If the women in your life disappeared, what would happen?
Reading about this today, I realized I’d find it hard to get much done:
- no bus driver to take me to work
- no one to purchase the library’s journals
- no one to manage the students who lend books
- no manager to help with livid patrons
- no sister to call, make me laugh, and make my day better
- no mum to watch my disabled sibling, so that I can work
- no aunts to check in on our aging relatives, so that I can live far away
- no admin to book my tickets for business travel and file the paperwork
- no one to arrange the actual logistics of my work trips
- and few people on Facebook writing posts that keep us all supported and encouraged.
And when Amos gets home in half an hour, he’d find our laundry undone, our dishes undone, our bed unmade, our sink and counters dirty, the letters to his mum unwritten, his finances unplanned, his flights unbooked, and no one ready to listen as he unwinds from his day.
(And yes, this second shift of work still falls to women, as much as Amos and I try to share the load.)
On Bullshit Jobs
I’m thinking of this as I read a review copy of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, a book that expands his sensational essay on the meaningless of much office work to look at why folks push papers all day in unneeded jobs, instead of having time to build communities, explore the world, enjoy a share of the great wealth our economic system produces, and be there for folks in need.
I’m almost through the book, which you can read when it comes out in May, and into the section where he interviews people who are exploring various solutions like basic incomes and 15-hour-work-weeks.
But I paused when I got to his interviews of women in the Wages for Housework movement of the 1970s. These women became activists when they saw their mothers unable to leave bad marriages (or to negotiate better terms within a marriage). After years of working to tend the health, food, shopping, social life, medical visits, and vitality of a paid partner, they still couldn’t access a fair share of the family’s income, savings and retirement.
Being that we’re in a market economy, the movement proposed that we be more honest about the value of work, and allow folks to directly collect the value of the 20, 40, or 60 hours a week they put in to keeping households running, fellow workers in good operating condition, elders cared for, and children raised.
As Graeber comments,
“If women were to be compensated in the same way as men then a huge proportion of the world’s wealth would instantly have to be handed over to them; and wealth, of course, is power.”
A Day Off
Obviously men do much paid and unpaid supportive work as well. I haven’t written this to critique men, as a group, so much as to draw our attention to the worldwide hum of care and logistics work expected in addition to official job roles or after a woman’s work day. And it’s exhausting.
One strategy to make this unseen and uncounted work visible is simply to stop doing it.
But stopping is hard at the individual level, right? You try to relax, but your surroundings are a mess. Children or elders or bosses or subordinates want your attention. Your mental load [<— great comic!] of tasks the family needs makes it hard to be creative or otherwise relax. You want more meaningful rest than just eating chocolates or watching TV or reading endlessly, yet where do you go without spending money?
So it’s hard to stop. But if we all step out together, it could be easier to connect and be seen. As Selma James writes in The Guardian,
“In 1975, the women of Iceland took the day off to demonstrate the importance of all their work, waged and unwaged, in the countryside and the city. [They] came out of their homes, offices and factories, and even female television presenters were replaced on the screen by men holding children. Some 90% of women took part. They called it a day off but we at the International Wages for Housework Campaign called it a strike, and took as our slogan their placard which said: “When women stop, everything stops.”
In 1999, they held a Global Women’s Strike, wanting all workers to be paid for caring work in a fair share of “wages, pensions, land and other resources.”
And in 2017, A Day Without a Woman suggested that folks stop shopping and working, and gather together.
2018 didn’t do much for America, but a global women’s day off still intrigues me. I’d love to know what would happen.
So I’m curious… if every woman you interact with took a few days off, what would happen? Every working-class person? Every family member?
And what would happen if you took a few days off as well?