SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Browse books and journal articles relating to this SDG below and find out more on the UN Sustainable Development Goals website.
Goal 5: Gender Equality
This chapter addresses the sidelining of organizing among migrant nannies in discussions of childcare struggles. There is wide variety in the make-up of the informal childcare workforce, including babysitters, childminders, nannies and domestic workers. In the UK, nannying is historically associated with the employment of British women by upper-middle-class families, and some type of childcare labour continues to be constructed as more respectable than domestic labour. In the USA, nannying is more common and, as an example of the ongoing impact of these hierarchies, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) definitions of domestic worker omitted care work until recently (Anderson, 2000). There are complexities in defining what counts as in-home childcare. The lack of data means that we know little about the composition of the nanny workforce in the UK and USA. In 2009, it was estimated that there were 63,000 nannies working in the UK (Adamson and Brennan, 2017). It is thought that the influx to the UK of migrants from European Union (EU) accession states after 2004 constituted a large proportion of women employed to care for children in private homes at a lower cost than the resident workforce (Anderson et al, 2006). Whereas the term ‘nanny’ used to be associated with a qualified childcare professional (Gregson and Lowe, 1994), more recently, it has shifted to refer to informally employed, low-paid childcare/domestic workers (Busch, 2012; Cox and Busch, 2016).
Spanning the United Kingdom, United States and Australia, this comparative study brings maternal workers’ politicized voices to the centre of contemporary debates on childcare, work and gender.
The book illustrates how maternal workers continue to organize against low pay, exploitative working conditions and state retrenchment and provides a unique theorization of feminist divisions and solidarities.
Bringing together social reproduction with maternal studies, this is a resonating call to build a cross-sectoral, intersectional movement around childcare. Maud Perrier shows why social reproduction needs to be at the centre of a critical theory of work, care and mothering for post-pandemic times.
This chapter1 outlines the theoretical framework for the book. My starting point is Patricia Hill Collins’ definition of black mothering as centring economic provisioning, othermothering and politicized mothering. The marginalization of this definition of mothering means that the maternal continues to be neglected in discussions of labour organizing and worker conscientization despite its long-established significance as a space of collective classed, gendered and racialized politicization. The consequences of this neglect are that the ties between how women have organized as mothers and as workers continue to be missed; these connections only appear once we start our analysis from the history of community organizing among working-class, migrant and racialized minority mothers. In turn, this means that the nursery needs to be foregrounded as a site of waged labour for women whose own mothering has historically been erased or subject to over-regulation. By connecting the community activism of women of colour and working-class mothers with childcare workers’ labour movements, I suggest how the concept of maternal worker addresses these limitations.
First, I outline how a social reproduction lens makes visible the devaluation of the unwaged maternal labour of lower-class and racialized minority mothers, and produces them as deficient and in need of disciplining. I then turn to studies of women’s community organizing to show that the depletion of women’s community activism and third sector over the last 40 years needs to be centred as the context for conceptualizing childcare movements.
Childcare labour continues to be some of the lowest-paid work in society and is disproportionately performed by working-class, migrant and racialized minority women. The large-scale entry of middle-class women into paid work continues to rely on the low value attributed to the labour of economically marginalized women who care for their children. Childcare continues to be subject to intense policy scrutiny from neoliberal governments, yet workers, especially those in the lowest-paid jobs in the informal sector, are rarely at the table in these discussions. The classed and racialized divisions in paid childcare continue to pose an ethical, practical and political challenge to 21st-century feminism. This book returns to a well-rehearsed debate about feminist divisions and solidarities by offering a distinctive framework that theorizes maternal workers as divided and yet connected through comparative case studies of contemporary childcare struggles in three distinct sectors. The biggest transformations to childcare provision in post-welfare neoliberal economies over the last 20 years are the increased share delivered by corporate chains (Penn, 2011), the increasingly minute amount of state-funded provision and increased public subsidies for private, in-home, unregulated childcare, often performed by migrants (Adamson and Brennan, 2017). The worsening conditions of childcare labour and its continued devaluation matters for the future of a broad-based social movement for childcare justice. Childcare Struggles, Maternal Workers and Social Reproduction builds a sociological schema that can both capture and contest these transformations to the social organization of childcare.
Denaturalizing mothering and socializing childcare require vocabularies that grasp both the implications of stratification and potential solidarity between childcare workers. The maternal worker framework uniquely centres waged and unwaged maternal labour. The fight for socialized childcare is constrained not only by its construction as a private responsibility that families must resolve on the marketplace, but also by our limited capacities to grasp these social relations through the labour lens. The model I develop modifies McAlevey’s (2016) definition of ‘worker power’ and her argument that social relations in the workplace and the community can act as a strategic wedge against capital. First, I lay out how maternal worker power challenges the ways in which the sociology of mothering continues to separate mothers from waged caregivers. I then outline how Susan Ferguson’s theorization of social reproduction struggles on dual terrains can best inform this project so that it does not put either waged or unwaged workers above the other. I develop a typology of maternal worker power as praxis, solidarity and threat and show how it can inform a new sociological research agenda. Finally, I develop a set of criteria for evaluating when childcare social movements can work as a threat by foregrounding how they prioritize claims on state resources, organize on dual terrains and hold states accountable for harm done through depletion. Grounded in my empirical case studies, the concept of maternal worker power extends the theoretical connections between labour, mothering and solidarity, and offers a roadmap for studying post-pandemic Global North childcare struggles.
This chapter investigates the effects of the reorganization of maternal care under austerity through the lens of depletion. The marketization of maternal care, socio-spatial urban inequalities and the cuts facing the third sector interacted as limiting structures that, I argue, constitute stratified forms of depletion. In contrast to the other two case studies that foreground worker-based activism, I show that third sector organizations, social enterprises and businesses that seek to improve mothers’ physical, psychological and social well-being play a significant role in shaping contemporary childcare struggles.
Most discussions of transformations of the organization of social reproduction have tended to neglect how civil society organizations currently provide ad hoc childcare and advocacy to parents living in the most deprived neighbourhoods. Through a comparative discussion of two groups of workers – one group employed in charities, social enterprises and local authorities to support disadvantaged parents, and another self-employed group who offer care services to women in wealthy and gentrifying areas of the city – I demonstrate how the deepening crisis of social reproduction in Bristol shapes the possibilities for building a citywide maternal workers’ movement.
Many of the maternal support workers I spoke with have politicized understandings of the sort of societies best able to sustain mothers. I argue that this maternal worker praxis explicitly confronts neoliberalism’s tendency to individualize self-care. The ways that charitable funding prioritizes mothers’ individual well-being, as well as the spatial socio-economic inequalities in the city, strongly constrain the possibilities for broad-based organizing around childcare and maternal support work.
Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. (Roy, 2020)
If universal public childcare haunted feminism pre-pandemic, its spectre has been more than revived by the pandemic. Despite the public expressions of support and empathy for some childcare workers and teachers from working parents, the pandemic context made observing the trials and failures of practising maternal worker solidarity more poignant. The narratives around the intensification of working parents’ lives during lockdown showed little to no awareness of its (dis)similarities with the triple shifts that low-paid mothers have long endured outside of pandemic conditions. The hypervisibility of childcare in public discourse during the pandemic is partly explained by the middle and upper classes experiencing a ‘real’ care crisis for the first time with little option to outsource this labour.
In Chapter 1, I argued that theorizing contemporary childcare movements requires attention to the connected ways in which childcare labour and maternal work are differentially devalued forms of social reproduction. This entails putting marginalized mothers’ organizing firmly back at the centre of childcare politics. This chapter draws on research on the Big Steps Campaign (United Voice, 2018) and interviews with Australian early years educators who walked out over equal pay repeatedly in 2017/18 and investigates the extent to which the campaign and walkouts are disconnected from earlier feminist attempts – especially black and socialist feminist mobilizing – to revalue and redistribute childcare.
The discontent of educators who work in nurseries and crèches in Australia has been gaining momentum over the last five years, with a nationwide campaign and four nationwide days of action since March 2017, when 6,500 educators walked out of their jobs, affecting 30,000 families across Australia (United Voice, 2018). Despite a wave of mobilization among childcare workers in many post-welfare states since 2015, at present, there are relatively few studies of early years educators’ strikes and industrial action (Ferree and Roth, 1998; Mooney and McCafferty, 2005; Reese, 2010; Black, 2018). The Australian Big Steps walkouts constitute an important case because up to 2018, childcare workers had rarely repeatedly withheld their labour in such large numbers in the context of low levels of unionization and anti-labour laws that limit industrial action.
Our premise for much of this book is that, when fathers share care for young children, this has the potential to be beneficial for them, their partners and families and, on a broader scale, for the alleviation of longstanding gender inequalities. Yet, in spite of gradual transformations in popular understandings of fathers as caregivers, the time mothers typically spend on periods of leave and juggling full- or part-time work with primary care responsibilities continues to generate disproportionate burdens on them and hamper the development of their working selves. While external forms of childcare can partially alleviate this, greater maternal participation in the workforce without reciprocal movement of men towards caregiving moves us towards a ‘universal breadwinner’ approach (Fraser, 1996) that embraces traditionally masculine understandings of career intensity and the ‘ideal worker’, while devaluing caregiving and, ultimately, leaving much of the burden for it with women anyway (Hochschild, 1989). In contrast, movement towards a ‘universal carer model’ (Fraser, 1996) characterised by greater sharing of both care and paid work by men and women has the potential to alleviate this maternal care burden while also addressing difficulties with high intensity work cultures and opening up possibilities for men to move beyond the shackles of dominant masculinities (Elliott, 2016). It is against such a context that this book has engaged with the journeys of heterosexual fathers who already have broken with established practice to take on an equal or greater share of early years caregiving for young children. Having carried out a detailed examination of existing literature on both fathering in general and ‘involved’ fathers, and explored the impact and significance of different policy approaches to paternal early years involvement, we went on to delve deeply into the experiences of a sample of UK fathers with a range of different approaches and arrangements to the sharing of care.
Interactions with other parents have long comprised a core part of the daily routine of many mothers who are primary caregivers for young children (Doucet, 2006a). Attendance at organised parent and infant events, children’s activities and a range of more informal gatherings in parks, shopping centres, cafes and in one another’s houses forms a key element of what Doucet (2006a) refers to as ‘community responsibility’ for the upbringing of children, while also offering crucial sources of company and support, not least in the first year of babies’ lives (Mulcahy et al., 2010). Indeed, such activities and connections, argues Doucet, can form a key facet of contemporary mothering (Doucet, 2006a). As we have outlined in Chapter 2, however, research has suggested that fathers who care for children alone on weekdays may engage less with such spaces and networks and that, when they do, reactions to them can be less than positive (Doucet, 2006a; Merla, 2008; Snitker, 2018) – with potential implications for the extent of the parental responsibilities they are taking on, their own wellbeing and comfort within their role, and the prospects of longer-term commitment to it. In the previous chapter, we argued that networking with other parents was one area in which differences between mothers and fathers continued to be played out among our sample of men who, in many other respects, had embraced interchangeable approaches to parenting. In this final empirical chapter, we examine the challenges fathers faced in these respects in greater detail, outlining how they often felt out of place within daytime spaces, their difficulties interacting with other parents, and the apparent isolation many were subject to on the days they cared for their children alone.