“WHO WILL DO WHAT MOTHER DID?"
Working mothers face the daunting task of balancing work and family life, often in the absence of two things—partners who share work at home and a workplace that offers both parents flexible hours. Such women are caught in what I have called a “stalled gender revolution." It is a revolution because in two decades women have gone from being mainly at home to being mainly at work, tt is “stalled" because women have undergone this change in a culture that has neither rewired its notion of manhood to facilitate male work-sharing at home, nor restructured the workplace so as to allow more control over and flexibility at work.
Caught in this stall, women have litde time to care for their children and elderly parents, much less a sick neighbor, a depressed friend, a divorcing
co-worker. Few can find time to volunteer at a homeless shelter. The private “supply” with which conservatives would answer the growing needs for care is largely made up of women caught in this stalled revolution.
Couples I describe in The Second Shift were struggling over who did how much of the “caring” for the home and children.18 Care for the home was a tension point in their marriage. Frequently the couple disagreed about how much care each should provide, did provide, and in what spirit. Often they disagreed over how much really needed to be done. Men who fully shared the “second shift” often wished their wives were more grateful to them for being such unusually helpful husbands, especially when they got no praise from the outside world for doing housework. Wives who cut back their work hours to contribute more at home wanted their husbands to appreciate the sacrifices they were making at work. On both sides, hurt feelings over insufficient gratitude were rooted, I argue, in the low value placed on the caregiving work “mother used to do.”
Of the husbands I interviewed, one out of five fully shared the care of children and home with his working wife. Of the 80 percent of husbands who did not share—but offered “help” with chores and childcare—over half had felt pressure from their wives to do more, but most resisted. Some working-class mothers pressed their husbands by indirect means. They got sick or played helpless at paying bills, shopping, and even cooking and sewing, because, as a one wife stated with a wink, “My husband does it so much better.”
Other working mothers used direct means—dramatic confrontations or serious discussions. Met with intransigence, some wives staged “sharing showdowns.” They went on “strike.” They refused to cook. They let the laundry pile up. One mother even left a child waiting to be picked up at school when she knew her husband had forgotten. Another started charging her husband by the hour for work at home beyond her rightful half. In these ways, wives tried to force their husbands to do more but often failed to do so. Neither partner could afford the emotional “luxury” of a marriage free of a struggle about care. In the absence of wider changes in the culture of manhood and the workplace, twoqob couples were suffering a microversion of the care deficit.
The present challenge, it seems to me, is to increase the supply of сак – while retaining women’s hard-won gains at work. But, to pursue this goal, we must sensitize ourselves to competing cultural images of care, for it is in (Inpersuasive power of these images that the struggle will be won. The couples I studied seemed to reflect four different images of care, which I prescn I here as “pure types,” though the views of any one person are usually a blend of several. These models also appear in public discourse on social policy and so provide a tool for decoding that discourse. Kach model — iradilion. il. postmodern, cold modern, and warm modern— is a response (<> (he <aie
deficit. Each raises different questions and places a different value on care. Each also competes with the others for cultural space in both private and public discourse.
The traditional solution is to retire women to the home where they provide unpaid care. Traditional discourse centers on the topic of where a woman should and shouldn’t be—and caretaking is often incidental to the question of her proper role. Indeed, this “solution” basically calls for the wholesale reversal of industrialization and the de-liberation of women. Because men are removed from the realm of care, and care is retired to the devalued, premonetized realm, homemakers become a “colony” within an ever more male modem state—which has the power to impose its cultural hegemony.19
The advantage of this model to men is that women would do the caring work and the care itself would be “personal.” The disadvantage is that powerful long-term trends are moving in the opposite direction and the vast majority of women would probably resist. As the economy has grown and families have shrunk, more women want to work outside the home; need the money; desire the security, challenge, and community; and aspire to the identity provided by a job. For women, the question is, “Do I really want to be a housewife?” And even if they do, in an era in which half of marriages end in divorce, the next question is, “Do I dare plan to do this all my life?”
In contrast to the traditional, the postmodern solution is to rid ourselves of the mother-and-child image, replace it with nothing, and claim that everyone is happy anyway. In this scenario, we leave matters much as they are—with women in the labor force and men doing little at home. We imate the care deficit by reducing the range of ideas about what a child, wife, husband, aged parent, or home “really needs” to thrive. Indeed, the words "thrive” and “happy” go out of fashion, replaced by thinner, more restrictive notions of human well-being implied by the terms “succeed,” “cope,” and “survive.” Popular psychology and advice books often glamorize a life for women that is relatively free of the burden of this care.
The culture has produced new images for childhood and old age that correspond to this picture. An Orwellian “superkid” language has emerged to normalize what commentators in the recent past labeled neglect. In a 1985 Neiv York Times article on new programs for latchkey children, a childcare professional is quoted making the case for the phrase “children in selfcare” rather than “latchkey children,” a term coined during World War П when many children whose mothers worked in defense industries went home alone wearing a key to the house around their necks. “Children in self-care” suggests that children are being cared for—but by themselves, independently.29 The popular film Home Alone portrays a boy around eight who is accidentally left behind as his parents set off on a vacation in France. The child breaks open his brother’s piggy bank to buy himself frozen pizza
and fends off robbers—triumphing happily, independendy, without anyone’s help.
The advice book Teaching Your Child to Be Home, by the psychother
apists Earl A. Grollman and Gerri I,. Sweder, tells children, “The end of the workday can be a difficult time for adults. It is natural for them to sometimes be tired and irritable…. Before your parents arrive at the Center, begin to get ready, and be prepared to say good-bye to your friends so that pick-up time is easier for everybody.”21 Moreover, the psychotherapists severely advise children, “Don’t go to school early just because you don’t like staying home alone. Teachers are busy preparing for the day, and they are not expected to care for youngsters until school officially begins.”22 In another brochure designed for parents who leave their children in “self-care," Work and Family Directions, a nonprofit agency, presents a model “contract”— like a legal document but framed in a lace design—to be signed by parent and child concerning the terms of self-care.
The elderly, too, are increasingly portrayed as “content on their own.” An American television advertisement showed how the elderly can “happily” live alone now in the company of a portable electronic device that they can push to signal an ambulance service in case they suffer a heart attack or fall, lake the term “children in self-care,” the image of the “happy” older person home alone can become a disguise for postmodern stoicism.
Pressed for time, many of the two-job couples I studied questioned the need for various kinds of care. One husband said, “We don’t really need a hot meal at night because we eat well at lunch.” A mother questioned the meaning of cooking green vegetables when her son disliked them. Yet another challenged the need for her children’s daily baths or clean clothes; “He loves his brown pants; why shouldn’t he just wear them for the week?” Along with understandable revisions of old-fashioned ideas of “proper care,” this line of thinking can lead to minimizing children’s emotional needs as well. The father of a three-month-old child in nine-hour daycare said, “I want him to be independent.” I’n the postmodern model, these reductions raise no eyebrows.
In die public sector, too, some new practices fit the postmodern model. The current practice in many hospitals of sending new mothers home the day after they give birth or sending patients home soon after serious surgery is postmodern. Eager to reduce costs, many insurance companies support ten-session psychotherapy instead of the longer time such therapy would need to be truly helpful. Above all, the failure of the American government to create a family policy that protects children and supports women is the ultimate expression of the postmodern model.
Fearful that traditionalists will exploit people’s distress in order to return women to the home, some authors argue in part, “Stop feeling a loss. Don’t feel nostalgic for the intact homes of the 1950s. You’ll never get them back, and they weren’t better anyway.”23 This critique of nostalgia is needlessly confused, I think, with the implicit postmodern message “Care, we don’t need that much of it.”
The advantage of a postmodern solution is that it is all too easy to implement. We only have to continue life as it often is, to make a virtue of current necessity, and say, I’m fine. I don’t need care,” or “They are fine. They don’t need care.” The crucial disadvantage, of course, is that despite the wondrous variety of cultural ideas about “needs,” we still do need care, and it takes a vigorous emotional effort to repress the wish to care or to be cared for.
The postmodern model places the least value on care because living within this model we learn to repress the very need for care and the problem of making that need visible is itself erased. Those who have to take care of unsuppressible needs anyway come to feel angry and resentful at the invisibility of their task. The social context—the care deficit—is culturally transformed into a psychological issue: “Can 1 manage my emotional needs to match the minimalist norms of care? ”
! he cold modern solution is to institutionalize all forms of human care. How much of a child’s day or older person’s life is to be spent in institutional care is a matter of degree, but the cold modern position presses for maximum hours and institutional control. Its premise is that what need for care we have can mostly be met outside the family. Don’t rig it so that families can do more. Rig it so families can do less. An example is the Soviet model of 7:00 a. m. to 7:00 p. m. daycare, with alternative weeklong sleep – over childcare available as well. The public debate reflecting this position often centers on what means of care is the most “practical, efficient, and rational,” given the unquestioned realities of modern life.
Advocates of the cold modern ideal can be found among corporations that w’ant to minimize the familial demands upon their workers so as to maximize the workers’ devotion to the job. Some American companies have expanded daycare hours for “weekend workers” and have summer programs that keep children in daycare year-round. While such long hours are still uncommon for very young children, some workers—especially harried professionals and managers, now “working scared” under the threat of layoffs—are tempted to turn to cold modern solutions.
According to the cold modem scenario, an increasing amount of life for both women and men goes on within the cash economy, with daycare and nursing homes, sick care, and meals-on-wheels programs for invalids. Such programs are taking on more formerly private care. In contrast to the postmodern solution, here we are invited to believe that human beings need care. But in contrast to the traditional solution, nonfamilial institutions provide that care. There is no “colony of care” entrapping women at home. Men and women don’t struggle over who takes care of the kids or do much care work at all. The tension point in this solution is between would-be and actual providers of care. The basic question for parents who put their children in daycare and middle-aged people who put elderly parents in senior citizens homes is: “How genuine or personal is institutional care?”
There is a fourth, warm modern ideal of care. It is modem because public institutions have a part in the solution and it’s warm because we do not relinquish all care to them. It’s also egalitarian because men and women share in what we do not relinquish. In contrast to the postmodern model, notions of need are not reduced or denied, so caring is recognized as important work. In contrast to the cold modem solution, it calls for fulfilling these needs, in part, personally.
Of the four models, the traditional turns to the past, the two “modems” turn toward the future, and the postmodern makes a virtue of “grinning and bearing it” in the painful transition between the two. Of the four, only the warm modem ideal combines characteristics of society that are both warm and modem. It does so by calling for basic changes in both men and the structure of work. The warm modem model thus implies three arenas of struggle—male participation at home, time schedules in the workplace, and the value placed on care. While feminists are no less confused than anyone else in their thinking about care, probably most of us advocate a warm modem ideal, however hard it is to achieve in reality.
Nations, as well as individuals, adopt cultural models of care. Faced with a similar care deficit, developed nations have responded veiy differently. Switzerland and Portugal have tended toward the traditional model. The United States is moving steadily toward a synthesis of the postmodern and cold modem models, while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark still lead the world in establishing a warm modem model.24
What predisposes a society toward a warm modem model of care? Three factors are key. For one thing, an economy that depends on female labor: economic strength in male-dominated industries and alternative sources of cheap labor in female-dominated industries incline a society to retire affluent women to the home and establish the social desirability of this “alternative” for women. For another thing, one needs a public culture of care: a culture of extreme individualism, such as that in the United States, may legitimate individual rights, including the right to care, but discourages collective efforts to help provide it. Also, the stronger and more coordinated the warm modem model’s “interest groups,” the better its chances of winning.
The interest groups here include both paid and unpaid providers of care. For both the cold and warm modem models, the transfer of caring work out of the home to the public realm is viewed as positive (they differ in how much to transfer). But both modem models call for upgrading the status of public caregivers. If daycare workers or nursing home attendants are to upgrade the value of their work, they have to further “professionalize.”25 To
do this, they need well-organized occupational groups to establish control over accreditation, monitor the entrances and exits of people from the field, and lobby for other measures to increase the public’s appreciation for their emotional labor.
For advocates of the warm modern model, there is another task— upgrading the value of care in the private realm.21’ As the kin system weakens, informal support for carers may be waning. From whom does a single mother get thanks for her work at home? Who supports an unmarried or remarried father for keeping in touch with his children? Does a stepparent get recognized for taking good care of stepchildren or former stepchildren? For the warm modem model, these questions matter hugely.
In the end, each ideal of care implies a different view of the caregiver and so implies a different “trickle-down effect” to the cared-for. The more helpless a child or the more frail an older parent, the more keenly they sense the extent to which they are a “burden.” The cultural politics of care touch the cared-for most of all. This is a politics, then, on behalf of those most in need. Also at stake, of course, is the value placed on gender equity. In a warm modem society, a government would not unload a host of social problems at the doorstep of housewives because that’s not fair. At the same time, men would share the care of the young and the old not simply because it’s fair but because it’s important.