Home Care and Feminist Economics

… a Reflection for International Women’s Day
(c) 2017, Davd

CBC News reports today with some sympathy, demands that U.S. women refuse to work today, for pay or at home. “We are the backbone, the lifeblood of what makes our economy and our political system function,” Rahna Epting, chief of staff of a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, is quoted as saying. “Without us, these things would stop and life stops.”

Pregnancy would stop, yes—and it is ironic that the “right” to abortion on demand is one of the main Feminist goals. But home care, in the personal and in the “housework” sense—no. Paradoxically, home care might cost less in this Feminist century, if men did all or most of it.

In an “Analysis” column on the CBC News website, business writer Don Pittis stated: “Unlike banking and gold mining, child-rearing and looking after grandpa are dismissed by conventional economics as completely different from money-making services.”

False.

Child rearing, “care” provided to children who will never grow up, and senior “care”, are paid work for hundreds of thousands of people, imaginably millions; and the vast majority of them are women.

Hundreds of thousands of others, a larger fraction of them men, provide similar, unpaid care to relatives, friends, and occasionally strangers.

Among those who i have known personally, my father comes first. During my boyhood he went to his mother’s house, about three miles from his own [where i also lived, then] at least twice a week to help her with household tasks she no longer had the strength to do herself. During the growing season, i often bicycled there to mow her lawn and tend her gardens. I don’t recall either of us ever being paid; often i got some kind of treat, such as ice cream and a jam-like topping, when the work was done.

My mother, when her father became unable to live alone without help, in the house where he had reared her, “put him in a facility”. When my father was dying of stomach cancer, it was my sister, with my backing, who had to apply moral pressure to get her to care for him so he could die at home rather than among strangers.

My late sister’s husband and son provided many hours of “home care” during the months when she was dying. The priest of the church i usually attend, did likewise for his wife… all three of them unpaid.

Two of the happiest old men i’ve met this century, were Benedictine monks. They were cared for by the Brothers in their cloister—in the sense that the younger and stronger Brothers did all the heavier work. One of the two, aged 91 if i recall correctly, sat at the reception desk in the monastery’s guest house: It was light work, offering him plenty of time for prayer and reflection; but it was contributory work, and his presence there freed a younger Brother for more active tasks.

A friend i met last autumn cares for his elder sister, sometimes for the sister’s daughter [his niece], and volunteers at a care facility in town, spending some 20 hours per week serving mostly women. He is past 70 himself. Another new friend is chef of the kitchen at a seniors’ clubhouse, putting in about the same amount of time, also unpaid.

One woman in particular, wife of a friend in the ecoforestry movement in Atlantic Canada, cared for her aged father for many months, unpaid, and also worked as a Practical Nurse. My sister cared for a handicapped child until his teens. Women are involved in caring for those who cannot care fully for themselves; the difference in my observations and experience, is that a clear majority of the women are paid1; a greater majority of the men—all those i know personally—are not paid.

That’s Feminist economics from where i sit: Pay the women, expect the men to volunteer. It represents one man’s observations (and experience, including as a single father) and those of other men might be different. What my observations and experience say, what should stand until others provide better facts to refine and correct them, include:
‣ Men do nurturing, more often than we get credit for doing, and usually we do it well;
‣ More women do nurturing for pay; fewer as volunteers2;
‣ Volunteers of both sexes do better nurturing, because we know our beneficiaries better and we like them better.

“Blog” is short for “web log,” and “log” represents notes like a ship’s steersmen write in its journal, not raw material for sawmilling. (I’ve done a little work of both kinds.) This blog is very much in line with that definition: Notes from my observations of and experience with home care, shining some light on questions of gender equality and who does the necessary work of subsistence.

This little light of mine shows me that men can and do cook, clean and nurture. We might more often cook for pay, than women, but definitely more often nurture as volunteers. Some important ecological stewardship work demands physical strengths that are vanishingly rare among women but fortunately for hopes of ecological stewardship, much commoner among men. Pregnancy is
entirely women’s work; and with baby formulas well developed, the only entirely women’s work left.

Feminist economics has succeeded to such extent already, that women are more rewarded relative to work done, than we men. A morally superior Women’s Day action, would be to follow Susan Pinker’s lead and advocate for equal opportunity. My estimate is that men and boys would have more catch-up support coming, than women and girls.

Truth before emotion…

Notes:

1. In preparation for cataract surgery this year, i was directed to purchase expensive “eye drop” medication and, counting both before and after surgery, to administer a total of approximately 250 “drops” to my eyes over approximately 60 days time. When i heard this directive, i could not recall having administered “eye drops” to myself in the past 40 years—perhaps never. As an ecoforestry worker, i had developed a strong avoidance reaction to anything approaching either eye—in a forest, something approaching an eye is most likely a branch or an insect, both of which are to be avoided!

One week before surgery, four days before the first medication was to be “dropped”, i went to the “Alberta Health Services” front desk and said, “I’m due for cataract surgery in a week and need to be taught how to apply eye drops to myself five times a day.” Then i did what the women running the office told me to do. I called a telephone number where another woman asked me questions which i answered until she told me that a Home Care worker would contact me that week. Not to go to extremes of detail, i was expected to wait for aides to administer the drops, from one half hour before scheduled times to one hour afterward, which was something like House Arrest given they were to be administered at 4-hour intervals.

Of 8-10 different Government “home care aides” and nurses, all were women. (I did not meet nor speak to any men during my experience with Government “home care.”)  An older nurse stated that the usual drop droppers are “Home Care aides”; and most recipients are shut-ins.

Within a week, i was administering the drops to myself. Of those who administered them to me, the best was probably a tie between one nurse and my [unpaid] son who had been a Canadian Forces Reserve “medic”.

The “care” i experienced showed a tendency to treat all patients as if they were incompetent, especially by those “with some rank”. The surgeon’s front desk assistant, who i would guess has a nursing credential, was a very helpful exception; she told me in less than one minute, criteria for whether a drop was sufficient, that were adequate and clear.

Many of the paid “Home Care aides” and nurses, do good work and treat the patients they assist humanely. A few, as news stories occasionally report, are cruel, callous, more rarely murderous.

2. This statement is ambiguous and i realize that it is. Definitely, more women than men do nurturing for pay. “Obviously”, more women do nurturing for pay than nurture relative strangers, as volunteers, while more men nurture relative strangers, as volunteers, than are paid for it. Whether more women or more men nurture relative strangers, as volunteers, i shouldn’t say for sure; because a majority of my friends and close kin, are men.

 

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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