Sunday, June 03, 2012

New model vs old model

Alicia Geddes is an Australian woman who looked forward to motherhood ("The Sum of Us" Melbourne's Child, June 2012):
I dreamt about being home with my baby full-time ... when the two red lines appeared on the pregnancy test we were ecstatic.

But there was a major hitch. Her husband wasn't able to afford the mortgage repayments on his salary. She was going to have to go back to work not just part-time but full-time:
My dreams of full-time motherhood were shattered.

She wasn't alone in her situation:
I asked my mothers' group how they met financial demands. Some were lucky enough to have plenty of money, while others had saved up before becoming pregnant to take a year off work. None said they planned to stay at home full-time after their child turned one. Would they if they were able to financially? Surprisingly, most said yes.

Things didn't go well when the time came to leave her young child for paid work:
As I doted over my newborn son, the end of paid parental leave loomed and the prospect of missing many firsts - first crawl, first step, first word - was heart-rending. How would I be able to concentrate on work when I would be missing my son so much?

Jealousy brewed towards more affluent friends ... I found myself resenting my husband, my parents and anyone else I thought could have saved me from returning to work but didn't. I became teary, angry and anxious. I hated myself for these feelings and stopped enjoying my son.

She did eventually find a solution. She and her husband moved back in with her parents, which allowed them to rent their house and meet their mortgage repayments. She is, for the time being, happy to be able to spend time with her son.

Alicia Geddes's story illustrates the problems with the new liberal model of family life. This new model of family life is based on the following logic:

i) The highest good is to be an independent, autonomous, self-determining individual.

ii) Therefore individuals cannot be defined in terms of family; our predetermined sex must be made not to matter; and women must be made independent of men.

iii) Therefore women are oppressed in the role of motherhood and liberated in the role of careerist. A career gives women an identity outside of family; it makes her financially independent of men; and it is an androgynous role in which our sex doesn't matter.

iv) Therefore women's lives should be organised around careers and not family. If women do stay at home after having children, they should be supported to do so by the state or by their employers rather than by their families; it should be for a limited time only; and as an ultimate aim men should take just as much of the paid leave as women.

The new model assumes that motherhood is at the heart of women's oppression. Paid parental leave was established not so much to allow women to be mothers but to organise women's lives around the workplace rather than the family.

In Australia, for instance, the argument for paid parental leave was set out by Elizabeth Kath back in 2003. She held that the oppression of women:
derives from their traditional reproductive role and that the introduction of paid maternity leave should be introduced as a means to transform this traditional role.

... Feminists have long recognised that the traditional view of women's role in society is an oppressive one. Shulasmith Firestone's declaration that "the heart of women's oppression is her childbearing and childrearing roles" expresses a commonly held view amongst women's liberationist advocates.

Alicia Geddes did not find the motherhood role oppressive but fulfilling. But in the new model of family life, there is no family support for her to stay at home to look after her children. There is only the paid parental leave provided by the employer or state. And this is only intended to allow her to be at home for a limited time before she returns to her "proper" role of careerist.

If women do want to have a real choice to be full-time at home, then they need to turn toward a more traditional model in which there is family support for them to do so. This would mean, amongst other things:

a) Arguing for a living wage for men, i.e. a wage on which a family can be supported.

b) Not being triumphalist about the decline of men in education and employment. After all, the men who are declining in these spheres are no longer going to be able to support a family on their wage.

c) Not supporting an open borders policy, which excludes some men from the professions (as overseas students are able to buy their way into courses and then dominate the professions) and which tends to drive down the wages of unskilled men.

d) Encouraging men to commit to careers, as good for their future families, rather than discouraging them from doing so by suggesting that a high male wage is oppressive to women.

e) Rejecting the idea that an individualistic, self-determining lifestyle is an overriding good; instead, permitting people to accept that we are social creatures and naturally interdependent.

In Australia, too, we need to address the issue of housing costs. Our economy has been geared, in part, to speculative investment in housing. Although there were some winners from this, there's a point beyond which prices can't rise any further and in the meantime many families do find it harder to meet mortgage repayments.


  1. I would add another item...
    Don't divorce frivolously, because that would take away many of the incentives men have to be productive.

  2. Women should stop the sluthood lifestyle and flashing their bodies everywhere.

  3. Remove the legal benefits of De facto relationships and then remove no-fault divorce.

    First steps certainly, and much more would need to be done, but those steps interacting with basic human biology would lead to a more traditionalist society.

  4. Australia has the worst paid parental leave in the developed world and ranks abysmally low in gender equality. Go figure.

  5. Australia has the worst paid parental leave in the developed world and ranks abysmally low in gender equality. Go figure.

    Anon, you've been deceived.

    The whole point of "gender equality" is to get women out of the home and into the workforce.

    In other words, the more that women lose the choice to be home with their child the higher Australia ranks in "gender equality".

    So it's no use calling for more gender equality as a strategy to allow women to stay at home with their children.

    What's needed is something more courageous - a rethink of the assumptions underlying our understanding of what "gender equality" means.

    If gender equality is thought to mean "maximum autonomy for women" then there's no point even trying to preserve a model in which a highly committed husband works hard to allow his wife to spend time at home with their children. That model will no longer be supported culturally or economically.

    So the question is whether we can start to think about things differently. Maybe equality has more to do with an equal balancing or valuing of roles rather than maximising female autonomy. Maybe it's about an interdependence in which higher aims are served for men, women and the larger society.