Caring about caring is a feminist issue.
Proceeding from the Harvester Judgement of 1907, basic working wages in Australia were essentially constructed to cover the reasonable needs of a family. This placed women and children in a position of dependence and women’s work was relegated to a space outside national productivity accounting. Working women were not offered the basic wage as social norms at that time expected that this was supplementing the husband’s already adequate wage. Women were actively prevented from many higher paid jobs, and maternity leave was irrelevant as women were expected to cease working once pregnant. In 1919, women’s wages were set at 54% of the male basic wage which only rose to 75% in the 1950s (Hearn 2006).
Caring has long been the domain of women: caring for kids; caring for the sick and elderly; and generally caring for the home and community. Although now somewhat dated, there remains truth in Graham’s (1983, p. 30) statement:
“Caring is the medium through which many women are accepted into and feel they belong in the social world…It is through caring in an informal capacity – as mothers, wives, daughters, neighbours, friends – and through formal caring as nurses, secretaries, cleaners, teachers – that women enter and occupy their place in society”
With more women in the paid labour force, caring is now an activity that is largely relegated to strangers. Care has been commodified. We pay for child carers to mind our children; we pay for disability and aged carers to care for those who are frail, sick or have extra needs. We no longer have time to connect with those close to us and truly build the empathy necessary to create loving and trusting relationships that can empower them in daily life.
I believe that when those aspects of life that are so closely aligned to the female role become commodified, it is a further objectification of women.