Traditional, Postmodern, CoW Modem, and Warm Modem Ideals of Care

Among the visual images of care in the modern Western world, a classic view portrays a mother ho’ding a child. Frequently, the mother is seated in a chair at home or in a dreamlike setting, such as her garden. ()ften found on old-fashioned birthday cards and in ads for yarn in women’s magazines, the image is a secular, middle-class version of Madonna and Child. The care­giver in these images is a woman, not a man. She is at home, not in a public place. Moreover, the caregiving seems natural, effortless. She is sitting, qui­escent, not standing or moving—stances associated with “working." She seems to enjoy caring for the child, and as the child’s face often suggests, she is good at caring. Thus, the image of care is linked with things feminine, private, natural, and well functioning, and evokes an ideal of care.

Drawn from nineteenth-century upper-middle-class parlor life, this image has been put to extensive commercial use. Corporate advertisers often jux­tapose the mother-and-child image with such products as health insurance, telephone service, Band-Aids, diapers, talcum powder, and a wide variety of foods.1 Our constant exposure to the commercial image of mother puts us at one remove from it. In a parallel way, the very term “care” in America suf­fers from commercial overuse, associated as it is with orange juice, milk, frozen pizza, and microwave ovens. Thus, both the image and word for care have come to seem not only feminine, private, and natural but emotionally void, bland, dull, even sappy.

In the small but growing feminist literature on care, scholars have begun to challenge the silence on the issue in much conventional social theory. Such writers as Trudy Knijn, Clare Ungerson, Kari Waerness, and Joan Tronto note that care is more central in the lives of women than men, since it is more often women who care for children, the sick, and the elderly. While early feminist scholarship focused on the exploitative nature of women’s traditional roles, recent feminist writers, as Kari Waerness puts it, “have struggled to redefine the possible grounds of feminist theory.” The quest for new “cultural grounds” coincides with a dilemma that many mod­ern women face. Waerness notes, “Women ., . are faced both with the task of caring for children, the ill, the disabled, and the elderly in the private

sphere, while at the same time trying to achieve more command over their own lives and a greater measure of economic independence.”2

But this is far from just a woman’s problem. Recent trends in the United States have expanded the need for care while contracting the supply of it, cre­ating a “care deficit” in both private and public life. In public life, the care deficit can be seen in federal and sometimes state cuts in funds for poor mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the elderly. In reducing the financial deficit, legislators add to the “care deficit.”

The care deficit lies latent behind a great deal of political debate. Those engaged in this debate in turn think in images reflecting four models of care.* These cultural models set down the basic terms of political debate about care and so deserve a closer look. The first is the traditional model, represented by the image of the homemaker mother. The second is the post – modem model, represented by the working mother who “does it all” with no additional help from any quarter and no adaptation in her work schedule. This image often goes along with a tacit lowering of standards of care, as well as making those lower standards seem normal. The third is the cold mod­em model represented by impersonal institutional care in year-round ten- hour daycare and old-age homes. The fourth is the warm modern model in which institutions provide some care of the young and elderly, while women and men join equally in providing private care as well. Each model implies a definition of care, as well as ideas about who gives it and how much of what kind of care is “good enough."