Friday, 19 February 2010

Wife as waste of space

Cactus Kate has highlighted a truly awful sexist motoring column by Eric Thompson, which you can read if you want to soil your eyes with an ill-judged rant about how women should be banned from driving 4WD vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, Kate agrees with Thompson, in her usual barbed style that involves kicking her sisters, hard, with her spiky stilettos at every opportunity. It's another chance for the Cactus to show that she really doesn't seem to like children, mothers, or indeed other women very much at all.

The comments that follow Cactus's post mostly expand on this theme, although with some notable disagreement, thank goodness. The view that is particularly bugging me tonight, from the post and the comments, is the idea that married women who aren't in paid work and are raising children are not contributing anything of value to their relationship or family.

We've seen this view from CK before, and no doubt will again. I don't expect my post to change her mind. Perhaps the only thing that will change her mind is being in that position herself; partnered up and not in paid employment for some reason, be it child-related or otherwise. And she's pretty clear that's not on her agenda, ever, so I guess that's that then.

But for other people who seem to not notice the very real value that someone not in paid work adds to a household, there are quite a lot of points I could raise, including:
  • The caring, nurturing work - not necessarily just children either, it could be about parents who need extra attention, other family members, friends, and of course the paid partner. It's my observation that often this stuff, which is vital to maintaining friendships and family relationships, is more likely to be carried out by an at home partner, to the significant benefit of both. As small scale as sorting all the Xmas presents, as big as nursing someone who is terminally ill, this is unpaid work that can be arduous, dirty, annoying, rewarding, time-consuming, and is essential. Much of it can't easily (or cheaply) be contracted out of either, and even if you can arrange it getting someone else to do it can fracture relationships irreparably.
  • Volunteer work - can even bring significant kudos to the paid partner, not to mention the community benefits. While I personally think it is enough that it often gives you a sense of achievement, a chance to contribute meaningfully to something you care about, skills, friendships and contacts, it is perhaps worth mentioning to the more Cactus-minded that volunteer work by the unpaid can also provide vital networking opportunities for the paid partner, not to mention they could even claim some involvement on their CV by association.
  • Running a household - no longer as full-on as in Jane Austen's time, but nonetheless often significant. Particularly during renovations, just ask my least-favourite Listener columnist, Joanne Black. Making sure the bills are paid, there's enough food to eat, the toilet gets unblocked, the bed linen is clean, the holiday gets booked, there are clean work clothes, the neighbours don't hate you, the mail is cleared... you get the idea. Add children to the mix and this work expands exponentially. Even if you pay someone else to clean, cook, shop, nanny, there's still always unpaid work to be done in this area, not least coordinating, paying and instructing any paid workers helping out.
Readers can no doubt add more stuff to the list.

It bothers me that Kate's language is all about married women who she reckons sponge off men. It's almost as if it's in the wedding vows: "I promise to take as much as possible and give as little as I can get away with, at least until I'm likely to get a significant divorce settlement, at which point I will stop giving anything at all."

I don't know if I've ever seen a marriage that has worked like that, even the ones that have ended before death do them part. Maybe it's because I also don't know anyone who sends their children to Kings. Or has a 4WD and never goes off-road.


Sister Rose said...

But surely Cactus is allowed to have an opinion that is different from yours. Put mildly, she isn't the extremist in all this - THM is speaking from a minority point of view, most women I know would nod at CK than who subscribe to your point of view.

So be fair to Sister Kate, she speaks for us.

Beverley Smith said...

I like your insights and hope to cheer you up with international support for there has for some time been a movement among women to get government to value the unpaid care role as vital to the economy. The 'invisible 'work, not noticed in the GDP, has been noticed by feminist economists around the world and some governments are taking notice. NAW's slogan after all is to redefine' work' to say 'Every mother is a working mother". Marilyn Waring in New Zealand, Mary Mellor in the UK, Herman Daly in the US, Isabella Bakker in Canada all are pointing out to government that there is more to an economy than the flow of money at paid work. Clean air and clean water have value we can't ignore and so do children. They don't create money but they are vital to life. The caregiver role is also vital - someone has to tend the young, sick, handicapped, elderly and dying. If we ask government to do it so women can not do it and go out and 'work' for pay, then the bill to government would be astronomical. It is time for legislators to value the care role wherever it happens because that is the only way women, and men, can do all the roles they want, paid or unpaid. What you are writing about is a revolution in the definition of work and it is the final stage of women's lib.
I have put together some websites if you wish to check a few out. After http put
or or

Best wishes from Canada.

Lindsay said...

It's one thing for a husband (or wife) to financially support/share income with their spouse. But it is another for the state to be expected to play the role.

The first is a mutually voluntary agreement. In a good marriage or partnership, both parties see it as a win.

In the second there is a great deal of non-voluntary and non- mutual agreement. It cannot be achieved without the use of force.

The co-dependence between individuals is usually constructive. If it isn't it doesn't last.

When the state steps in it undermines that constructive co-dependence. That's why there are so many more broken or incomplete families.

Men and women need to start trusting and relying on each other more - not less.

Cactus Kate said...

I think if your role is defined as "wife" then you are a waste of space as you are a servant to another person. It's not very ergh...feminist is it?

Plenty of women can define themselves more widely than this and therefore I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THEM!

The article is about 4 x 4 offroaders. It is sexist, extremely so. But it also is very real in Auckland where the author has defined the column to originate from.

As for a woman owning a car, where on the face of this earth would for example, a Remuera housewife ever earn enough money to buy her own $200k+ Porsche model? Answer - nowhere.

If she was a solo Mum in South Auckland for example she'd have a beaten up 323 and this column would not have been written.

Julie said...

Sister Rose, how am I advocating that Cactus not be allowed an opinion? Disagreeing is not the same as silencing.

Thanks Beverley, I was aware of some of the work Marilyn Waring has done (and have tried several times unsuccessfully to organise speaking engagements with her!), and it's very useful to get a broader sense of what is going on from your comment :-)

Lindsay, not sure how you managed to turn this into a coded debate about the DPB. I thought we were already going there in another thread.

Cactus, I think you have a very limited idea of what the role of "wife" could constitute. I'd be interested to read your thoughts on what would you would see as a healthy and/or acceptable role for a woman to fulfill in a relationship, particularly if their were children, and likewise for men. I read a lot of negative views from you about how men and women shouldn't be, but would be genuinely interested in your thoughts about how things could work. At the moment I'm constantly reminded of George Clooney's Up in the Air character and his empty backpack.

Do you think that the Remuera/expat wives you criticise define themselves only as "wife"? Sounds to me like they would at least also think of themselves as "mother", as driving their kids around in 4WDs is one of the things you criticise them for.

As for the 4WDs themselves - I think they are a waste of space in the city and frequently curse them while I am driving. However that's a long way from using my annoyance at the ubiquity of a certain type of vehicle to have a go at women, yet again.

Lindsay said...

Julie, I am picking that Beverley is talking about some sort of universal wage for women. I should have addressed my comment to her. It isn't a job for the state (the taxpayer) to pay women for their 'unpaid' work.