When performed by married women in their own homes, domestic labor is work—difficult, sacred, noble work. Ann says Mitt called it more important work than his own, which does make you wonder why he didn’t stay home with the boys himself. When performed for pay, however, this supremely important, difficult job becomes low-wage labor that almost anyone can do—teenagers, elderly women, even despised illegal immigrants. But here’s the real magic: when performed by low-income single mothers in their own homes, those same exact tasks—changing diapers, going to the playground and the store, making dinner, washing the dishes, giving a bath—are not only not work; they are idleness itself.
So there it is: the difference between a stay-home mother and a welfare mother is money and a wedding ring. Unlike any other kind of labor I can think of, domestic labor is productive or not, depending on who performs it. For a college-educated married woman, it is the most valuable thing she could possibly do, totally off the scale of human endeavor. What is curing malaria compared with raising a couple of Ivy Leaguers? For these women, being supported by a man is good—the one exception to our American creed of self-reliance. Taking paid work, after all, poses all sorts of risks to the kids. (Watch out, though, ladies: if you expect the father of your children to underwrite your homemaking after divorce, you go straight from saint to gold-digger.) But for a low-income single woman, forgoing a job to raise children is an evasion of responsibility, which is to marry and/or support herself. For her children, staying home sets a bad example, breeding the next generation of criminals and layabouts.
brilliant. please go across and read the whole thing.
also, i linked to this report on women's leadership in asia (pdf) on my own blog yesterday. it's also worth a read. a few key findings from the executive summary:
- The gender gap is closing on health and survival, educational attainment, economic opportunity, and political empowerment. This implies that the women of Asia can leverage rising personal endowments as well as increasing structural opportunities for
future leadership. Family and dynastic factors have also catapulted some women in Asia to the highest levels of political leadership. Indeed, Asia has seen more women heads of state than any other region in the world. Asian women have also joined the ranks of the world’s most rich and powerful.
- the countries of South Asia, which perform worst in overall gender equality and women’s attainment, actually lead among the top five countries in political empowerment (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India); number of women in parliament (Nepal, Pakistan); number of women ministers (Bangladesh); and women leaders in subnational government (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). This contradictory picture is partly due to the region having the most number of women who have become heads of state because of family and dynastic connections (and not because of greater gender equality). Moreover, affirmative action has significantly increased women’s representation at different levels of government.
- the relationship between human development and women’s leadership is not directly proportional. Some economies in Asia with the highest human development rankings (e.g., Japan and South Korea) also perform most poorly in some measures of women’s leadership (e.g., women in senior management, women on boards, wage equality, remuneration and political empowerment). Others, such as Singapore and Hong Kong SAR, China, continue to have significant gender leadership gaps despite their high human development.
- To address cultural and social norms that impede women’s leadership, a broad campaign is needed to educate people and push for change in the valuation and perception of girls and women. Three shifts need to happen: 1) societies must perceive girls to be as valuable as boys; 2) societies must view women as having roughly similar abilities and potential to lead as men; and 3) societies must be more open to gender roles that involve women leading outside the home and men doing more in the home.