A Proposal to Increase the Value of Care Work Imposed by Gender Asymmetries
Care work is one gender asymmetric and carried out more by some minorities more than some others. On the other hand, while such work keeps on being gender asymmetric, most of the women, regardless of the group or class they belong to, end up doing care work, which is undervalued. In this paper, I will defend the idea that the value of care work could be increased by inclusiveness feminist discourses. Some of the ideas that consider the position of the women in care work include the ideas of Lightman & Kevins (2021), argue that there are different types of care work, in particular unpaid care work: childcare provision, and housework and cooking. They argue that the first category is more gender-oriented than class oriented, whereas the latter embraces effects from both sides.
I agree with this classification and the distinction of these classes. But one point I want to further discuss is the ethnical, financial, religious groups of women that are doing such care work. While I believe that both kind of work are undervalued, the main attribution will be parallel to the argument of Lightman & Kevins, that we see the class effect on the care work which are focused on housework and cooking. After discussing this category, I will try to generalize the case for all care work including the first group.
One possible objection could be that the second category of work could also be universal among women, independent from classes. I would argue that, while it might be the case, we must contrast specific categories with each other and seek for their orientation towards classes and gender. This contrast can help for methodology towards increasing the value of care work.
Blum (2008), analyses that there is a privilege towards white individuals in domains like health, education, and wealth. I want to broaden the analysis of Blum, including the underprivileged women in care work, regarding the group they belong to. Such cases are the contributors of the devaluation of care work, which can collectively devaluate all the care work which are also done by privileged groups. Hence, I find it important to attempt increasing the value of care work from the underprivileged groups. One might argue that such an attempt might be dysfunctional in terms of solving the problem of care work being gender asymmetrical. For this objection, I would suggest that after the valuation of care work, also the gender asymmetry would be decreased.
In this part, I present my arguments supporting my standpoint of inclusiveness in feminist discourses increasing the value of care work. I argue that including the different groups, which can be ethnical, financial, religious, into the main point of discussion to solve the problem of devalued care work is important. The consideration of these groups is important, as in a given context, one classifier can be more relevant than the other, which can help to see where the devaluation of the care work in that context can stem from. For example a Latin woman doing care work in the USA, and Latin women doing care work in the South America are two different stories. While in the first case the ethnicity and financial status are both important factors, in terms of the group such women belong to, in the latter case, the ethnicity constraint becomes less relevant. One other point to bear in mind is that as the care work is being categorized as paid and unpaid work, the context of the problem is either reduced to houses or increased to more general contexts like workplaces or working for more ‘privileged’ families.
Therefore, while considering the inclusiveness discourses, the group that the women belong to is strongly correlated with the context of the problem, that where the existing problem of devalued care work is being tried to be solved. This work considers the equal inclusiveness of all the groups to solve the problem once for all. Alcoff (1991), states the dysfunctionality of ‘speaking for others’, she finds that one individual speaking for the entire group is problematic, especially when the groups are not well defined. She gives an example of a white women speaking for all the white women in the world, which is infeasible. Therefore, it is important to clearly determine the groups in consideration and make them more abstract whenever possible.
After considering the care work in general, I must pay attention to the type of the care work and contrast them in terms of their characteristics. This is done, as some aspects like gender-orientation and class- orientation can vary between the given care work. One work to contrast care work was conducted by Lightman & Kevins (2021), and they argue that the particular attention should be given to childcare provision, and housework and cooking. And they find that childcare provision is more gender-oriented than class-oriented, but the others are equally oriented to both sides. Such distinctions and the different weights to given orientations are crucial. While the authors do not elaborate on class-orientation, but just categorize the care work with orientations, I prioritize the attention to the definitions on different classes. I argue that for the value given for the care work to be increased, we should know that which groups have more weight on a particular care work, then the consideration of this well-defined group can start the increase the value given to that particular work.
There exists analysis on the privilege towards some particular groups, not only for care work, but aspects of daily life in general. For example, Blum (2008) states that a privilege towards white individuals cannot be denied, and such privileges are seen in many domains like health, education, and wealth. This case can be observed in the domain of care work too, regarding the group or groups that the individual conducting the care work. I argue that such cases contribute to the devaluation of care work. This situation has the potential to devaluate care work en masse, which are again conducted by underprivileged groups. The way to eliminate the existing underprivilege could be reached through the consideration of these groups by reserving them better conditions in terms of finances, general welfare, a decrease of excessive work hours. In the current state, such a picture does not seem possible to be reached. The underprivileged groups need to defend their positions by being able to speak for theirselves. Moreover, these voices need to be heard. The first condition could be again reached by the methodology that I previously explained that the groups need to be well defined in consideration of their members and the context that they belong to, and the latter could be done by some systematic regulations supported by law. This applies well particularly for the regulation of work hours.
In this section, I consider the possible objections to my arguments, and I state the possible replies to these objections. The first objection is the definition of the groups that the women in care work belong to. I previously stated that the groups and their contexts should be well-defined to solve the problem. I explained that the groups should not be large and contain multiple groups, but they should be abstract to be able to represent its members sufficiently. One might argue that however small and abstract we make these groups, there will always be someone who does not completely fit the specifications of a particular group. I agree with this objection to a particular extent, that of course we cannot reduce the groups so much that every individual in the group will be an exact fit. But the problem is that if we wanted to create the groups so that they would be a perfect match for its every member, it would follow such a practice that we create groups for everyone, that every individual then will have to speak for herself. This would be a re-arrival at the problem that I began with and means that nothing has been solved. To prevent this, the perfect match approach could be replaced by a satisfactory match, that the main specifications of the group are the ones that matter. For example, Latin women doing care work in the USA could be the members of the group defined by this ethnicity and context, not considering other attributions such as the exact country where the members of the group originate from. One other suggestion would be that the women can be a part of multiple groups and find the solutions for their problems from all such groups.
Another objection can be directed towards to the distinction of orientations of a given care work, which was offered by Lightman & Kevins (2021). It was argued that childcare, in contrast to some other care work like housework and cooking was universal among women. The objection can be that the latter category of care work can also be universal among women. This is a valuable and a valid objection, as it is common to see women undertake most of the care work, which usually includes housework and cooking. Moreover, such work is also span over a longer period of time, as when a child starts to grow up, the intensity of childcare can also decrease. Such statements can hold for a given scenario and context, that even the previous categorization of orientations can switch. However, the important point to consider is that the orientations can weigh differently from each other, and the consideration of such weights are crucial. As I previously argued, the consideration of the context of the problem is essential, as the cases might be different with respect to it. The orientation problem is similar to that phenomenon; instead of attempting to clearly distinguish, given a particular care work, which orientation weighs more, it should be known that an orientation can overpower another one.
One other powerful reply can be the theory of ‘Intersectionality’ coined by Crenshaw, in her work called Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics. Crenshaw (1989), states that being a black woman cannot be understood in terms that are apart from either being black or female. It must instead incorporate interactions between the two identities, which should regularly support one another, she says. Crenshaw (1989) examines two sorts of male violence against women: domestic abuse and rape, in order to demonstrate that non-white women have a significantly different experience than white women owing to race and/or class, and that their experiences are not readily communicated or amplified. Crenshaw claims that non-white women's experiences are a mix of racism and sexism based on her research of these two types of male violence against women. While my approach is seemingly closer to inclusiveness discourses than the intersectionality ones, the idea of precisely defining the groups that the women can belong to, by including as much classifiers as possible is a similar idea suggested by Crenshaw. As I stated, the groups should be well-defined for a given context, while not being ‘overdefined’, which will result in small structures which cannot be viewed as groups anymore. Crenshaw’s approach, which she exemplifies by merging being black and female in a given context, is similar to the approach I proposed by effectively forming the groups.
To reiterate, care work is one of the topics that needs careful consideration, as the current problematic state offers problems related to the gender and the class of the individuals. These problems can be restated as the imbalance of the individuals with different backgrounds, which can be gender or class related. Gender imbalance comes from the adoption of care work more by women than men. In class imbalance, the gender is fixed, but ethnical, financial, religious background of the individual can vary, and they should be considered in a given context. I argue that the consideration of the background of the individuals are important, but the consideration of the context of the problem is required. Then, the groups that define each individual best can be formed as an attempt to solve the problem, also eliminate the possible barrier of ‘speaking for others’ introduced by Alcoff (1991). The type of the given care work can also be important as the weights of different orientations can vary, that some care work can be more class oriented than gender oriented or vice versa. My approach can bring some possible objections, including disagreements about the forming of the groups, the distinction of the orientations of a given care work, and the idea of intersectionality. I believe that the objections are valuable to justify my idea, as I stated how my approach incorporates the possible concerns.
Alcoff, L. (1991). The problem of speaking for others. Cultural Critique, (20), 5. https://doi.org/10.2307/1354221
Blum, L. (2008). `White privilege': A mild critique. Theory and Research in Education, 6(3), 309–321. https://doi.org/10.1177/1477878508095586
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. Feminist Legal Theory, 57–80. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429500480-5
Gheaus, A. (2008). Basic income, gender justice and the costs of gender-symmetrical lifestyles. Basic Income Studies, 3(3). https://doi.org/10.2202/1932-0183.1134
Lightman, N., & Kevins, A. (2021). “Women’s work”: Welfare State spending and the gendered and classed dimensions of unpaid care. Gender & Society, 35(5), 778–805. https://doi.org/10.1177/08912432211038695