all hail the unsung laborers

What a mother’s work is worth.

I’m sure there are a hundred points on which to quibble with the methodology here, but I want to applaud the core idea, which is to look at how much the labor of a mother (stay-at-home or working mom) is worth. The notion that laundry, house-cleaning, cooking, chauffeuring, psychological counseling, and all the rest of it somehow only count as work when you’re not doing them for your own family is nonsense. So all hail the mothers (and the fathers, too, but today is not their day) who keep the domestic economy functioning.

0 Responses to “all hail the unsung laborers”

  1. beccastareyes

    Oddly enough, I remember Lois Bujold’s Ethan of Athos, where Ethan noted that ‘stay-at-home parent’ is one of the highest-paying jobs in terms of social credit that allowed men access to the tissue cultures that made reproduction possible on single-sex Athos.

    Not to make it all about the menz, since I think Bujold made it that way mostly to emphasize how much a good, dedicated parent was worth, especially the more ‘traditionally-feminine’ roles of a parent, if you look past ‘woman’s work’. (That and she had some kickass mothers in her work.)

  2. Anonymous

    Yes and amen. “Women’s work” is some of the most important work on the planet.

  3. fjm

    A new book, The Georgian Household, argues that Georgian men were much more aware of this, that diaries of single men record the money they have to pay out for washing and food etc, and add comments “wish I was married”.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve actually gotten a generalized sense from my reading that domestic labor was more recognized as labor in the past, during more periods than just the Georgian. I guess it was kind of hard to ignore when laundry and all the rest were these backbreaking chores? If I had to guess, I’d say that first the Victorian shift toward upper-middle-class women doing absolutely nothing useful, then the twentieth-century influx of machines to do the work for you, are what gave us the idea that housewives are somehow idle while their husbands do the real work.

      • fjm

        The 1950s seem to be the key point. Betty Friedan talks about this in The Feminine Mystique.

      • Anonymous

        Is it really only in the 19th century that upper-class women stopped doing useful work? My relatively uneducated impression is that noblewomen from periods much earlier than that were essentially idle.

        • Marie Brennan

          You’d be surprised at the extent to which women actually managed their households in past centuries, even at the upper edges of society. If you were a noblewoman resident at court, then you probably left it to someone else, but it’s because you were busy doing that work for the Queen instead. Completely handing over all responsibility to a housekeeper did not, so far as I’m aware, become common until later — and in the Victorian period, it rapidly applied not just to noblewomen but to any woman who could possibly afford to slough off all responsibility in favor of “respectability.”

          Which isn’t to say they were elbow-deep in the wash-water themselves. But they were actively working with the servants, keeping track of recipes for medicines and cleaning agents and such, arranging for the purchase of supplies, etc. Very much a managerial position.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, that makes perfect sense now that you mention it. It also reminds me of this blog post about Chinese gender roles. Evidently, in classical Chinese culture it was the woman’s responsibility to manage the financial affairs of the house, and it was considered unmanly for a husband to worry about squandering his fortune–an attitude which persists to some extent even today.

          • Marie Brennan

            Not that much different from the English (I can’t speak to the rest of Europe) attitude. One of the chief qualities gentle-born guys were supposed to look for in a wife was a hard-headed domestic manager who could keep him in linens and food while he managed the estate.

            Heck, I’ve been told that Katherine of Aragon jealously defended from Anne Boleyn her right to sew the King’s shirts. SHE was still his WIFE, thankyouverymuch, and no jumped-up little hussy was going to take over THAT part of her job.

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