ON THE PERSONAL SIDE
This, then, was my first discovery that my thoughts—over the years—have focused on various facets of care. But in thinking about these essays, I also began to wonder what hidden compass in my own personal life might account for my strong interest in care. And there I made a second discovery. Like many white middle-class women of my generation, I became a “migrant” in the 1960s from the emotional culture of my mother to that of my father. My mother was a full-time homemaker who raised my brother, Paul, and myself, volunteered for the PTA, and helped start a preschool program in Montgomery County, Maryland, all the while supporting my father’s career as a government official and diplomat. It was she who deciphered some intention in our chaotic fingerpaintings, and she who reassured us that scary monsters go “back home” so we could sleep in peace at night. She gave us many gifts of love, but each with a touch of sadness.
When I was around ten I remember jumping off my school bus in the
afternoon, dashing up the hill in front of our house, flinging open the front door, bounding up the stairs, knocking on my mother’s bedroom door, and entering to find her lying in bed, mild in manner, pleased to see me, I think, but was it an effort to be pleased? I couldn’t tell. She was the one in charge of me, and she seemed sad about it. When I remember my father, I picture him skip-stepping down a long flight of stairs in front of our house, whistling a jaunty tune, facing away from the house and from us. My father seemed the happy one, but he wasn’t the “caring” one. So my mother was the sad caretaker and my father the happy non-caretaker, or so it seemed.
When I compared my mother to the stay-at-home moms of my girlfriends in the suburban world of Kensington, Maryland, in the 1950s, I felt very lucky. Jan’s mother would ridicule Jan in front of me. Susan’s mom, a heavy-set woman in a muumuu, would shuffle into the kitchen to tuck away a wine bottle, surprised Susan was home “so soon.” Penny’s mom was like a drill sergeant. No, I had it good.
But my best friend, Janet Thompson, had a wonderfully twinkly, welcoming mom who seemed to like being a mother. When 1 occasionally stayed for dinner, Janet’s cute baby sister Betsy would set us all to laughing. Seated in her highchair, all messy, Betsy would authoritatively babble some babyjoke of hers. Mrs. Thompson would laugh at Betsy’s jokes without getting them, and that would seem f unny in itself. I hen she’d laugh inclusively, invitingly, and soon waves of tearful mirth rippled around the table. It was happy laughter—easy, spontaneous, infectious, a new emotional continent. And if I were to name a moment when I began to wonder about the connection between caring for children and having fun, and about the feeling of enjoyment itself, it would be those evenings at the Thompsons. But it took living in my house, with my slightly sad, meditative, highly intelligent mother to get the idea that I could think about feelings and not just feel them.
My mother’s moods led her to see the world darkly, but the very darkness of her vision allowed her to penetrate other people’s psychic defenses and predict events with uncanny accuracy. The white-coated, positivist social scientists whose dubious predictions 1 was to solemnly study in graduate school would have sold their objectivist souls to bottle her magic. She could tell that my grandmother would soon become sick, that my aunt might just burn down her house, that our peaceable dog would soon bite someone. She read emotions the way doctors read x-rays. So my father, brother, and I listened respectfully to her dark hunches, because there was usually something to them. My older brother and I fought incessantly, my father was preoccupied, and all my other relatives lived far away. So my mother was it, my center, my source of warmth and concern. All would be well, I thought, if only I could use my own magic to decipher her and cheer her up. And these became my twin missions.
I could cheer her up some, but it was harder to decipher her. I knew that
my mother loved my father and he very much loved her. I would overhear them laughing and sensed in their teasing and joking a sensual connection. So, as a child, I concluded that mother wasn’t sad about her husband, just about her motherhood. The German psychoanalyst Christa Rohde-Dachser speaks of the “female depressive solution"—the woman’s renunciation of her own needs in order to focus exclusively on the urgent needs of others. Rohde-Dachser joins these two improbable words “solution” and “depressive,” proposing the fascinating idea that one problem could be the solution to another. But when I was a young girl, my mother’s depression didn’t seem like a “solution” to anything. It was a void.
Meanwhile, armed with his confidence, clarity, ambition, and joy, my father daily set off to an office job somewhere that I imagined to be serious, interesting, and important. Early on, I developed the simple, mistaken, idea that staying home to care for children was sad and going to work was happy. Each had its own emotional weather. If my mother had had a career, I reasoned, she would have been happy, the way my father was. And so would I. So while as a young girl I prepared for motherhood, endlessly dressing and undressing Yonny, a large rubber doll, a gift from my grandmother, I also vowed that when I grew up I would make a beeline for that skip-step, happy – whistle career.
I don’t want to lay too much on this. Many children of depressed mothers become waitresses, chiropractors, or roller-derby contestants, and not sociologists preoccupied with care. And there are many other reasons, beyond the scope of this introduction, why sociology as a way of seeing has felt so right to me. Needless to say, too, I by no means believe that it inher – endy depresses a person to care for another. On the contrary. I’m simply explaining why I haven’t taken it for granted that care brings joy.
Like most women over the last three decades, I left that care-oriented world of my mother without quite departing and joined the career world of my father without really setding in. I inhabited both spheres but held citizenship in neither. Only with the collectively born insights of the women’s movement of the 1960s and x 970s did I come to recognize an enormous problem in the colonial arrangement between the “metropolis” of my father’s world and the native village of my mother’s. Just as the low price of sugar rips off the Third World fanner w7ho produces it while benefiting the f’irst World consumer, so the undervalued labors of the homemaker enable her husband to have his more highly valued career. If happiness derives in part from feeling valued, it occurred to me, we need to create new supports for valuing care—through well-paid childcare or gender-free homemaking. In my own life I wanted to be that social support for my mother, and while escaping her life, 1 also secredy planned to rescue her by haring my career for her. She encouraged this. But in the end, of course, it couldn’t make her happy. Instead, it led me to write the essays in this book.
Some colleagues I respect consider it risky to link a personal journey to an intellectual interest because doing so reveals a personal “bias.” If by “bias” we mean “a mental leaning or inclination”—which is one definition Webster 5 New World Dictionary suggests—then yes, it does. The self is an instrument of inquiry. In the end we have no other. To understand the childhood origins of an intellectual passion is to understand the possibilities and limitations of that instrument, the better to see what other instruments one needs to know the world. But such subjectivity—what, it turns out, drives us—does more than just that. It shapes what we expect and wish, and so it shapes how the world surprises us. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty observed, every time we see, we compare? A wall is more or less white than another wall we can see or imagine. So, our subjectivity, with the wealth of comparisons it implants in us, transforms us into tourists of ourselves, visitors of the odd sights of everyday life. It removes the dull sense that anything at all is obvious. Every social scientist has his or her subjectivity; the question is how we use it.
In his essay “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy,” Max Weber traced the “hair-line which separates science from faith.” 5 We rightly rely on values, he suggested, to decide what it is we need to understand and to determine the purposes to which findings are put. In between these two stages, Weber posits a value-neutral middle stage of “finding the truth.” Here he thought values were a source of bias. But in my own view, the urgent dilemmas of childhood set up a quest that inevitably backlights our findings, so we need to run our hunches through every kind of test. We need to continually question our values. But I don’t see how we can “find this truth” without guidance from them.
And so it’s been with me. During my first year of graduate school in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, like so many other women students I pored through Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and concluded that my mother had what Friedan calls the “problem with no name.” Having herself come of age and earned a college degree in the “flaming twenties,” my mother had settled down to married life in the mid-iqgos and was still at it in the postwar 1950s. One social class up from Rosie the Riveter, she was educated to play a public role she never played. She felt stuck.
How could women such as my mother feel discontent, but misunderstand the powerful cultural source of it?5 And how does the misrecognition of a feeling alter the authenticity of it? Can it do that? How does culture— through setting out “rules” of feeling—establish what we imagine we “should” and “shouldn’t” feel? How do we reconcile what we think we should feel with what we think we do feel? And so began my quest into feelings and feeling rules.
I did not have those famed library “aha!” experiences first-year graduate students are supposed to undergo as they open up tomes by Weber, Durkheim, and Marx. But the power of their ideas came upon me gradually as I began to grapple with one or another face of the care gap, and it is reflected in the essays here. Weber’s thinking is crucial to “The Commercial Spirit of Intimate Life and the Abduction of Feminism,” Durkheim’s to “Emotional Geography and the Flight Plan of Capitalism,’* and Marx’s to “Love and Gold."
All along, !’ve been deeply influenced by Erving Goffman, whose many works—particularly The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Asylums, Stigma, and Encounters, as well as his essay “Footing” in Forms of Talk — reflected the poignant vulnerability of the marginal man and woman. But Goffman gave us actors without psyches. His characters had feelings—that’s what і loved about them—but we couldn’t know, from Goffman, where those feelings came from. And so, still mulling over my own mother’s experience of caring for me and her own private “care gap," I turned to Freud, Darwin, Max Scheler, and the anthropologist George Foster among others for help in grasping the social aspect of emotion. I began to think more about a sociology of emotion. And it was through this lens of the sociology of emotion that I came to understand this greatest social revolution of our time—the one that so divided my life from my mother’s—the revolution in the role of women.
Women like myself have very much wanted to be equal to men in public and private life. But this desire raises the question: equal to what? Equal in what culture of care? Like immigrants moving from country to city, many women have emigrated from the culture of our mothers to that of our fathers. But what of the language and love of that old mother culture, imperfect as it was, have we been able to keep and share with men? What have we left behind? Does what we have feel right? On what basis do we tell?
The immigrants I am describing here move between gender cultures that are powerfully linked to a sense of self One sixty-five-year-old man I recently interviewed who had devoted much time, effort, and love to caring for an eighty-seven-year-old godmother said to me matter-of-factly, “If a man is caring for others, calling, shopping, visiting, it shows the world he has failed as a man,” “Failed as a man?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied with great feeling, “He really has failed as a man.” If this man can’t care for an elderly woman (as this man so movingly does) without giving up the sense that he is a “real” man, how can women who delegate to others the care of their children and parents feel like “real" women without suffering some ambivalence? Just as peasants having newly migrated to the city* sift through their indigenous culture, keeping some elements, discarding others, so over the last decades of American life both sexes have been searching through old cultural markers of the “real self," and weighing the emotional price of each “keep” and each “drop.” Care: we haven’t worked it through yet.
For all the migrations in this gender-revolutionary century, care still remains largely in women’s hands. “Women,” according to Robert Putnam, “make Ю” 12 percent more long-distance calls to family and friends than men, are responsible for nearly three times as many greeting cards and gifts, and write two to four times as many personal letters. Women spend more time visiting with friends, though full-time work blurs this gender difference by trimming friendship time for both sexes, . . . Even in adolescence. .. women are more likely to express a sense of concern and responsibility for the welfare of others by doing volunteer work more frequently. Although American boys and girls in the 1990’s used computers almost equally, boys were more likely to use them to play games; girls more to e mail friends.”6
But caring has become increasingly associated with “getting stuck” outside the main show. When in the mid-nineteenth century, men were drawn into market life and women remained outside it, female homemakers formed a moral brake on capitalism. Now American women are its latest recruits, offered membership in the public side of market society on the same harsh terms as those offered to American men. The result makes for a harshness of life that seems so normal to us we don’t see it. We really need, I believe, a revolution in our society and in our thinking, one that rewards care as much as market success, one that strengthens a nonmarket public sphere—like the old village commons. For the very balance we strike between market and nonmarket forces is itself a stand on care. I mean these essays to open a door to this revolution.
I love to interview people, discover my ideas as I do it, and often reflect back on particular encounters months, years, even decades later. Virtually all the essays collected here reflect my recent thinking and so all of them go beyond what I have written in my other books. I’ve divided this book into five sections. The main points of focus are culture (part 1), emotion (part 2), family and work (part 3), care (part 4), and a personal essay touching on all of these (part 5). Each part gathers essays that focus on one facet in a larger portrait of personal life under American capitalism. Each facet is distinct, though some facets appear in the territory of others. Ї invite the reader to browse and read according to interest, or sample one essay in each part, and with any luck, one essay will point to another. Indeed, the reader will find overlaps. In a number of essays I describe women’s move into paid work, remark on popular advice to women, and refer to Thorstein Veblen’s 1914 essay The Instinct for Workmanship and the Industrial Arts. I’ve left these repetitions because they are touchstones to thinking that moves in each essay along different tracks, and because each time I tried to take them out it felt like I was unraveling a sweater.
These essays do not do full justice to the rich racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual diversity of women’s experiences, or men’s, but I hope that some of the ideas—the economy of gratitude, emotional labor, displaced love as a global commodity, to mention a few—will be useful in future work that explores that diversity. In the end, I offer these essays as so many lanterns to shed light on what’s happening to care in everyday life under global capitalism.