8. Planners' plight

Working women/domesticated women
Opponents of wage-work by women frequently harken back to a 'golden age' of household suffocation and of sex roles sharply defined by patriarchal values. According to them most married working women work for frills. They work for a car, for owning a house, for a colour television set, or for a new refrigerator - classified as luxuries. They contend that women should give up such immoderation and devote themselves to being good wives and mothers.

On the other hand, champions of increased wage-work by women peer into the future and declare that, thanks to advanced technologies, household duties would soon be accomplished in a few minutes. They direct women that unless their children are of pre-nursery school age, they should be working, at least part time, in the business or profession they were trained for before marriage. Stories of "new" women feeling wasted outside of a job become the material of glossy magazines. The career woman has been made the most coveted image of "woman". Scholarly journals highlight the 'joys and thrills' of wage-work.1

They say that women of today want to be freed from the inferior duties of mother and housewife, in order to devote themselves to higher callings, as self-supporting and independent members of the society. Since these 'higher' callings, however, consist of monotonous labour in factory, store, office and other similar occupations, it is difficult to conceive how these tasks can possibly bring greater freedom and happiness.

The debates in the popular press maintain a studied silence about the fact that most women and their families can not survive without women's paid employment. Unless they seem exotic or especially pitiful, working class women attract no attention. Instead, the media has framed an image of a middle class majority who face relatively unconstrained choices about the labour they perform. It is such "free choices" rather than the realities of most women's lives that are highlighted.

Of Rights & Duties
Wars and other 'national emergencies' introduce their own vicissitudes and bring many an ironical situation into focus. During wars women are called upon for extensive volunteer work. Governmental agencies campaign to attract women to the workplace. Popular songs, newsreels, movies and newspapers tell women of their duty to go out to work. They drumbeat about women's emancipation and new women. At war's end the same propaganda machine reverses its gears to push women out of shipyards and airplane factories into lower wages and jobs with worse working conditions. Family values and women's traditional roles are high on the agenda. During economic depressions public opinion and governmental propaganda castigate married women who work on the grounds that they have no right to "take a job away from a man".

8.1 Family - thwart or support
The present system is based on the extraction of upto 99 percent of the total produce. This implies :

  • An increase in wage-work by women and men.
  • The breed of student-workers and child-workers multiplies.
  • Retirement effectively becomes a mere shift to lower paid jobs.

These result in the decline of the family.

For the planners, however, the family is an important bulwark of the present system.

Women's, and also men's work, at home provides unpaid labour for the reproduction of wage-workers. This work is important for the reproduction and the daily regeneration of a new generation of disciplined and useful work-force. As the working day lengthens these activities need to be paid for. This brings on a pressure for the increase of wages. The family is also the site where the dominant values of this society are taught - the twin manoeuvre of mother's tears and father's fear does more tricks than many other institutions put together.

Thus, the continuation of the present system simultaneously demands a weakening of the family and its perpetuation. These conflicting requirements of the maintenance of the present system, make the planners shift their allegiance from one horn of the dilemma to the other :
a call to save the family values, followed by an appeal to overcome family values.

8.2 Children: Avoid, train or employ
Government policies on the number of children in a family vary, alongwith perceptions of 'the national interest'. In some countries one or two children have been advocated by the state to be a service to the 'growth of the nation'. In other countries governments are worried over the low birth rates as a cause of low 'national growth'.

In China the government has terrorised the population to accept its one-child policy.
The Russian state was meanwhile busy instituting awards for alluring mothers into bearing a dozen children.
In India the forcible implementation of the two-child policy back-fired for the state.
Governments in Scandinavian countries do not know how to arrest the decline of birth rates.

Meanwhile, unable to look after the children themselves, working parents have to rely on under-staffed and over-crowded pre-school nurseries and creches. Even the minority who can afford to keep children at home, have to send them to these centres because nursery schools assume that children should have a pre-school education and have made that a criterion of admissions.

A worker who needed childcare for her infant son so she could go back to work was disgusted by what she saw. "What do you do, except quit and raise them yourself ?" says she. "For a lot of us, that's just not feasible."

Children in industrial centres had started calling their fathers 'Sunday Papa' in the 19th century. For today's children Papa and Mama are both available only on an hourly basis.

Strategists are worried about the losses caused by the absence of working parents from their jobs to care for sick children. Experts, being experts, are even more worried ; they say that addition to this is the lost productivity as parents reach late for work, leave early or are unable to concentrate because of problems related to children. Corporations with long-term strategies have taken the cue. Twenty-one of America's largest companies have announced an unprecedented six-year, $100 million effort to improve child care and elder care for their employees. These companies are renewing a smaller initiative launched in 1992. Participants include IBM, AT&T, Citicorp, Aetna Life & Casualty. Hundreds of smaller companies are expected to join the effort. They will help fund more than 1,000 projects over six years under an umbrella group called the American Business Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care.2

  • 1. See Veronica Strong-Boag,'Canada's wage-earning wives and the construction of the middle class, 1945-60'. Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 29, no.3
  • 2. Financial Times, Delhi, Saturday 7 October 1995.