Nancy Hirschmann writes:
Perhaps that is what care feminism really wanted all along, even though we don’t admit it: the idea was to promote the ‘right kind’ of care work, to promote the values we endorse, and to censure other kinds of caring.
I thought that was the point, actually. In order to change the world, we need to work from the outside in and the inside out. Restructure the institutions that have perpetuated inequality, and nurture and guide individual human beings to be more accepting, socially conscious citizens. Feminist citizens. Get them while they’re young! Retraining later in life is such a doozy.
As it stands, we can’t make people feel morally responsible for their actions. We can only impose financial responsibility. Making someone feel morally responsible is a slow process. It takes years to raise socially conscious and engaged citizens.
Care is an important feminist topic, but the whole world is falling apart at the moment, with crisis upon crisis just piling up. Focusing on care-work issues feels like worrying about taking our feminist vitamins instead of creating a tourniquet for our violently bleeding feminist leg.
We need to care for the world. Not just in the wiping-babies’-noses and swiffering-up-the-living-room senses. As feminists, as always, we have to juggle our tasks: attack the micro and macro simultaneously, but prioritize according to need.
I wish we had the time to concentrate on other old-school, bread-and-butter feminist issues like care that are still painfully relevant. But we have to take a deep breath and realize that retraining and re-socializing people takes time. We can supervise this long-term project—with some happy balance between coddling children and neglect—while we devote more energy to others.
In a perfect world, we would all work thirty-hour weeks and everyone would have enough time to spend with their children. We would all participate in community events that promote neighborly love and engaged citizenship while exercising our liberal individualism. Love and respect would abound, everyone would value education and child-rearing, and housework would be super fun for all.
What better way to delude yourself into thinking you are reacting to the problems of the world than to be a stay-at-home mother?
For now, these items have to go on the back burner. Being feminists does not exempt us from being environmentalists, anti-war advocates, anti-racists, anti-classists. Caring about defeating one bad “ism” is usually an opening for caring about many more.
In her article, Hirschmann briefly mentions the connection Susan Faludi makes between the “opt-out” phenomenon and “cultural shifts stemming from the 9/11 attacks.” I agree. For the first time, we were fragile on our own turf, attacked on our own soil. We had fully embraced the myth that the United States was loved by all, and we were stronger than and set apart from all others. Isolated. September eleventh was a real eye-opener. Or at least a potential eye-opener.
For a moment after 9/11, we, as Americans, seemed so tender. Like we were actually making eye contact and connecting during everyday interactions. Relating to each other in a different way. A caring way.
Instead of learning from the experience and realizing that we are part of a global network, and that our actions do not always garner worldwide support, many Americans took the opposite route and went deeper within themselves. And what better way to delude yourself into thinking you were reacting to the problems of the world and giving back than to perform one of humankind’s most classically “selfless” roles: be a stay-at-home mother.
When you concentrate on so small a region, and you devote yourself entirely to your household and your particular children, your children become basically an extension of yourself. The most selfless role becomes nothing more than a selfish display of ego. People find comfort in traditional roles, but the retreat to the private, especially now, reeks of privilege. Times are tough. Incredibly so.
There is no excuse for withdrawing into isolated domestic bubbles. After all, we are hardly dealing with the isolation that ’50s housewives faced. We have modern technology that not only reduces the labor and time housework drudgery demands, but also connects us to others and has the power to grant a greater perspective.
So, yes, we need to care less. We need to care less about ourselves, and more about the world.