Friday Feminist – Germaine Greer (3)

Women are the labouring sex. From the time girls are very small they learn that work is what time is for. Comparison of women’s work-load with men’s is difficult because a good deal of women’s effort is not even recognised as work. Time spent with the children is not classified as work, although the mother does not use it to read the paper while the kid crawls between her legs, but to teach her child to speak, to advance its social skills, to answer its questions, to deal with its preoccupations, to prepare it for school activities. A woman who bears a child does so knowing that any leisure time she might have had in the past is effectively cancelled for the next sixteen years yet, if she is not earning pay of any kind, she will appear in statistics as idle, economically inactive

Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman, Doubleday, 1999


8 responses to “Friday Feminist – Germaine Greer (3)

  1. If by ‘work’ she means something we don’t like doing, or doing for others, maybe looking after the kids is work if she doesn’t like looking after the kids. But if it is enjoyable and comes naturally by what right do we call it work? It’s not a paradigm case of work. To let the definition of work float so free of paradigm cases that any non-leisure activity counts as work deprives the feminist statement of much of its force. In other words, maybe we don’t call looking after the kids work is that for most women it is not work.

  2. That last comment was by me, Ken, not Dot.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I keep coming back to basic outrage about how little womens work in the home is valued. If a woman complains of her workload she is told she’s not coping and to go back to ‘real work’. Of course then she would still carry much of the household work as well as paid work.

    I feel there should be more support for women/men staying in the home – not financial so much but just support that they too are valued citizens and ‘real people’. I have heard the term/person ‘housewife’ so maligned in recent months. Its incredibly demoralising.

  4. Level of enjoyment isn’t used to define whether or not something is work in any other area Ken, so I don’t see why looking after children should be an exception. Many people in paid employment enjoy their work sometimes, and find it stressful or boring other times. Hands on parenting is much the same. The defining point is that if you have children you are parenting pretty much all of the time, whether you’re in the mood or not. Some days I would prefer not to talk to my kid, I would quite like some peace and quiet, but he needs interaction, so I talk to him anyway. On the days where I don’t particularly feel like doing whatever it is that needs to be done with my kid I suck it up, because it is my job, I implement all the stuff I’ve learned by reading (professional development) and thinking strategically, and I get us all through the day. I take issue also with your idea of women’s work being something that can come “naturally”, it isn’t, it comes because women are trained their whole lives to do it, and if they aren’t trained to parent (because they grew up in an institution for example) they have to do lots of work to learn how to parent. Just because you don’t learn how to do it at uni doesn’t mean you inherited the skill along with your hair colour.

    This evening I am looking after our son, and knitting socks, and my partner is upstairs on his computer (doing stuff that earns us money). By your definition only one of us is working, but he is currently the one who is enjoying himself. I am too tired, and this, incidentally, took me about twenty minutes to write, because I have had too many distractions and demands to count.

  5. Kate – thanks for writing what I wanted to.

  6. Thanks from me too, Kate. That was exactly the point I have been turning over in my head today, but I haven’t had time to get to the computer to write it.

  7. Kate. I didn’t mean to suggest that looking after the children cannot be work. I just wondered what it was that made it work. And apart from sometimes being a non-leisure activity and being for something for others, and being something some people don’t want to do, it doesn’t have many of the hallmarks of work (like payment, a formal setting, a career structure, worker/boss relations and so on).
    This is a debate about work, and unrecognised work and scoring points between men and women about who does the most work, so what we call it is important.


  8. “like payment, a formal setting, a career structure, worker/boss relations and so on” – these are signifiers of professional employment, but not work as such. One might work at ones place of employment (or one might not, if one has managed to fly under the radar of the boss), but all work is not professional, and it never has been.