(Adapted and abridged from http://mujerdelmediterraneo.heroinas.net/2012/10/mujeres-cuidadoras-entre-la-obligacion.html ) (Translation: Maritsa Solares Rico)
Women Caregivers: Obligation and satisfaction
Caring is at the present time the most necessary action against patriarchal neoliberalism and inequitable globalization. And yet, today’s societies, like many in the past, undervalue care and relegate it to a natural condition based on social organisation and assigned to those seen as less necessary for economic production.
Nowadays, it is still mainly women who care for others (men, families, daughters and sons, relatives, communities, schoolchildren, patients, people with special needs).
The condition of caregivers gratifies women emotionally and symbolically in a world governed by money, the economic valuation of work and political power. The inherent value of money and power are questioned by the actions of caregivers. The prestige of caregiving, which is conceptualized as ‘maternal’, because it is associated with nurturing, does not serve women for their individual development and neither can it be transferred from the domestic sphere to the sphere of paid labour or institutional and political power. It is an altogether different type of prestige and a lesser one than that which can be acquired through a profession. It is a medal to living through and for others.
This formula equates women caregivers with abnegation and selflessness, that is, with the suppression of self care in order to care for others. This means that the use of women’s time, their best vital energies, be they affective, erotic, intellectual or spiritual, and the investment of their resources are used to benefit others. Therefore, women develop a subjective alertness to the needs of others while remaining deaf to their own, hence the often misunderstood female sorority and the relative abnegation of women in favour of the greater good. To complete the alienating picture, generic organization makes women politically subsumed and subordinated to others, and hierarchically in a position of inferiority in relation to the supremacy of others over them. Authorities turn them into a minority issue, depriving them of agency to speak for themselves under the guise of protecting them, all of which is done for political gain but not for social improvement nor the advancement of justice.
The transformations of the twentieth century fostered a greater gender syncretism for millions of women in the world: caring for others in the traditional way and, at the same time, achieving their individual development to be part of the modern world, through success and competition in the workplace . The result is millions of traditional-modern women trapped in an inequitable relationship between caregiving and developing.
The same patriarchal culture that builds gender syncretism fosters in women the satisfaction of the duty to care, presenting it as a natural duty of women and, therefore, their own desire while at the same time instilling in them the social and economic need to participate in educational, labor and political processes to survive in the patriarchal society of savage capitalism.
Thus, the desire of women is contradictory: it is shaped by such syncretism.
Contemporary men have not changed enough to change their relationship with women, nor their positioning in domestic, labor and institutional spaces. They do not consider it worthwhile to care for people because, according to the prevailing model, it means neglecting themselves: Using their time in the body-to-body relationship with another, abandoning their interests, using their personal resources, time and money on others. They do not accept two things: ceasing to be the centre of their lives, giving that space to others and placing themselves in a subordinate position with regards to others. This is because in the hegemonic social organisation, the person who cares is perceived as being inferior.
Care is therefore at the center of the gender contradictions between women and men and, in society, in the antagonistic organization between their spaces. Care as a gender duty is one of the biggest obstacles on the road to equality due to its injustice and the imbalance it creates. Hence, if we want to confront savage capitalism and its globalisation, we must break away from the naturalness of care according to gender, ethnicity, class, nation or relative position in globalisation.
We should strive first and foremost to acknowledge and assign value to the contribution of women’s caregiving to the development and well-being of others. Secondly, we should support an equitable distribution of care in the community, in particular between women and men. Lastly, we should demand the acknowledgement of caregiving as the set of activities and resources to provide each person with the necessary base for the development of their human capacities should be seen as the base for a fairer society.
I couldn’t agree more. I have always said that the problem with the move to equality between men and women is that “maleness” is still the standard, and women, if they want equality must achieve this standard. Those values that have historically been considered “feminine” are undervalued compared to those considered “masculine”. Yet there is no biological imperative that men cannot be as effective caregivers and nurturers. In fact studies show that boys are equally if not more emotional and sensitive as females prior to the age of about 15. The change in boys seems to be driven socially rather than biologically. I do think there is value into having balance either as an individual, or at a societal level. Where some have to devote themselves almost entirely to caregiving, while others devote themselves entirely to development and progress. But there is nothing that says these roles should be decided by gender, other than this is the way society has been set up.
In talking about this with a female friend of mine, she agreed and said: Yes if I were to build a society from the ground up, it wouldn’t look like what we have now.
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I don’t know exactly who said it but there’s a quote that says that women are already strong and that what we have to do is acknowledge that strength. Thanks for your comment. It’s great to get feedback 🙂
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Even if one sets aside the fact that women have endured millennia of gender oppression and somehow have not violently toppled governments, or feel the need to go around with AR-15 and shoot up workplaces and schools…women have endured much indignation…but that aside, after seeing my wife recently go through labor, to picture what it would be like if I got pregnant knowing that this pain was coming…I would be paralyzed with fear. I would be signing up for the c-section. Yeah…women are strong. I think even more than acknowledging the strength, I think we need to redefine what it really means to be strong. I feel like the hyper-masculine version of what it means to be strong isn’t the right one.
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Absolutely! Strength needs to be redefined. Some of the strongest people in terms of resistance, endurance and resilience I know are women. I ended a 23 year marriage because I realised that I had 3 kids, two that I’d given birth to and a third who would never grow up and was supposed to be my equal. Try as I might over years, I was expected to be wife, mother, coddler, confidante, and push, prod, cajole and nag, drag a surly ox and be responsible in every way for his health and his behaviour. This is something quite common to many women I know and also something that no one speaks of because, as with so many things, it is considered a part of being a woman, like childbirth. I also detest that when I comment something like what you said at the beginning of your reply, that women have not as yet taken to gunning down people etc., lots of men complain that women are more aggressive psychologically. They insist on making it about them. I end up refusing to comment.
Reblogged this on Cloak Unfurled and commented:
I agree with the ideas expressed here. Good food for thought.
Thanks so much for the reblog! I’ve been sorting the blogs I follow and will be reading more of yours.