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When Women's Surplus is Stolen
Your stories about tools designed to make it easier to claim your time
I’m at Notre Dame for the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s fall conference. The theme is “‘And It Was Very Good’: On Creation.” I’m particularly looking forward to today’s panel on “Who Set Its Measurements? Mathematics in Creation.”
And on Saturday, I’ll be speaking on a panel themed around “What Women Are: The Imago Dei in Creation.” My talk is titled “Women-Annihilating Transhumanism,” and it draws from my essay “Designing Women” in Comment. Today, I’m sharing highlights from your discussion about the article.
Also, one big thank you to the de Nicola center, which is living out its rhetoric about supporting mothers by finding sitters for my 9mo, both during my talk and during her morning naps throughout the conference.
My Comment piece is centered on breast-pumps, and the question at its heart was: Who captures the benefit of tools ostensibly designed for women?
Elizabeth oftackled both of my discussion prompts:
When have you used a tool that seemed designed for the benefit of someone other than you, the ostensible end-user?
Maybe this is a controversial opinion, but I think nursing covers can function in this way. It seems to me that they often function more to mitigate others’ discomfort with nursing rather than the mother’s. And of course they don’t always do the baby any favors.
Are there places where you’ve deliberately added friction to your routine, in order to be more attentive to actions that would otherwise be mindless?
I love the “friction” framing of this. For me, I’m grateful that my current circumstances allow me to practice more attentiveness to our food system and textile industry by cooking, growing, and making some things by hand. Also, I don’t commute anymore, but I feel like I was able to be more attentive to my neighborhood when I rode the bus than when I drove.
I particularly appreciate the point about travel with friction! I’ve been doing the daycare commute by bike, and I like that we’re slow enough to be hailed by a friend and we can pause to chat.
Jordan talked about increasing attentiveness by adding friction:
The friction comment brings to mind one example for us: we pay tithe at church with a checkbook. This helps us to make sure that we don’t accidentally bounce any checks, but my husband repeatedly wanted to set up autopay. I find the act of writing the check reminds us of what we are doing, and it gives an opportunity for our children to see each week that we give to God financially (even though they don’t know what the numbers mean on the checks). I know many churches would prefer an automatic giver, but I aim to be a cheerful, faithful one. Even though that may mean we miss weeks when we are traveling or sick.
We have an automatic donation set up, but we bring bills for our daughter to put in the basket, because otherwise the choice to give to the church is invisible to her (and nearly invisible to us!).
It it’s important, we want to be actively involved!
Two readers chimed in about baby swings and rockers:
If we really wanted to start some mommy wars, there's probably a lot of baby products that might fit in this category—from pacifiers to swings—satisfying a need that would normally be met by being held (probably by mom). That said, I'm thrilled my 2 month old will nap in a swing so I can take a shower without feeling guilty for trying to get clean while she cries! But I do wonder sometimes about just how many products we have and are expected to use to keep baby happy separated from human touch.
And Mary ofadded:
I think it's great that these things take a load off mom, but the problem is when they allow the wider community to not support mom.
And between them, I think they’ve nailed the core of the problem. It’s not that I don’t want some support and space for moms! But it often feels like when women get a small help, we don’t capture the surplus it ostensibly generates. Having space from the baby means that now we have more time for a different need, and, once the space is possible, we’re asked to take more and more steps away from the baby just to keep up.
It feels like the same dynamic as Elizabeth Warren described in The Two-Income Trap, where everyone keeps giving up slack just to stay in the same place. It’s exhausting and extractive.
Claire talked about the design of school and childcare:
I often feel this way about the design of childcare in my area & proposals to expand the school day. Full day (and full day only) preK and a longer school day are framed in part as a way to enable parents to work longer - and a lot of the benefit of that is captured by business owners & shareholders. Publicly traded daycare companies (eg Bright Horizons) also work to distribute whatever marginal profit they can get to shareholders rather than back to the workers and/or the children. Having mainly full time care options for young children requires both parents to commit to a full time work schedule (or pay for care they don’t use), even if they might prefer to work part time when their children are very small.
According to a 2019 Pew study, the majority of mothers would prefer to work less than full-time hours.
Among full-time working mothers, 45% say working full time is ideal for women with young children, while a similar share (41%) say working part time is ideal and 11% say the ideal is for women with young children to not work for pay at all. Part-time working moms are more likely to say working part time is ideal for women with young children (53%) than to say working full time (27%) or not at all (16%) are ideal. Among stay-at-home moms, a plurality (42%) say working part time is ideal for women with young children, while similar shares say working full time (27%) or not working for pay at all (28%) is ideal.
Expanding childcare meets a real need, but not in the way many parents would like to be helped. For some parents, wraparound care makes it possible to keep a job they love, but many mothers want to be with their children, not working longer hours to pay for other people’s care.