Response to correspondence: Anne Manne.
Admirable as the young woman's plan sounded, I was dubious that life would pan out quite the way she wanted. Sadly, such was the case: it turned out that her partner's new gender ideology was a veneer covering a much more powerful ideal born of the new capitalism: the extreme worker norm.
Feminists have often, correctly, pointed out that the old ideology of the homemaker was a product of the old capitalism; the bleak world of the male factory worker was supported by the "angel in the house" who provided a haven in a heartless world. The culture that installed the "cult of motherhood" was born of an economic system which required not women's autonomy over these matters, but women's submission to the norms which supported it.
In Love & Money my intention was to show how the new capitalism is remaking motherhood--and, by implication, all care-giving activity--along very different lines. At the same time, it too requires women's submission to the dictates of the economy. Long before we arrive at the terrain of women's preferences on work and family, agendas have been set.
The high quality of almost all of the contributions to this correspondence shows how important it is to have this conversation. Most raise valuable points that help refine it. Most understand the need to go beyond the narrowed and overheated confines of the mother wars. It is especially encouraging to read Julie Stephens, whose attentive reading of the recent and vibrant feminist scholarship on care enables her to grasp what is really at stake here: the larger issue of how our free-market society handles the question of care. It is heartening to see so many from different generations--Sara Dowse and Sushi Das, for example--engaging in such thoughtful and respectful discussion. And to have Steve Biddulph refuse to allow the question to be simply about the desires of adult men and women, but to include his passion, the wellbeing of children.
There is some suggestion in the correspondence that I wrote my book Motherhood from the perspective of a mother at home. No, I didn't, nor Love & Money. Instead they were born of reflection on the subject of care after both being at home with small children and spending an even longer period working in a two-career family. In this latter phase I experienced first-hand the challenges of answering the ethic of care while meeting the ever-expanding demands of the work I loved; responsibilities which increasingly included my mother's elder care and decreasingly my children's care, as they gained independence. I have been on both sides of this fence, and that is one reason the argument cuts across ideological divides. I came to the view, standing back from the fray, that a single issue is at stake in the difficulties women face: the devaluation of care. Mothers both in and out of the workforce are harmed by the care penalty.
Haussegger says she knows women who tremble to read me. I find this talk of guilt rather overblown and even infantilising. Aren't mothers at home or working part-time made to feel guilty by the much harsher critiques by the likes of Linda Hirshman?
My case was gently enough put. I argued that notwithstanding instances of depressed or inadequate parenting, caring for children is a good and worthwhile thing to do. The essay presented a modest, nuanced and measured case--sticking to the evidence--to show that child-care is not always what it is cracked up to be. And while acknowledging that the literature on child-care risk should not be catastrophised, it supported current parental behaviour and preferences, not the Get to Work program of ideological zealots.
In the course of publicising Love & Money, the word I so often encountered was "relief." Someone was talking about the real dilemmas people faced, and presenting alternatives. I do not claim that these readers of the essay agreed with every word. What I have discovered, however, is that the case I am making has a very large constituency. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is only the true hardliners of gender fundamentalism on one hand, and the Get to Work ideologues on the other, who are truly suspicious of it. In the broad program I advocate, of longer parental leaves, of improved child-care and the larger project of revaluing care, all but a few can find themselves.
Sushi Das, in a thoughtful and intelligent response, wants me to talk more explicitly about men. I cannot, in an essay with limited space, cover everything; I concentrated on women because the subject is care, and they do more of it. However, her larger question, of why, is crucial. The whole essay, as Julie Stephens understands, is about the deeper question of why women still do more care-work than anyone else, and what to do about this. I could have joined those uttering the "Men must do more!" exhortations which, judging by their results, have not got us very far. Or I could have penned yet another column on the work/life balance, to join those already gently drizzling down on us from the opinion pages.
Or I could cut to the chase. Why do work and family conflict? Why do so many mothers dramatically cut back or stay at home in the first couple of years? Why have roles of men changed so little?
The new capitalism creates contradictions in women's traditional role by valuing paid work and devaluing family work. The situation for men is very different. The fetishisation of paid work undermines women's traditional roles but reinforces men's. Even men with egalitarian ideals now often work longer hours than the traditionalist dads of the 1950s, home at five o'clock.
Neo-liberalism ties virtue and pride to economic self-sufficiency, but self-doubt and even shame to care-giving and dependency. Nowhere is this more pertinent than when speaking of men. Our judgment of stay-at-home dads--as opposed to those taking brief breaks between high-profile positions--is at least as harsh. The social judgments about men who fail to succeed at work are savage: "loser," "no-hoper," "deadbeat dad" and so on. Men are still very much judged according to their position in the labour market, more than by their performance as fathers.
Almost all discussions about men and care begin at the end-point--wondering why the flow of care from men is no more than a trickle--when, as Julie Stephens shows so well, we must travel upstream to the very source. There we would find that male energies and time have already been diverted, pouring into a vibrant and fast-fl owing torrent called work.
Most people are open to a discussion that encompasses these root-and-branch questions, including a critical consideration of child-care. There is one exception to this in the correspondence. Don Edgar's contribution is dispiriting in its aggressive tone of partisanship. He consistently fails to rise to the occasion on this issue. Edgar finds nothing in what I present on child-care to concern him. Really? Nothing in a ratio of one caregiver to five babies? Even Eddy Groves, head of ABC Learning, has admitted that is too low. Edgar recalls one of the people described by Martin Krygier in his book Civil Passions, who deploy every means at their disposal to "block conversations rather than further them. The sort of conversational contribution that the American novelist Ring Lardner had in mind in a character's response to a question from his son. 'Shut up,' he explained."
Edgar insists on the ecumenical nature of the Australian Institute of Family Studies under his directorship. Unhappily, he cannot seem to talk about stay-at-home mothers without making their impact on their children sound foul ("highly mothered"). In order to make a point about the differences across the class divide over the meaning of work, I tell a story about being exploited as a teenager during a holiday job working sixteen-hour days on an outback station, and how it gave me, ever after, an insight into the ambiguous and shifting meanings of work. Because the teenager in question grew up to be part of what for Edgar is a hated group--stay-at-home mothers--the ex-director of the AIFS sneers and relishes the exploitation. He contrasts my attitude with that of his own heroic working mother--except that she was in a unionised factory working an eight-hour day protected by legislation. I was half her age and worked twice as long in a position unprotected by any union.
This is a point well grasped by Sara Dowse. The type of labour conditions I experienced, under neo-liberal policies, even without WorkChoices, are becoming more common, not less--like a cafe worker I know who is on her feet for seven hours straight, with no rights to meal or toilet breaks. When she sits down for fifteen minutes to eat, she is docked $2.50 from her $10 an hour wage. Dowse is right. However did we come to the view that unions were no longer necessary?
That said, Edgar's response is extremely valuable. This is because he candidly admits that the much-quoted mantra--$1 invested in child-care brings a $7 return--is false. He admits that I am right to debunk the claim, that he knows it to be false, but that he uses it anyway. I hope every policy-maker in the country, especially Kevin Rudd and Maxine McKew, reads that sentence. As Bruce Fuller points out, the Perry Pre-school Project, from which the figure was derived, involved very small numbers of children. That means some of the results, on the basis of which policy-makers and economists around the world are investing billions of taxpayer dollars, have been derived from studies of no more than ten children!
The willingness, among people who know better, to put that figure forward while knowing it to be false when applied to ordinary Australian child-care, has done enormous damage. It is used not as it should be--to help disadvantaged populations--but in the service of a very different aim: promoting universal child-care from zero to five. Barbara Romeril, for example, executive director of Community Childcare Victoria, quoted the figure on Lateline as the basis of her claim that we know from overseas research that child-care gives children the best start in life. No qualifications were offered. Even Rudd has used the figure Edgar and I both know to be false. But how is Rudd to know any better if people like Edgar, carrying the imprimatur of taxpayer-funded institutions like AIFS, don't tell him? It is quite simply one of the great social policy hoaxes.
For all this talk of guilt, I wonder whether anger is not a more appropriate emotion. For unease over how we live now is as much the result of a specific social and political context as it is an existential and irresolvable problem. On the publicity trail, I found that many were angered when they learned of the difference between what we are offered as compared with Northern Europe. If you struggle through one year of unpaid leave only to confront the "choice" of returning to full-time work using the babies' room at a creche with one caregiver to five babies, or of leaving work altogether, then privatised guilt--blaming oneself--is not the most useful response. Nor is it simply a private grief if you wind up childless because most careers are carelessly predicated on the male life-pattern, circa 1950, of uninterrupted work. As Dowse says, the personal is political.
We can go round in circles on the question of how meaningful work is. Lam has discovered women who find work meaningful when her assumptions would have suggested otherwise. I have no doubt of it. The point of my jillaroo story is not to cast doubt on the value of work for everyone. It is not directly juxtaposed, as Dowse suggests, with the perils of a corporate life, but with my own love of my current work, and the exceptionally high morale among the publishers I work with. It precedes a consideration of the dilemmas of high-achieving women, where my working assumption is, clearly, that they have trained for and gained access to fulfilling jobs they will want--and have every right--to keep.
None of this changes the fact that some jobs are crappy, and that some of those doing them find caring for children, especially when they are small, preferable. I present evidence. The Scandinavian choice between a home-care allowance and job-protected leave, versus work and a child-care place, comes the closest I have seen to a genuinely "free choice" scenario. The home-care allowances have been hugely popular, and the take-up is highest among those in lower paid and lower status jobs. That said, work-centredness, as Hakim's data shows, can and does occur in every socio-economic group, including in the working class. Being child-centred can occur among the highly educated. But work-centredness of the type dominating our discussions is statistically more common among the upper echelons of workers. Women who go back to work early are more likely to be highly educated and affluent.
Lam raises the important issue of maternal depression, saying she would like to hear more on this. Again, space was limited. In the more comprehensive Motherhood, however, I deal with it in chapter five, while the entirety of chapter eight, beginning with the convicted child-killer Kathleen Folbigg, a middleclass stay-at-home mother, is devoted to the subject of mothering gone wrong. Because I follow the principle of the best interest of the child--rather than "motherhood as a religion," as Edgar alleges--I have no difficulty in acknowledging the importance of maternal depression or the occurrence of child abuse by mothers.
That said, on the topic of maternal depression we need precision rather than ideology. Maternal depression turns out to be a whole lot more complicated than what Jessie Bernard once famously claimed: that being a married housewife with children made you sick.
The Australian sociologist David De Vaus looked at this issue in 2002 for the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He showed that almost none of Bernard's propositions stand up in the light of contemporary data. De Vaus examined the 1997 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing of Adults, the largest study of mental health ever conducted in Australia. As De Vaus pointed out, it offered a superb opportunity to test the Bernard thesis.
The key protection against depression was not work but long-term attachments, especially marriage. Married men and women were the least likely of any group to suffer mental-health problems (around 13 per cent). Married women with children were actually much less at risk of emotional disorders than any unmarried group, including working and non-working lone mothers, and single, childless working women. Being single, rather than being married, or working or not working, was the strongest risk factor for mental-health problems for both sexes. Twice as many divorced women, or 22.3 per cent, suffered from an anxiety disorder, as compared with 11 per cent of married women. Single, childless working women had almost double the rate of disorders as did married working mothers. De Vaus concluded: "Workforce participation and the absence of children and marriage is associated with considerably greater risk of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders among women."
The US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study on child-care data showed that child-care did not necessarily compensate for the effect of maternal depression on children. (This surprised me.) Parental influences were stronger than child-care, for good or ill. Moreover, children who went from poor parental care to a poor quality child-care centre did worst of all. If parental-care advocates should, indeed, think about maternal depression, it would be nice if just occasionally one also came across a child-care advocate who admitted that it is not the case that children automatically go from inadequate parents to top-notch child-care centres like the Perry Pre-school. Finally, George Brown and his colleagues' careful British studies showed that depression was least likely if women were able to fulfil their preferences--to work or not. Thus, policy should help them to achieve their desired role.
Dowse argues there is no risk-free policy. Quite so. Unhappily, however, she then goes on to mention Meredith Edwards. Edwards is lauded in Sisters in Suits as one who held the line against taxation assistance for stay-at-home mothers early in the Hawke-Keating era. Funds were allocated on behalf of other women on the presumption of where their interest lay: in the workforce.
This policy did not drive women of young children into the workforce in anything like the numbers that were hoped. Women continued to answer the imperatives of care. What happened instead was that the income of the vast majority of single-income families simply declined. The 1996 census data show that 55 per cent of women between the ages of 25 and 29 with a child under fifteen were not employed. Ann Harding's research shows that they joined the group of Australian families whose income put them just above the poverty line. No cost-free policy indeed.
That said, Edwards and others raised a very important issue about how family resources are distributed and, by implication, about a woman's need for economic independence. None of the policies I am advocating here sever a woman's connection to the labour market. They preserve it. It is not proposed that homecare allowances be provided in perpetuity, but during job-protected leave. Just as the ACTU did with its successful test case to the now defunct Industrial Relations Commission, I am taking parents' actual behaviour and looking for ways that we can surround it with new labour-market protections, to make the transition into caring roles and back to work both more seamless and safer.
There is another reason why we need to pay attention to women's economic capabilities. When women have greater economic power, they use it for children's advantage. Thus we should pay attention to those societies where women's economic productivity is arraigned not against the ethic of care, but on behalf of it.
In Love & Money, I expressed the hope that the new Labor government will not commit the mistakes of the early Blair government in embracing the neo-liberal Get to Work program and promoting early return to work and universal childcare. Later in Blair's term, the growing negative evidence on child-care prompted a significant shift, with two years of parental leave being granted, one year being paid, and the right given to request flexible work schedules.
So where do we presently stand? Rudd went to the 2020 Summit with his "big idea": universal parent and child centres. This was reported in the press as universal child-care centres for children from zero to five. In fact, as the full text of his speech to the Sydney Institute shows, his proposal was more nuanced. It was closer to Love & Money's proposal of universal child and parent support centres. Such centres offer, in one local and readily identifiable place, a range of support services, such as maternal and baby health nurses, toy libraries, mothers' groups, playgroups, outreach services and so on. Such centres would be inclusive--directed at parents both in and out of the workforce. They would include child-care, but would not be restricted to it. In being small and local, they promise to recreate some of what the early feminists were hoping for in terms of parental involvement in community child-care centres.
Rudd's proposal, unfortunately, was couched in the market language of "one-stop shops," as Stephens notes. The suggestion that we allow for-profit operators to run the centres is worrying. Imagine an ABC Learning centre in every neighbourhood, mass-producing every aspect of early childhood! Parents might get a visit from the friendly ABC nurse shortly after the birth of their baby, who might insist that the ABC centre "gives children the best start in life," along with ABC formula milk. So baby is dropped off at child-care at 7 a.m., where they get the jab of immunisation provided by the pharmaceutical company which has cut a deal with ABC, to be collected at 7 p.m. along with a Big Mac and fries to go, because McDonald's has done likewise.
The missing element in Rudd's proposal is parental leave, an issue that is now before the Productivity Commission. Steve Biddulph says it is not the right body to consider this matter. He is right. One can recite in advance all the submissions along the lines of "For every $1 dollar invested, $7 will be returned." How is an economist to know that the beautiful set of numbers is false? May I, in the spirit of Swift, make a modest proposal? Let us have a Royal Commission into child-care and parental leave. Then, before a brilliant and remorseless QC, a Julian Burnside or Terry Tobin, let the child-care lobbyists be summoned as "expert" witnesses and be grilled, at risk of prosecution for perjury, to justify their claims.
The missing element in Rudd's early-childhood proposal, parental leave, was, however, supplied at the 2020 Summit: "An important priority is improved access to paid parental leave for parents (of children of varying ages) and carers (of the disabled and the aged). Parents need time to spend with their children, especially the very young, and should not be forced to return to work too early for financial reasons." The evidence that Australians would support such policies is strong. A recent Newspoll found 76 per cent of Australians supported paid maternity leave. An overwhelming 93 per cent thought that, "The most important thing for a baby in its first year of life is to have the full-time care of at least one parent."
One final point. In Love & Money I pointed out that women now hold a decisive political bargaining chip: fear over falling fertility. That concern can go one of two ways. It can become part of a productivity calculus, where women are pressured to go back to work ever earlier by carrot and stick: means-testing or cutting the baby bonus and targeting benefits almost exclusively to working mothers using child-care. Or it can be a basis on which to build a program to improve the condition of all mothers and parenthood generally. That won't happen without organisation.
It is vitally important that we recognise the need for some kind of parents' and carers' movement, tough-minded and politically savvy, an alliance of all those in or outside the paid labour force who supply or are in need of care. A trouble some, stroppy, well-informed, impossible-to-ignore group. Its aim would be to get onto the political agenda a program of justice for caregivers and those they care for. It needs to become a group to whom the media go when issues are raised, and one that politicians cannot afford to ignore. At the moment we have the Australian Family Association, defending the Christian family and the traditional division of labour. Many young, secular parents don't identify with that program. Meanwhile, the billion-dollar child-care industry wins the propaganda war, aided and abetted by child-care academics who should know better. At present, the only people putting some kind of fight against the McDonaldisation of childhood are lone voices, child psychologists like Steve Biddulph and independent writers like me.
Dowse says at the end of her response that there is more that unites us than divides us. I agree. Yet she also calls the status of care "intractable." No, it isn't. Now is the only time you will hear me quoting the free-market ideologue Friedrich Hayek. He said, "Nothing is inevitable but thinking makes it so." He is right. Where would the second-wave feminists have got if they adopted such a defeatist attitude towards the status of women? At the moment, we reward selfish individualism. We penalise altruism. That is what we must change.
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|Title Annotation:||LOVE & MONEY|
|Article Type:||Viewpoint essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Correspondence: Natasha Cica.|