Correspondence: Julie Stephens.
The broader philosophical questions underpinning Love & Money about selfhood, justice and moral action distinguish this Quarterly Essay from the divisive politics of the so-called mother wars and the tired accounting characteristic of the work/family balance debate. Manne's essay is also a thoroughly feminist intervention. It does not inflict a single, normative standard on women. It tackles questions of power, subordination and domination, arguing that the harsh penalties imposed by neo-liberal policies on those engaged in care-giving labour damage the least advantaged in our society: children, the frail elderly, mothers both in the workforce and at home, and poor immigrant women working in domestic labour and child-care. While Manne argues the problem is partly due to the dominance of a particular version of feminism--the liberal feminism that linked the emancipation of women with paid work--a different kind of feminism, that of the ethics of care tradition, is part of the solution.
There is no doubt that despite the rising demands of a globalised labour market, most of us will still spend a significant part of our lives giving care to dependents. Many will feel that that time was not long enough. Few, I think will look back at that period and consider it time wasted. We will also have significant phases in our lives where we require care and are unable to reciprocate. Whether as adults this appears in the form of illness, accident, lack of employment, gender disadvantage or eventually age, the idea of being dependent has strong emotive associations and a powerful pejorative charge. According to Nancy Fraser and Linda Gordon, being dependent was considered normal in pre-industrial times. It was viewed as a social relation based on the widespread recognition that everyone relied on someone else for survival. By contrast, dependency is now considered deviant and shameful, an individual and particularly feminised condition with psychological dimensions. Men engaged in sustained caring work, such as stay-at-home fathers or sons looking after elderly parents, are not only tainted by this stigma but also have to contend with work-centred notions of masculinity. As Manne repeatedly asks, how can we have gender equality around care and more just social relations if care-giving and dependency continue to be both socially undesirable and economically damaging?
According to Richard Sennett, all forms of dependency, on the state, employer, spouse or family, have become stigmatised in the new economy. Sennett characterises neo-liberalism as culturally opposed to the "dignity of dependence," requiring everyone, including the elderly, to act like stockbrokers or consultants in striving for an impossible ideal of self-sufficiency. The seductive force of this ideal especially impacts on those giving and receiving care. This is particularly evident in the writings of new mothers who document the shock of finding themselves relegated to the margins and feeling they have "returned to some primitive, shameful condition," as Rachel Cusk comments in A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother. Maternity is experienced as acutely threatening to the clearly individuated self. The perception of losing autonomous forms of selfhood is also a powerful disincentive for new fathers. As argued in Love & Money: "Individualism and the new capitalism as value systems give men no real incentive to change." Without a thoroughgoing reorganisation of contemporary work practices and strong incentives for women and men to engage in "love's labour," such as the parental leave arrangements advanced by Manne, an unequal gender regime will be maintained.
There is a widespread cultural unease with maternalism evident in some of the responses to Love & Money. Explicitly maternalist voices are distinctly absent from the public domain. This seems truer in Australia than elsewhere. Women's claims as workers are acceptable, not their claims as mothers. This is puzzling on two counts. First, maternalism was a powerful political configuration in Australia from the late nineteenth century onwards and certainly contributed to the formation of the welfare state, which included women's hospitals, child endowment paid to mothers, infant and maternal welfare clinics and similar advances. My second point is based on my recent research into oral history accounts of the early women's liberation movement in Australia. What is clear in these records is that many of the campaigns of the 1970s were maternalist in the broad sense by transforming issues affecting mothers and children (such as domestic violence) from the private domain into public policy.
The oral history record also shows that early key Australian feminists had wide-ranging and alternative ideas about child-care that could not be further removed from the ABC Learning corporate model. It is possible then that the dominance of a work-centred liberal feminism is a much more recent phenomenon than previously thought. How did we move from ideals of co-operative, small-scale neighbourhood arrangements for infants and children to the almost nineteenth-century 'babies rooms' of contemporary commercial child-care centres? Rudd's idea of a one-stop shop for infants and children, where extended drop-off times for parents can be even more efficiently managed and reduced, further reinforces a social arrangement where paid work is the key value: shop is the operative word here.
Manne argues that nurture and care should be at the forefront of our policy and ethical agendas. This directive does not exclude fathers or men and women who have not had children. In my view, maternal forms of selfhood are not the preserve of mothers but emerge and flourish when people are engaged in care-giving, regardless of gender. Why then is the maternal such a deeply contested cultural space? Love & Money takes a different path to that of reproducing the fiction of a self-sufficient individualism on which the culture of neo-liberalism is founded. It presents policy alternatives to the existing social and economic penalties imposed on those giving care and tries to speak for those who are dependent. Without exception, one day, this will include all of us. Clearly, it is time to think about a new social imaginary around care.
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|Title Annotation:||LOVE & MONEY|
|Article Type:||Viewpoint essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2008|
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