Capitalism's Crisis of Care
October 3, 2016 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Sarah Leonard: "What is social reproduction, and why does it lie at the core of your feminist analysis?"

Nancy Fraser: "Social reproduction is about the creation and maintenance of social bonds...."

"One part of this has to do with the ties between the generations—so, birthing and raising children and caring for the elderly. Another part is about sustaining horizontal ties among friends, family, neighborhoods, and community. This sort of activity is absolutely essential to society. Simultaneously affective and material, it supplies the “social glue” that underpins social cooperation. Without it, there would be no social organization—no economy, no polity, no culture. Historically, social reproduction has been gendered. The lion’s share of responsibility for it has been assigned to women, although men have always performed some of it too."
posted by anotherpanacea (29 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Terrific piece.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:56 AM on October 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Very interesting and insightful, but if social reproduction means relying on family and friends there have to be some issues, don't there?

She says, perhaps rightly that feminism inadvertently facilitated a move to a situation where you need two earners to support a family, that it 'provided some charisma, some ideological ballast'. I can see that ('Hey, now women can work we don't need to give men enough money to support a family'), but isn't there a danger that rhetoric about social reproduction will similarly provide some ideological camouflage for withdrawing state support? ('Hey, now we're building the big society you ain't gonna need welfare')?

I'm not deeply read about this, so enlightening explanations would be welcome.
posted by Segundus at 3:56 AM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Neo-liberal feminism is my least favorite form of feminism, though it's better than no form of feminism (right?)
posted by ccaajj aka chrispy at 4:44 AM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Neo-liberal feminism isn't really feminism, to my mind. A feminism that advocates for women (of only some races and classes) is missing the point in a big way, or, rather, it's cloaking class and race privilege in a feminist coating. Upper-class women have often had significant prestige and autonomy from their class, although less than upper-class men; ignoring the former is a good way to betray the latter.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:51 AM on October 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think Fraser threads the needle:
Neoliberal feminists are feminists, by the way; we can’t say they’re not. But in that strand of feminism we see feminist ideas simplified, truncated, and reinterpreted in market-friendly terms, as for example, when we come to think of women’s subordination in terms of discrimination that prevents talented women from rising to the top. Such thinking validates the entire hierarchical corporate imaginary. It legitimates a worldview that is fundamentally hostile to the interests of the majority of women, indeed of all people throughout the world. And this version of feminism provides an emancipatory veneer for neoliberal predation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:24 AM on October 4, 2016 [26 favorites]


How do ideas like this get translated into action, currently? I sometimes think that there are people doing really good analysis and even some creative thinking, but the next steps (really considering which ideas are workable, comparing them to other approaches, creating and maintaining organizations to implement them, actually getting funding and making phone calls and creating positions so people can do the work of making these ideas real) are not happening very much.

We read these articles, people discuss them, we get a little piqued, but then we don't know what to do with that energy. Just saying "elect the people who are receptive" isn't nearly enough. Even if they are elected, they need more in order to be able to improve anything.

I know that there are advocacy organizations that exist, but that's not what I'm talking about. Not advocating, but actually doing. I get that there are underfunded government programs, but I'm talking about newer hand-to-the-plow stuff coupled with working-the-kinks-out stuff.

There are probably smaller local efforts to fill specific "caring" niches, which is good; I'm really thinking about groups getting together to answer questions like "how do we solve this in a way that is sustainable over the long term, is flexible enough to accommodate different people being different, and will work with other sustainable solutions?"
posted by amtho at 6:05 AM on October 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


But that puts it in a catagory of feminism that is hostile to the vast majority of women, though. For example, Neoliberal* feminists often seem onboard with the idea that women deserve all the reproductive health that their money can buy, an attitude that works equally well with Gilded Age Capitalism. At some point, "feminism" becomes so watered down that it's not about women at all and rather serves to support the Patriarchy's status quo -- I think that place is when social justice gets lost, but pointing to an exact moment is hard. I'm really uncomfortable with this line of thought; as a man, I don't think I should be defining boundaries of feminism, but it seems so removed from the feminism my mother raised me in that... well, I don't know.

* when I type neo-liberal, autocorrect tries to make it bro-liberal, which is evocative of something.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 AM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


How do ideas like this get translated into action, currently?

I think praxis is part of the answer to this question.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:22 AM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


The idea that single income households were historically a norm is getting either class or history wrong (if not both).
posted by idiopath at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


The idea that single income households were historically a norm is getting either class or history wrong (if not both).
And culture, for that matter--single income households being a very specific sort of ideal particular to a particular culture, class, and time period. I can think of other cultures at other historical times where in no class was it an ideal for women to not be working in some fashion.
posted by sciatrix at 6:45 AM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


The idea that single income households were historically a norm is getting either class or history wrong (if not both).

Fraser never claims single income households as the historical norm. She says that dual income households are the most recent norm of modern capitalist societies, predated by two periods, "separate spheres" and "family wage", when single income households were cast as the ideal.
posted by scantee at 6:59 AM on October 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


but isn't there a danger that rhetoric about social reproduction will similarly provide some ideological camouflage for withdrawing state support? ('Hey, now we're building the big society you ain't gonna need welfare')?

I believe her point is that government funding/support is necessary to make caring work happen (or rather, that funding it should become one of the priorities/natural functions of government, instead of being pushed off on an unpaid/underpaid labor force largely composed of women).

We use government to pay for things we value; armies, roads, schools. Caring work deserves to be included/woven into that group in a more just and equitable way. It can mean hiring more people to do some of it and training and paying them well; it can mean paid parental and familial leave so families can care for each other; it can mean state-funded daycares to get kids ready for school and allow parents to work. All of those are "welfare" if you like. All of them are necessary functions of society.

I think of it as like firefighters; in the past, you hired private companies or else put out your own fires. But keeping fires in check generally, and creating more fire-safe buildings, is important enough to the functioning of society that it requires government.

So is caring work; but the blinders of sexism/oppression of women/exploitation of their labor have kept us from seeing it. We assume "someone" (a woman, generally) will "take care of it" without any thought to what that entails.
posted by emjaybee at 7:02 AM on October 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


here's a fun neo-liberal feminism puzzler.

You hear a lot about the "wage-gap" between men and women and if you listen to say, Hillary Clinton, you will hear her speak up for reducing that wage gap. But what she means is reducing the gap between what female and male corporate lawyers make or female and male doctors make, etc. But if you look at wage data for everyone, by far the largest gap between the wages of men and women comes from job category. Jobs that women traditionally take are paid far less, and women are over-represented, in general, at low wage jobs. However, the other side of this is that the wage gap between, say, male nurses and female nurses is far *smaller* than the wage gap between male and female hospital execs: the more money you make, the larger the "pay gap" between men and women.

But, when Clinton talks about reducing the wage gap, she very carefully says "between men and women in equivalent jobs," which ends up being a way to transfer money to the highest earning women. Whereas, policies to reduce inequality of wages for everyone would disproportionately benefit lower-earning women and women in general. But, "reducing the pay gap" is a feminist issue, while "inequality" is a brocialist issue.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:07 AM on October 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


"inequality" is a brocialist issue

So if I care about it, I'm a "bro"? Nice.
posted by thelonius at 7:16 AM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Emotional labor is a term social reproduction subsumes to serve a critique of capital that is appropriate from a professor of philosophy and politics and many of the assertions are homologous to Marxist ones, beginning with:

Without it, there would be no social organization—no economy, no polity, no culture.

And at a full run with:

Struggles over social reproduction are virtually ubiquitous. They just don’t carry that label. But if it came to pass that these struggles did understand themselves in this way, there would be a powerful basis for linking them together in a broad movement for social transformation.

I'm excited to read what's addressed and what ennui.biz has posted. Where the author draws a focus is necessary.

But I took issue with:

...we ended up unwittingly supplying some legitimation for it. We provided some charisma, some ideological ballast to others’ agendas.

The 70s brought unprecedented autonomy to women through wages and will be repeated through much of the developing world. There's a fair amount of focus on family in this piece, and what I believe in missing is a treatment of the vital role of DIVORCE.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I really dislike the way these conversations turn into "feminism: ur doin it rong."

Focusing on gender inequality without looking at other sources of inequality may be problematic in some ways, but it's a strategy that's historically been adopted for a ton of reasons, one of which being that efforts by feminists in the past to focus on broader issues have, at times, backfired. (The sufferage movement can't be understood, for example, without remembering that efforts by female abolitionists to expand voting rights to both blacks and women resulted in the 14th amendment, which explicitly excluded women from the voting population.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:54 AM on October 4, 2016 [13 favorites]


But, when Clinton talks about reducing the wage gap, she very carefully says "between men and women in equivalent jobs," which ends up being a way to transfer money to the highest earning women. Whereas, policies to reduce inequality of wages for everyone would disproportionately benefit lower-earning women and women in general. But, "reducing the pay gap" is a feminist issue, while "inequality" is a brocialist issue.


Oh cut it out. You think Clinton is totally cool with maids being paid less than janitors? She not only calls out how much worse the pay gap is for latino and black women, she calls out how it disproportionately affects low-income workers.

From Time on Income Inequality Day:

"Clinton also reiterated that while women broadly make around 76 cents for every dollar that a man makes, women of color are often disproportionately affected by the wage gap: black women make only around 60 cents, and Latina women get only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man. And women are over-represented in service industries, she noted, which often make less than minimum wage because of the tipped-wage model.

“You can be paid far less than the minimum wage if you’re a waitress, a bartender, you work in a hair salon — you can be paid as little as $2 an hour,” she said. “That puts so many women in a powerless position, they can’t stand up for themselves, they can’t speak out, because they’re dependent on the goodwill of their customers and managers.” Two-thirds of tipped-wage workers are women."

I get that Marxist theory seeks to upend the whole structure of capitalism and that working to improve current conditions is accordingly inadequate. But what are we supposed to do in the meantime? Just shut up and accept that I'm going to make less than my male counterparts in an equivalent job? Sexism is not any less unfair when it happens to middle class women than lower class women.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 8:55 AM on October 4, 2016 [20 favorites]


Focusing on gender inequality without looking at other sources of inequality may be problematic in some ways, but it's a strategy that's historically been adopted for a ton of reasons...

but it's not a question of focus on gender inequality or not focusing on gender inequality. despite the support of a national nurses union, Sanders really managed to flub this. income inequality, as I pointed out, is a massive feminist issue. now, I don't think Sanders is a particularly insightful politician, but the problem is that no one in the professional classes, male or female, wants to hear the message that their pay should be closer to that of the people who clean their offices or maybe even the same! they may nod their heads in the abstract, but only if someone else pays the cost. so, Sanders can't get up on stage and say "nurses aides should be paid the same as nurses, nurses should be paid the same as doctors" or "your cleaning woman had just as much right to a stylish and attractive condo as you do, even if she didn't go to college". and that's really the issue with the "pay gap" between men and women. women work a whole host of low paying, low status jobs, and no one is willing to stand up for nurses aides or cleaning crews, or cafeteria workers and say "these women deserve every thing that software engineers or doctors or lawyers get." it had to be couched in the abstract "inequality" and even that rhetoric was labeled "brocialist". and why did the Clinton campaign do this? because well paid, college educated professional women, like Fraser, don't want to pay the costs, and lose the privileges, of going towards a society built around equality rather than "opportunity", any more than their better paid male counterparts.

if some women are able to scale the highest heights, then it's ok if the bottom is pushed into misery.

it's funny. social reproduction is framed by Fraser in terms of ultimately ephemeral social relations, but the bedrock (and material) relation that defines women in society is child bearing and no one, frankly, is willing to talk seriously about actually socializing child rearing. on the one end, the cost, in a capitalist society, is huge and on the other end it requires a truly radical restructuring of what is reproduced as "society".

the entering of women into the wage earning work force is probably the biggest economic, social, and cultural event of the twentieth century, but the politics of this have to be just as large...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:01 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


...no one, frankly, is willing to talk seriously about actually socializing child rearing. on the one end, the cost, in a capitalist society, is huge and on the other end it requires a truly radical restructuring of what is reproduced as "society".

4-hr pre-school through 8-hr primary and secondary went a long way...Do you mean cooperatives? Eliminating markets from childcare and still provide it? Both and whatever I am ignorant? I agree it's not seriously framed other than sensational phenomena like OctoMom. Citing extensive schooling returns me to the article-- how "success" turned into dual-incomes and 1.5 hours a night with kids between dinner and homework. sorry for the typo with your name

MUCH of the world budgets by extended family. The whole "nuclear" model cratered over the past decade as 20 somethings "failed to launch". It's unpopular to state, but the western, suburban model isn't the most profitable for transnationals now expanding through low-margin consumables among larger, developing populations.

posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:34 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


it's funny. social reproduction is framed by Fraser in terms of ultimately ephemeral social relations, but the bedrock (and material) relation that defines women in society is child bearing and no one, frankly, is willing to talk seriously about actually socializing child rearing

I've said this before and it always gets the round of eye-rolling it presumably deserves, but this is the opposite of the right answer. the solution is to bring child-bearing (let's not skip right over that to child-rearing as if the inequalities are not connected) fully into the market economy. Hiring surrogates should be the solid norm for absolutely everybody except the weirdo hobbyist population who can do as they like. this will be a huge change from now, when it is the solid norm for men only.

Under current conditions, when men desire to have biological children, a few of them hire surrogates for fair pay while every other man expects to have that surrogate labor provided to them for free, by a woman who is attached to them by affective bonds and thus does not draw wages or complain about the fact. Professionalize it and treat the expectation that women will gestate their own children as a crank notion along the lines that a proper woman will do her own taxes instead of hiring it out (i.e. fine if you feel like it, completely pointless if you don't.)

Laboring to bear children is hard, dirty, and dangerous work and there may never be enough women willing to perform it professionally to satisfy the demand. however, this will A. help with overpopulation and drive up surrogate wages and B. make it more feasible to provide the required full government subsidies to prospective parents who cannot afford the costs of hiring someone for what will be very highly paid work.

then, once the physical labor of childbearing is both re-valued and decoupled from the social work of mothering, parenting among heterosexual couples can be restructured into egalitarian shared work with much greater ease. No more "well, you already did all the work of giving birth so it only make sense you'd quit your job and do all the miserablest infant care work of the first three years."

problems solved! more or less. doesn't even require any magic, just taking women's physical labor seriously.

(oh wait)
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:17 AM on October 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is one of those rare conversations where I ask myself, what about the men?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:25 AM on October 4, 2016


problems solved! more or less.

That sounds overly prescriptive though I get what types of solutions you are going for...And while it makes me personally feel uncomfortable (for reasons I don't fully even understand) I believe I get the picture you are painting and it does seem like a rather just and pragmatic view of how to structure human reproduction in modern capitalist societies.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:25 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


[sigh] I wish she had resisted the urge to drag this year's two Democratic candidates for President into this as examples.
posted by desuetude at 11:17 AM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


That sounds overly prescriptive though I get what types of solutions you are going for

It does rely on social pressure but infinitely less than what we have right now, a situation where a woman who wishes children but will not bear them and cannot afford to hire it out or adopt can never have them. No man can say the same because no man who wishes children is required to use his own innards to construct one himself. Even those few men who have the means to do so are not expected to. this state of affairs is backed up by prescriptivism so strong it's dressed up as Nature's Way. which it is, but only because we allow it and enthusiastically collude with it.

plus I'm not going for some kind of organized shunning of women who want to bear children to themselves without getting paid for it. heck no. alls I want is the kind of snide metafilter-esque sighing we usually apportion to men who pickle their own artisanal moustaches because they have too much free time on their hands.

wouldn't say no to the good old uterine-replicator future people like to pretend to believe in, but it is never going to happen that we fund and build expensive machines to do what women can be induced to do for free right now. [1] whereas my dreamworld requires nothing but buy-in from enough people. even women alone could see it through if enough of us wanted to, but it would require a critical majority of women to value class freedom over definitely having a baby. and since I was born with that prioritization in place, I am not one who knows how to go about convincing others.

[1] the roomba does exist so maybe I am wrong. but artificial uteruses are a lot harder to make, nobody is up for baby experimentation trials, and they will probably be stationary devices so nobody is going to get rich making videos of their cats sitting on them.

anyway, point is, you have to make it more expensive -- but mandatory -- to compensate women for their gendered labor before enough people get interested in finding an alternate way around having women have to do such labor at all. goes for more things than just reproduction (e.g. the original emotional labor essay notion was centered around COMPENSATION and as soon as it made its way around the internet to here there and everywhere, that central conceit was abandoned as thoroughly and enthusiastically as possible. Even/especially people who found it to be a terrific new rallying slogan did not seem too interested in what was the crux of the original joke/point.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:34 PM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


social reproduction is framed by Fraser in terms of ultimately ephemeral social relations, but the bedrock (and material) relation that defines women in society is child bearing and no one, frankly, is willing to talk seriously about actually socializing child rearing

I don't understand how you can say this when literally her first description of social reproduction in the second line is: "birthing and raising children and caring for the elderly." It's not about ephemeral "relations" but rather bedrock material effortful labor and work.

Then she goes on to talk about what organizing around these issues looks like:
There’s a tremendous amount of organizing and activism going on, a lot of creativity, a lot of energy. But it remains rather dispersed and doesn’t rise to the level of a counter-hegemonic project to change the organization of social reproduction. If you put together struggles for a shorter work week, for an unconditional basic income, for public child care, for the rights of migrant domestic workers and workers who do care work in for-profit nursing homes, hospitals, child care centers—then add struggles over clean water, housing, and environmental degradation, especially in the global South—what it adds up to, in my opinion, is a demand for some new way of organizing social reproduction.
She's literally trying to reorganize our thinking about these disparate projects so we can get clearer about the underpinnings and how they differ from the neoliberal sort of feminist project of recognition for exceptional and high status women.

And why shouldn't, say, anxieties about water in Flint be at the heart of what a materialist feminism worries about and works on? What's more materialist than lead in the water and the attendant health threats and financial expoitations it produces?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


but artificial uteruses are a lot harder to make, nobody is up for baby experimentation trials,

The feels I have about this are intense and deep. I wish so hard I could carry and deliver a child. But that's a whole gender minority conversation I'm not so sure is germane to this discussion in any meaningful way.

If we could decouple the uterus from "being a woman" and somehow make that an optional body part...a lot of people in very similar shoes as mine would be validated in very deep and meaningful way, and we could probably restructure reproduction along a more equitable transactional model that doesn't come pre-loaded with patriarchy as default.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I have a hard time with the idea of bringing reproductive labor "fully into the market economy" just because I don't see how that works without exacerbating inequality. Why would we expect government subsidies for surrogacy etc. to happen under the present political-economic system, when we can't even get adequately-subsidized daycare in a lot of places? To me it seems more likely that this would be just another boot on the necks of the lower classes -- working-class women either forced to do their own reproductive labor without compensation while being sneered at by the professional and upper classes, or squeezed even more to pay someone else to do it (probably to a lower standard, which is more dangerous to the woman doing the work).

That said, I'm 100% into treating reproductive labor as labor -- recognizing it as such,* professionalizing it so that women aren't required to "gestate their own children," and as long as we're under capitalism, compensating it accordingly, i.e. extremely well. I think I would like the world you describe, just quibbling about getting there. (And thank you for mentioning how compensation has dropped out of talk about emotional labor!)

* I'm reminded of a pretty great comment by You Can't Tip a Buick about how the pro-life stance demeans the real, material, biological labor of childbearing.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 1:13 PM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, Nancy Fraser is really sharp:
In fact, neither nature nor social reproductive capacities are infinite; both of them can be stretched to the breaking point. Many people already appreciate this in the case of nature, and we are starting to understand it as well in the case of “care.” When a society simultaneously withdraws public support for social reproduction and conscripts the chief providers of it into long and grueling hours of paid work, it depletes the very social capacities on which it depends.
I see this as a good candidate for a larger theoretical context for Metafilter's deliberations on Emotional Labor.

I might point some of the arrows of causation in different directions than she does, though, but I don't yet grasp what she's saying well enough to know.

In terms of cultural projects, I see maintaining male control of women -- most crucially reproduction and sexuality -- as a much higher priority than capitalism or indeed anything to do with money.

Therefore, I think the decline of a wage by which a single earner could support a family was and is driven by women's emerging legal and social right to get away from men they no longer want to be involved with, and work to raise any children they may have more or less on their own, because if they then can't make enough to support a household, those rights cannot be exercised. And the general unwillingness of many men to raise children they didn't father has reinforced that.

But now, women are gaining the legal and social right to marry other women and form a household without penalty or stigma whether in the context of a sexual relationship or not, and male control of women is breaking down in a way it never has before.

So what's the cultural response?

Trump.

Trump is the response; and his treatment of women, as owned and wholly controlled subordinates, far from being an incidental and merely repellant aspect of his personality, is the essence and deepest wellspring of his appeal.
posted by jamjam at 5:02 PM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


The fact that gestation involves both transformations and stresses on your body (you end up a chimera, with the fetuses' DNA in your body forever; your internal organs are literally never the same; there is a high chance of undergoing severe pain and months of bodily discomfort; even if you're healthy, you could actually die) puts surrogacy into an arena way beyond even something like, say, selling a kidney, which we also tend to disapprove of because of complex ethical reasons.

I actually have a friend who was a surrogate, twice, to a friend of hers, but that was rightly regarded as heroic on her part, not as a trivial business transaction. I also know people who have paid surrogates to bear for them, and while I admire their love for their kids, the fact that they are white, the surrogate mother was not, they were rich, and she was definitely not, raises a host of red flags to me.

The point of this article was partially that white Western women have only been able to succeed by stepping on all other women and paying them to perform as parents, to the detriment of their own children; I can't see that extending that to gestation itself is any kind of an improvement.
posted by emjaybee at 8:59 AM on October 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


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