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Invisible Labor noticed at last

Voluntary Blinders- the last gasp resistance to seeing

Home | Flashes of Becoming Visible | More flashes | Glaring headlights visibility | Voluntary Blinders- the last gasp resistance to seeing | Social Revolution- adjustment to what is now clearly visible


In any revolutionary movement there is a resistance. Mahatma Gandhi said First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. The movement to recognize unpaid labor had raised its voice through history periodically and had over time had brief sway and then been suppressed. Gandhi was right. The stages he observed were happening again.

When women wanted recognition for care roles they were often ignored, put on hold, delayed, excluded from consultation. Married women with children, who had no paid work, were the last to get the vote and even in the 21st century were often still not invited to meetings for stakeholders on issues that might concern them. In Canada in 2000 Senator Landon Pearson set up a consultation process for a national Childrens Agenda but made it closeddoor, by invitation only and the word of it was spread widely but only to users of daycare. Parents at home were either not informed or when they found out of it, were told it was too late to attend. In the same way Canadian MP Ken Dryden traveled around the country announcing federal funding for childrens care, but only to daycare so women could work, and those sessions also were closed –door, by invitation only. Stakeholders in the discussion of how to take care of a child were not children or those at home taking care of a child. Stakeholders were deemed only those who operated, used or advocated for daycare. The resulting consultations predictably resulted in what was reported as ringing endorsement of daycare. It was a bias because women at home had been ignored.

When a complaint was made at the UN in 1997 that Canadas tax, pension and childcare laws discriminated against some styles of care, and favored only 3rd party care, the media picked up on the story and the federal government geared up to respond to what now could not be ignored. But its work, calling in the research of departments of health, justice, finance, and even international relations, was kept hushhush, the reaction was delayed two years for the air to cool, the official response to the UN was not announced in any press conference and the reply when finally accessed said there was no problem at all here in Canada. Women at home were ignored and then silenced.

Beverley Smith, who had made the original complaint at the UN in 1997 was mystified at federal denial of the problem and inquired through Access to Information about the government process of reply. She was able to get thousands of papers of data back eventually by 2007, and one document, a memo between two civil servants about her complaint said If you like, we can discuss trying to kill this more completely

Gandhi was also correct about being ridiculed. The earlier stigma of women at home, that they did not do useful work, was for a time mitigated by other historical movements. One was that women at home were for a while in religious circles admired as saintly, selfless and doing a vital role with unseen power. Women were placated somewhat by the adage The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world But this was false power not economic power.

1820 United States a cult of True Womanhood urged women to
fulfill the domestic function because they were particularly suited to it
and its pure selflessness as a good religious model for purity and piety.

Though the woman had no vote and no actual financial power, the pedestal of the role for a time seemed consoling. To object that you also wanted funding and power not just flowers one day a year was interpreted then as selfish.

There was some wellintentioned legislation that while seeking to recognize women in one way, actually also might be seen as barbed compliments. A family wage that enabled a man to earn enough to support a family was some recognition, albeit through him that she was doing something useful. A spousal deduction on the Canadian tax form was some recognition that the spouse existed but even it was eventually kept low to nudge women out of the home. Family allowance, child dependent deductions of earlier times were some recognition of the costs of raising a child but they were in Canada gradually ended. The fact they depended on the mans earning was noted as not very recognizant of care work.

Over time, as women asked for recognition in the paid labor sector, there was a conflicting message that women not just could work outside the home but should. It was a message that suited the traditional economic paradigm as if a person was moving from uselessness to use, from laziness to productivity. And when framed in those terms, the role at home became ridiculed and mocked. No more pedestal allusions were made and now the woman not only had no power in the home but actual scorn.

Women at home were spoken of now in degrading terms as women who are not productive, not using their skills. The idea was spread that women all are of one mindset, all want to escape the home and that tax policy and laws were the only obstacles to 100% paid employment which was the goal of all women. The idea was spread that women need to and want to work outside the home and that if stuck at home they are frustrated, enduring a problem with no name.

Though that was in fact a correct assessment for some women, it was not correct for all and this exclusion of those not represented by it troubled some women.

There was also in second wave feminism an aspect of man –hating, of rejection of males as needed at all. From quotes that women need a man like a fish needs a bicycle, to jokes clearly sexist to degrade men, the womens movement had stopped being prowoman equaling men and for some was an argument that women were superior to men.

Any woman then who was in the home was seen as buying into an agenda that let men rule, and her forced dependency through a tax system she did not plan, was seen as tacit endorsement that she wanted to be dependent.

These insults to women at home were intense including a cartoon in one New York magazine. A woman at home was mocked with the name of Justa Housewife and the scene of a housewife bemoaning her life choice had the caption I coulda been a contender.

In the late 1990s these degrading comments about women at home continued. Not only were such caregivers viewed as not working or contributing but as the education of young children became valued, they were deemed to also not be competent at providing education.

Traditional economics most ironic departure from logic had been when it tried to recognize traditional female roles through the lens of male qualifiers. So through that lens, proof you were good was that you were trained, proof you were trained was that you had a certificate, diploma, title and proof you were good at your role was that you were paid for it. Clearly through such as estimation, a mother at home was not good at mothering since she had no credentials, she was not even offering care of a child because she had no childcare diploma and she certainly was not in any way educating her child since she lacked any certificate as an early childhood educator. The final proof of course that she was not a caregiver at all was that she was not paid so she must not really be it. Women in the home therefore were ridiculed, mocked, insulted.

1. traditional economics recognizing caregiving but only if paid

Though recognizing paid caregivers advanced the movement to open the eyes of government to the roles, the fact that only the paid versions were noticed perpetuated the stigma of those who did the exact same tasks without salary.

It became a problem in several ways. If the state finally valued the paid version, it would have to direct money to it and since salary was not in early budgets for such roles, any salary was seen as very costly. As budgets adjusted with fair wages for childcare paid workers, funds were taken from other areas to ensure that sector got well paid. In Canada in the province of Quebec, family allowance for all children was nearly completely cancelled so that the daycare system could be funded.

Ironies of the new policy abounded. Governments grappled with how much to pay the paid sector and debates arose about childcare centres that operate for profit and ones that are funded completely by the state.

Consistently with the Gandhi quote in fact, the debates about which type of daycare to fund were by some media seen as the entire and the only two sides of the discussion of care of children. The options for at home care, family based care, care by relatives or friends were completely ignored. It was for some media and certainly for daycare operators, all about which daycare got funds.

The result in many countries was a shift in tax policy to remove support for children at home, and to instead add funds only to parents who worked outside the home , and to children in 3rd party care only. In Canada the funding shift and bias were particularly noteworthy.

In the 1940s a universal family allowance had been put in place and eventually a child dependent deduction. Both of these were quietly removed in the 1990s. Economists sometimes even admitted that their goal was to get women out of the home, to increase the number of women in paid labor.
2005 Canada economists Cleveland and Krashinsky said If all child care costs were fully subsidized the rate of fulltime employment would increase from 29% to 52% suggesting that child care subsidies will have a particularly strong positive effect on fulltime work. Benefits and Costs
2004 Canada . The Canadian Labour Congress says that quality child care helps an economy stay productive, and guarantees taxes

Two strategies were initiated by government the carrot and the stick. Incentives were provided for women earn such as maternity benefits, childcare cost deductions, state funding of daycare, and if that did not work some disincentives were also introduced, to make it less and less affordable to be in the home. In Canada spousal deductions were kept disproportionately low compared to minimum wage and there was no household tax so that womens worth was nil.
2001 Canada Economists Cleveland and Krashinsky argue that the that there is lost productivity is mothers are not in the workforce and the economy is therefore smaller unless there is daycare use
2004 Canada The Canadian Labour Congress said that the daycare program helps parents work with peace of mind and stay in the workforce…It promotes womens equality by enabling women to participate in the workforce

Women were to be nudged away from the home, subtly and not so subtly. Women on welfare were pressured to leave their children in workfare programs. Welfare rates were kept low, a nudging to earn. Economists sometimes even admitted this.

1999 Canada Economists Cleveland and Krashinsky said that a cut in welfare payments of 20% would make staying at home with children less attractive and less feasible for many lone mothers The number employed is projected to increase by nearly 11 percentage points

2. commercial opportunism

There were currents for sure against valuing the care role. Any business that made its money off having women earning outside the home had a vested interest in ensuring women felt compelled to be outside the home. Houses in modern suburbs all across Canada were huge, often with only 3 bedrooms, establishing a new norm of two earning parents both needed to pay the mortgage, and with maximum two children. The fast food industry assumed women were too busy to cook, restaurants thrived when families could afford to eat out a lot, and even daycares whether they operated for profit or not, made their living off parents using their services.

Though women may not feel liberated if they were forced to earn, the idea of being chained to the sink was still seen by some as the obstacle to be overcome. Only briefly did people admit there was such a thing as being chained to the office desk

But the realization did dawn. When the baby stroller industry could price a product at over $700, and when baby furniture and baby clothes had their own specialty stores, it was often only the dual income family that could make purchases there.

Yet a crisis happened anyway because even though celebrities were making childbearing now in again in the year 2007, their lifestyle clearly was not one of the ordinary citizen. A distance was felt and some resentment among the very poor was felt when they too could have a baby but could not afford the posh diaper bag. Parents are nothing if not protective of the value of their offspring and the equality rights of their young. And anger rose up as women resisted being pushed to buy and buy for the baby rather than being able to spend time with the baby.

Families were noticing as was government that booming economies often left people behind. Rising rates of womens paid employment in Canada had not reduced child poverty. In fact children were as poor as ever. Why was that? Despite all the nudging to pressure women to earn, reducing the spousal deduction, taking away family allowance, tying all benefit for children to how much women earned, even despite universal daycare– despite all this, some women were still insisting on being home with the children. They were in poverty for doing this – and angry at the poverty but they were not leaving the children.

Governments were perplexed. It appeared that not everybody was motivated to earn away from the children and yet with poverty as a powerful consequence , the state was now having to also deal with record levels of seniors and children in poverty.

3 shortsighted policy win the next election

For many years governments had been replying to women at home that they would like to help that sector but could not afford to. Smiths Canadian application for the Supreme Court in 20022007 to look at the issue was refused by the Attorney General four times. The refusal sometimes said that these issues were already being addressed, though no time line was pointed out.

At doorsteps during election campaigns, nearly every party candidate promised to do something for mothers at home, and it had become astute to claim to notice the issue, but no party once in power did much.

In Canada the Conservative party that won the 2005 election put in place a small universal benefit for all children, $100 a month, in contrast to policies of 3 other parties to fund only daycare. But even this financial help was only for those under age 6, and was taxed back depending on household income. A commitment to actually fund all children, such as $4,000 per child per year as some economists were recommending was something governments were reluctant to commit to over the long term. Traditional economics still emphasized having a budget surplus each year, not being in debt .The idea of an investment that paid off later, might look bad short term at the ballot box.

4 big unions

Governments had interpreted the womens movement only through the one avenue that they understood how to get women into paid work. The committees on the status of women, the advisors for womens issues, generally were welcomed only if they framed their case in how to get women to be equals with men in paid work. When voices were raised that that governments should also notice rights groups for unpaid labor, there were no funds available for years for such advocacy.

When in 2006 a new government was at the helm, Canada reduced dramatically its funding to special interest lobby groups that advocated only for daycare but it also cut funding to most womens groups period, and to legal equality rights advocacy.

To pick up the funding slack for daycares there were still big unions which sat on boards of childcare federations. In Canada daycare was endorsed by groups that had no really visible connection with children such as the United Steelworkers. Big unions however were generally onside with the idea of funding only one care style and big unions still had money and power.

go to the next page to see how nations are resolving these issues

-international recognition of traditional caregiving roles in the home- summary prepared by Beverley Smith
Canadian children's and women's rights activist