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Pricing Care Work Means Demanding "Efficiency"
(And also a potty parity proposal)
I wanted to share two recent pieces very directly relevant to Other Feminisms below, but if you’d also like to read what I had to say about Sam Bankman-Fried, the GOP Speaker’s race, and having to acknowledge you’ve been relying on nominal reserves you can’t spend, you can check that out at the Bulwark.
We’ve had a couple fruitful discussions of the “wages for housework” movement and the corresponding tactic of translating home and care work into labor language (“unpaid caregiving,” etc.). At Deseret, I enjoyed reading After Work: The Fight for Free Time and using it as a way to consider what work “counts” and why.
The best question Hester and Srnicek ask is this: Where does efficiency serve human ends, both at home and at work?
“It might be clear that the mining of natural resources should take a minimum of human activity, for instance, but the same does not hold for the labour involved in raising a child,” they write. Care work is part of what we want free time for, especially so we can approach it in an unhurried, present way. […]
As I see it, labor-saving innovations don’t make as much sense when the work process is valuable, not just the output. When work is evaluated for the formation it gives us, it’s easier to differentiate drudgery from laborious but humane work. As Jon Askonas notes in “Why Conservatism Failed,” his essay on technology and tradition for Compact magazine, technology is the most corrosive when it breaks the chain of apprenticeship to mastery. It’s easy (and usually cheap) to outsource entry-level work to computers or off-shore workers, but, as Askonas observes, “these technologies knock out the bottom rungs of skilled practice that allow for the development of mastery in the first place.”
Parenting is one of these kinds of work. Caring for a child obviously means shepherding a child along his or her own progression toward mastery — of the body, of emotions, of conscience. But the parent often goes on a parallel journey.
As long as housework and care work are validated by analogy to paid services, the more pressure it creates to seek the same efficiencies (or cut the same corners!) that paid services do in order to turn a profit.
I pay for some childcare, I spend quality time with my children myself. I certainly don’t see our time together as of zero value, but I also find it unnatural to think about it in terms of what wage I could command if I provided this care to someone else’s children or in terms of the opportunity cost of foregone wages.
It’s hard for me to see how we value this kind of work unless we value it first for it’s value in itself and only then try to approximate that value in money, when helpful.
Elsewhere, for Christianity Today, I got to write a piece about the absence of child-sized toilets or potties in churches (where everyone knows children will be present!). I got to talk to a Catholic church architect about how building codes shape whose bodies have to accommodated, and to a Protestant pastor with a sharp observation on the limits of solidarity:
Endress thinks children face obstacles parallel to those of disabled congregants—their bodies are treated as aberrant and unexpected—though he’s hesitant to draw too direct an analogy. “I think it’s a really helpful frame,” he said, “but I think it’s unhelpful to name it,” because, for people with disabilities, comparisons to children can feel less like solidarity and more like dismissal or condescension. “People treat people with disabilities as if they were developmentally a child,” Endress said. “Any linkage between children and disability feels a little bit fraught.”
I remain curious if you have seen a child toilet or a potty at your place of worship.
Where (at church or elsewhere) have you seen the needs of children incorporated in the physical design of a mixed-age space?
What other physical accommodations have you seen built (or advocated to be built) for a broader range of bodies?
Is there a time when putting a money value on “unpaid work” help clarify a decision or get better treatment? How did you run the numbers?
Where have you seen unpaid work valued highly? What non-monetary mark of respect was offered?