mothers pension was set up for those in such circumstance, and with consideration
that it not be seen as pity
1916 Canada Mothers Allowance Act in Manitoba provides funds
to mothers when a child is in poverty if the father is in jail, dead, in an
asylum or disabled Other provinces follow suit and some women who
are single ask to be permitted the funding also.
1920 Canada BC. the Mothers Pension Act provides monthly
income for sole supporters of children under age 16. It is called a
pension to remove the stigma of it being associated with charity and
is given to indigent widows, abandoned women, and to those
married to imamates of penal institutions or asylums. In special
circumstance it is extended to indigent mothers who are divorced or to
single foster mothers.
However such pensions often ended. Traditional economics still viewed such money as regrettable, and preferred women to
2. societys benefit from a child
Economists noticed that though a baby was not an earner per se on birth, it would eventually become an earner, so this
child was the bud of an earner and the state may in fact have some interest in ensuring children were born. The idea of nations
renewing its tax base every generation made it evident that the state not only needed someone to have babies, but might be
wise to financially assist this. Many nations set up birth bonuses, family allowances, child dependent deductions and other
recognitions that having a child reduces ability to pay tax.
However over time, traditional economics had trouble looking at such longterm investments as it dealt with shortfall annual
costs, and in many nations the benefits were sporadic, halfhearted and often later withdrawn. In Canada for instance family
allowance begun in the 1940s was eventually made taxable, reduced based on household income and then quietly withdrawn completely
in the 1990s. A child dependent deduction begun with bravado to recognize costs of childrearing was also quietly removed.
In the Canadian province of Quebec a generous family allowance was cancelled and rerouted instead to another way of government
valuing children – to funding one care style universal daycare so women could earn.
Traditional economics had a lot easier time dealing with activities that created immediate visible flow of money and childcare
you paid for. Unpaid care at home still had an air of invisibility about it.
3. women entering paid labor and leaving some role behind
In the world wars, women were often called out of the home to do industry jobs to support the war effort or to do intense
volunteer work. Their exposure to the earning world changed them and the earning world. They started to seem like persons
and though at first they were given the vote only if their voter spouse was away at war, eventually they were allowed to vote
on their own. Their skills were noticed. They were revealed as thinking individuals, highly intelligent, even amazingly adept
at organization and multitasking. Many women liked having a salary, money in their own name and many enjoyed using their
skills to pursue careers because they liked the career itself.
These struggles for women, very well documented in womens rights literature, were however not the only side of the coin.
The care roles had not gone away. Someone still had to tend children, the sick, handicapped, elderly and dying. And though
the celebration for women entering the workforce was the main theme of womens rights literature, what was usually ignored
was the fact this was deemed an entry into the workforce implying yet again that women in the home had not been working.
There were however glimpses of the fact the athome role had also been work. There was evidence that to get women to earn,
they had left behind some responsibilities that still had to be met. . Daycares were set up for care of the children –
and sometimes at public cost. The idea that society should fund care of children was revolutionary – but the reasons
were not as ringingly valuing of caregiving as one might think. The purpose of the childcare centre was to enable women to
work. Care of a child itself was seen as not important, even an obstacle to women being productive, contributing, useful.
4. recognition that education of a child mattered
Historically there had been occasional glimpses of the child as having a mind developing. Formal education, not just quick
job apprenticeship had been given some attention. In addition safety considerations and risk of injury led to legislation
about employment of the very young and productivity problems themselves led to concerns about work hours through labor law.
1200 Middle Ages children were apprenticed to trades between ages 7and 12 years to live with masters and learn job skills
to make money
1820 Britain children from age 5 can be apprenticed to the textile,
iron, metal works, gas works trades and chimney sweeping
leading in some cases to death by age 25. Factory acts
eventually legislate that those under age 9 should not work
in factories, that those aged 911 can only work up to 8 hours
a day and that those 1118 can only be made to work 12 hours
a day. In 1840 only 20% of London children have attended
any school and by 1860 that number is only 50%, to include
those who have had one day of school a week.
But beyond that, there were glimpses that educating a child might be a good idea for the society itself to make if nothing
else a person able to earn more, do more paid work and be more productive, paying higher tax. There was even interest in
educating the child to become a creative inventor and innovator whose ideas might also benefit society.
At first education for males was deemed the only kind necessary but over time there were glimpses that female children
also could benefit society if they were educated.
400 BC Socrates spoke of educating children under age 6.
360 BC Aristotle believed children should be educated with
attention to their individual differences
1640 Czechoslovakia John Comenius designed the first childrens illustrated textbook and believed in the school of the
mothers knee. He though that children before age 6 learn the foundations of all knowledge
As education of the child began, insights were gathered into how children learn best and the focus was not just on whether
to learn but how best to learn. From ideas that children were born bad and needed to be trained and controlled, came occasional
theories of the benefits of gentler treatment.
1520Germany Martin Luther said that girls and boys should be taught in school and that music was a key basic skill to
1680 France boarding schools were set up in France the moral education of children was believed important
1693 England John Locke believed in natural methods of education instead of harsh discipline
1762 France Jean Jacques Rousseau advocated educating the child with natural rhythms and apart from other children. He
believed children were basically good.
1780 Switzerland Pestalozzi applied the Rousseau methods in a rural school
1859 US John Dewey urges humanitarian approaches to children rather than harsh discipline, and he advocates letting
children learn by experience
1859 Charles Darwin says that gender plays a role in education and bossy and girls act and learn differently from each
1888 US The Society of the Study of Child Nature is formed to recognize that raising a child well is a skill
1880 Adelaide Hoodless, founder of the Womens Institute said
Educate a girl and you educate a family
1892 US Kate Douglas Wiggin author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm advocates for gentle discipline of children and publishes
1896 Dr. Holt advocates in The Care and Feeding of Infants scientific approach to child development
1897 US National Council of Mothers forms and pediatricians advise mothers about how to nurture children
1907 Italy – Maria Montessori sets up a school for small abandoned children in a poor Rome district. She advocates
early education of children through discovery and using the senses
1923 US Arnold Gesell in The Preschool Child argues for the importance of early education
1926 US Dr. John B. Watson advocates raising children scientifically in his book Psychological Care of Infant and Child
1926 US Jean Piaget in The Language and Thought of the Child outlines four distinct learning stages of a childs life
1940 Britain John Bowlby argues that a child needs a warm and continuous relationships with a parent or parent substitute
in order to be mentally healthy
1959 Dr. David Goodman notes that babies need more than food, shelter and medical care and that unless they get loving
arms to cuddle and comfort them they do not thrive.
1964 Dr. Benjamin Bloom in Stability and Change in Human Characteristics says the early years are crucial to character
1970 Dr. Paul Adams in The Infant, the Family and Society argues that children should not be separated from maternal care
in their first year of life because to do so risks maternal deprivation
2007 Dr. Wang Shixiong of Xiinhjua Hospital estimates that on birth
the babys brain is only 25% developed but by age 3 it is 60% developed and by age 5, 90% developed.The early years experiences
are pivotal to this development.
5. career family conflict
As women entered paid labor, and were conflicted about who would now do the roles back at home, the personal dilemma became
political. Even if only the earning function of women was valued, and the at home half was not, women made the case that
they needed help with the second in order to do the first.
Many women said they could not get a job because they could not find a place to put their children, and government was
pressured to assist in the career drive by helping with the family obligation. Governments put in place many programs to
do just that including childcare expense deductions to help pay for the daycare, daycare vouchers, even onsite daycares at
the paid job and in the case of some nations or provinces, even nearly free daycare. The dilemma was however noticed as framed
in troubling terms for some – as a work family conflict, again implying that only at the paid job was a woman doing
useful work. Some called the conflict a work life conflict, again as if only earning proved work but at this time suggesting
that the other part was the more meaningful one, having a life. This was a shift in attitude.
Some employees, even men, were admitting they wanted more time with the family. People occasionally expressed dismay that
government would help them intensely with career, but it would not help them spend time with those they cared about. For
some women the dilemma rarely noticed by government was not finding a daycare, but in wanting to be home with the baby.
6. feminist rights push
Within the male paradigm women were permitted to make the case that they deserved equality, but only if they did roles
men used to do. The push for pay equity and no gender disadvantage focused in the early feminist movement on gender itself
Regardless of their paid roles, women said they should have rights to vote. However the second wave of feminism focused its
drive on equality only within the paid labor force. Many incentives were put in place to help women gain the equality rights
of paid labor including affirmative action and pay equity laws. However there were occasionally glimpses that this was not
the only feminist struggle. If women were equal to men at paid work, that was one part of the rights struggle. But what about
women who earned compared to women who were at home? What about the earning role compared to the traditional caregiving role?
Ironically the push to recognize women at paid work had an unfortunate implication that to not have paid work showed you were
not equal. Some womens rights rhetoric actually insulted some of its own kids – saying women at home were an embarrassment..
This decrying of some choices by women of women, in the womens movement was an oddity in a movement that theoretically supported
choice. Women who are at home were deemed to not have employable skills and to be out of the mainstream, not using their
minds or to simply have made a mistake.
1963 US Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique argues that the
only kind of work which permits an able women to realize her abilities fully
is a paid job.
2006 US Linda Hirshman argues in her book Get to Work: A Manifesto
for Women of the World that feminism should insist women have paid income.
in a profession and not be bound to the home.
2007 US Leslie Bennetts in The Feminine Mistake argues
that women who stay home put themselves at risk of major
hardship as a result of a spouses unemployment, death or
major illness. She says women at home have abandoned
their careers, become financially dependent and have made a mistake.
There were glimpses that it was inconsistent for a feminist movement to pick any segment of women to mock or discourage
and yet some activists for equality rights were among the biggest insulters of women who did caregiving roles.
Others however argued that the financial dependency was the real problem, not the athome role. Some said women could
be recognized for their care work itself.
1900 Laura Ingalls Wilder – Farm women have always been
partners in their husbands businesses but no one ever noticed
1975 US Betsy Warrior and Lisa Leghorn in Houseworkers
Handbook suggest that women in the home get a salary to
eliminate their economic dependence on men and their financial
1975 US Suzie Fleming and Wendy Egmont in All Work and
No Pay:Women, Housework and the Wages Due argue that
mothers in the home produce people and labour power. The
writers say that womens unpaid work in the home enables
others to do paid work
1975 US Tish Sommers coins the term displaced homemaker for
women who after years of marriage are on divorce forcibly exiled from their role and left without income, ineligible
for unemployment insurance by lack of paid work earlier and ineligible for welfare if their children are nowadult and not
1975 US holds its first conference on women in Mexico City and urges recognitionof the economic value of womens work int
eh home, in domestic food production and in voluntary activities
1976 US Betty Friedan in The Second Stage argues that women
should have some simple aids to make it possible to be home to
care for children if they so wish.
1976 Canada Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women argues that all mothers be eligible fr financial help with
costs of childrearing so women would have a choice about working outside the home. The recommendations are ignored.
1980 UN Second Conference for Women, in Copenhagen debates a
motion saying that womens work at home and on the farm
should be included in the GNP. The motion is defeated.
1983 The European Federation of Women Working in the Home is
founded to inform women of heir legal, political and social
rights and to create awareness of the needs of children
1990 Britain Full Time Mothers is formed to address what they
deem the relentless drive to get all mothers into paid
employment outside the home
2003 US Mothers Movement Online is formed to pressure
governments to recognize the value of caregiving
In the US the National Organization of Women now made sure to endorse rights for the homemaker role also. Its slogan
was in your face about challenging accepted definitions of productive labor and said Every mother is a working mother However
the NOW lobby, as much other activism around the world for the care role, was only sporadic, and was a flame prone to dangerous
7. legal rights push
The rights of children became more official as did human rights in general. As gender discrimination was banned under
human rights charters along with discrimination based on race, and ethnicity, some more contentious areas of discrimination
were now discussed. Discrimination based on marital status or family status was mentioned.. It was noted that when women won
the vote, it was usually granted to single women before married women.
Married women were historically disadvantaged in career and were automatically excluded from hiring or on marriage suddenly
fired in many professions. The idea that marriage did not preclude a woman having her own separate mind, skills and recognition
was a window into valuing what women had historically always done.
Discrimination on the basis of family status was also now banned in some jurisdictions as was discrimination based on
religion. These areas were often ones by choice not by birth since people can choose marriage or divorce and can choose their
religion. When gay rights also became legal areas of contention and discrimination based on sexual orientation in many countries
was banned, there was a window to notice that personal lifestyle, might well be a legal issue worthy of human rights protection.
How to raise your children and where may be a lifestyle decision.
Courts were now ruling that the caregiver role at home had legal rights on divorce.
1968 Canada Divorce Act – both parents are entitled to apply for
child custody or for spousal maintenance
1970 Canada provinces change their divorce legislation to give
more property rights to women after public outcry in the ruling of
Murdoch v Murdoch in whicha woman on divorce was not awarded a
share of the farm property she and her spouse had jointly worked for
1981 Canada The Supreme Court rules in the divorce case Moge v
Moge that equal division of assets on divorce may not address the
problem of substantive equality given that women who had worked in
the home may have more difficulty finding paid jobs of sufficient
income on divorce
1993 Canada the Supreme Court in Peter v Beblow rules that
common law spouses are entitled to compensation for the childcare
and housekeeping work they did
Though unpaid, the role of caregiving was legally at least on divorce seen as a contribution to the household economy
and one worthy or recognition and financial compensation.
Bias against women who were pregnant was challenged in the courts and any penalty for women who took time away from the
desk in order to breastfeed was deemed unfair labor practice. The result was that caregiving itself, if not seen as valued
work, was at least seen as activity it was unfair to punish people for doing. That itself was a window of recognition.
In abortion rights debates also, the mantra of choice surfaced and a basic human right to make decisions of your own was
defended in courts.. The idea that choice of whether to marry, who to marry and whether to bear children were all protected
personal decisions – was easily expandable to a claim that the right to provide care of those you love the way you
like may also be a personal choice right. Any government policy to prejudice that caregiving decision might itself be a violation
2005 Canada the BC Human Rights Tribunal hears a case
Hutchison in which a handicapped adult woman eligible for
government funding for her care, wants to choose her caregiver and
selects her father. Though official policy excludes family members
from such funding the rights tribunal rules in favor of the woman
but the state appeals the decision.
In South Africa when Nelson Mandela fought for rights of people of color, he was ultimately endorsed by white leader De
Klerk. They won the Nobel Prize – jointly. And it has been noticed historically that an underclass really does
not every get anywhere unless someone in the ruling class agrees with their struggle. When women wanted the vote in the UK
some very prestigious people opposed them – but not all.
It was the voice of those who did not oppose, who spoke up courageously for what was simply fair, that carried the day.
1918 Britain when women lobbied to get the vote many powerful
voices opposed them but Labour Party leader Woodrow
Wilson, Conservative leader Balfour and the Liberal Partys
Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George spoke out in favor.
In the same way, women trying to get recognition for the caregiver hearth role had many experiences of cant win for losing.
They had no real connections with those in power. They had only friends in low places, the dilemma of all groups that suffer
a perceived discrimination. Because they also were unpaid for the care hours they did, they had no money to create a powerful
campaign and because they were so intensely busy as caregivers, they had no free time to mount a successful networked campaign.
They were at a huge disadvantage.
There is also within any oppressed group a reluctance to speak up, out of fear. The civil rights movement in the US was
amazing not just that it powerfully did win rights but also that it took so long. For decades, for generations, people of
color did not speak out and of course the fact they were whipped, beaten, hanged was a pretty motivating reason to not speak
up. But reluctance among the oppressed has been an element for women too. In the suffragette movement, women were not easily
mobilized. They were mocked when they spoke up, even by their own gender, and a key first step was just informing women of
their social wrongs in a way that gave them courage to dare to object. In Canada there was a push to have women get the
right to sit in the Senate. A tiny core of women pushed this issue through the courts. The fact they were five of them is
commendable but one can also note they are not the Famous Five Thousand.
1840 Mrs. Thomas Carlyle When one has been threatened with a
great injustice, one accepts a smaller as a favor.
1881 Elizabeth Cady Stanton said We shall never get what we ask
for until the majority of women are openly with us and they will
never claim their civil rights until they know their social wrongs
Reformers who are always compromising have not yet grasped the
idea that truth is the only safe ground to stand upon:
The humiliation of her children has been the bitterest drop in the cup
1902 US When Susan Anthony was deluged with floral tributes
she said Well this is rather different from the reception I used to
get fifty years ago. They threw things at me then – but they were not
1910 Canada Nellie McClung Women who set a low value on
themselves make life hard for all women
1911 US Olive Schreiner said It is the swimmer who first leaps
into the frozen stream who is cut sharpest by the ice. It is the man or
woman who first treads the path that the bulk of humanity will
ultimately follow, who must find themselves at last in solitudes where
the silence is deadly
1916 Canada Emily Murphy No woman can become or remain
degraded without all women suffering.
1918 UK Though women over age 30 are not legally allowed to
vote, and 8. 5 million of them are now eligible, most do not use the
privilege. The total votes case of all men and all women is only 11
1920 Eleanor Raylor Mothers are too selfeffacing and do not
recognize their own worth
1950s Kate Millett Many women do not recognize themselves as
discriminated against. No better proof could be found of the totality
of their conditioning
In the same way , caregivers have been afraid to speak up. Womens rights groups for caregivers were actually shunned by
some other womens rights groups. In Canada when Kids First Parent association delegates attended womens conferences in the
1980s to advocate for women at home, they were forced to sit apart from the other women and physically at a lowerelevated
table. When Mothers Are Women in Ottawa advocated for women at home and joined the National Action Committee on the Status
of Women, their voice was eventually drowned out and absorbed into the main focus of the larger group which was in the 1980s
to advocate only for rights of women with paid income.
In Canada womens groups that promoted lesbian rights and paid work rights for women were given considerable federal funding
from Ottawa to promote their equality but rights groups for women at home were consistently denied financial support.
What changed some of that though was partly that a few men wanted to do caregiver roles Male nurses started to make their
claim on rights to their career, bucking stereotypes. And through employment vagaries or illness and then sometimes by choice,
a few men started to become the principal caregivers of children and that dads movement took wing.
2007 Britain Office of National Statistics reveals that though the
number of mothers at home has fallen 25% since 1993, the number
of dads at home at 200,000 is up 200%.
2007 United States Dr. Aaron Rochlen of the U of Texas releases results of a study finding that there are now 159,000
fulltime dads in the nation, up 300% from 1996.
Some dads movements asserted rights because of divorce and custody battles and questioned the court assumption that only
women were caregivers. But as they did that, men showed a nurturing side and courts began to award joint custody or even occasionally
Movies and books led to insights into how it is to be a caregiver, paralleling the insights of a white person painted
with blackface who experienced how it was to be a person of color in the US 1961 antiracism book Black like Me. Living with
and as the undergroup has historically always been a revelation and it was no less so for male caregivers. American movies
like Mr. Mom 1983, Kindergarten Cop 1990, Mrs. Doubtfire 1993 and Daddy Daycare 2003 raised mens awareness about the care
role women had historically filled.
It became apparent that the care role was still treated as second class even for men who did it, but that the bias may
be genderrelated. If even dads at home were treated by other men as less productive, it was slowly dawning that discrimination
against the caregiver role was part of a broader historic association against historically female roles. If male nurses,
teachers, childcare workers, and parents at home also noticed the underpaid nature of their work, this put caregiver rights
in a whole new light.