By Stella Robertson
I was around eight when I first began noticing the way most of the grown women in my life behaved. As I sat in my cousin’s kitchen, my aunt cooking dinner while my cousins and sisters sat waiting patiently. “You lot better calm down, dad’s going to be home soon” she’d tell my cousins, and there was calm – as if those words were some kind of magic spell entrancing them to do as she says. My sisters and I naturally followed suit. The click of the front door opening and the sound of my uncle made my aunt put down her pot, and walk towards him, fixing her hair as she did so. She kissed his cheek and took his coat while he took a seat at the table. Hunger gnawed at my stomach as she placed a piping hot bowl of soup in front of him, before serving us children. This may be a familiar setting for many people, due to similar situations often broadcast on both adult and children’s television shows, depicted in films, and narrated in books which show women carrying baskets filled with laundry, cooking in the kitchen, and cleaning their homes. With almost 25 per cent of mothers in the UK still acting as stay-at-home mums, our society has clung to the impression that it is a women’s duty stay at home, take care of the children, and look after the house while her husband goes out to work. Frankly, I could never understand this.
By the mature age of 12, I was labelling myself as a feminist. I couldn’t understand women in traditional households who fulfilled the role of ‘housewife’. I could not comprehend why a woman would choose to stay home rather than be independent and earn her own money. But isn’t this a misogynistic view that people may have? There are a variety of different reasons why women choose to stay home rather than work.
When humans were in the earlier developmental phases, we lived mostly in clans, and did not have patriarchal family units. Before this point in history when patriarchal family units became the norm, and before the concept of the gender roles that we have become so congealed in, we were very similar and equal to one another. However, this way of living, which was not uncommon, changed when people began co-living in a matriarchal society where the clans were led by the eldest woman. There have been countless communities that have been led by women, such as the Eureka Indians who lived on Duluwat Island before they were pushed out of their home by white settlers in 1860, and the Mosuo women of China, who to this day have a society in which women reign supreme. While the women would run the clan, the men would go and hunter-gather for the rest of their tribe. Living in these matrilineal clans was very different to the society that we currently live in, as each child was raised by the entire community as opposed to the traditional family structure that we have.
“It provides the child with a very different view than the one that those having grown up in a patriarchal society would have”, says Donald Donato, a researcher from the Centre of Marxist Education in Massachusetts.
It is from here, that when the shift was made into a patriarchal society, it was women who stayed in the home and took care of the children. The shift was caused by men creating currency and trading when they were hunter gathering for their tribe, and so the stigma of women staying home whilst men went out to work was created. And the stigma has stuck. For over 12,000 years.
“Because of the nature of labour, the way we work and the way we live, it becomes almost impossible for a woman to perform at the same level as a man- unless she does not have the responsibility of taking care of the home or the children.”, says Donald Donato.
With only six of the top 100 business firms in Britain being run by females, according to a study conducted by the Customer News and Business Channel, women visibly have a more difficult time becoming successful within business. Our society and our cultural ideologies that it comes with has put women at a natural disadvantage when it comes to perusing any other kind of career. For women to gain equality, we must deconstruct the capitalist mould of gendered labour within the home in which women are exploited.
“The socialisation of housework including meal preparation and childcare, presupposes an end to the profit motives reign over the economy.”, believes Donato.
Stay-at-home mums and housewives are indirectly affecting our economy more than people may realise. Not only is she taking a substantial amount of strain off of her working husband, but she is raising children who then, according to Marxist theory, become a part of the proletariat. Meaning that the now-grown adult has entered the world of work and is paying taxes. She deserves some sort of compensation for this, or is otherwise being exploited by domestic slavery.
A unique example of a country that has implemented this ideology, is the communist country of Venezuela, which pays its housewives and homemakers 80 per cent of the minimum wage. Albeit this is not a lot of money- around $180 per month- but it helps in countless ways, and gives their stay-at-home mums a sense of worth for the immense task they have of raising a family. They also benefit from being financially independent of their partners.
“There have been countless domestic abuse cases I have come across where the victim has stayed in the relationship with their abuser because that was their only source of income.”, says Dame Vera Baird, a British Barrister and advocate for victims of domestic abuse.
Paying women for their domestic work could save many from being abused by their partners. Many victims stay in violent relationships because they simply cannot afford to go elsewhere, and have become trapped.
“They could not leave because they could not afford to go elsewhere so having a form of universal basic income could prevent many women from being assaulted or even murdered, which unfortunately is something that has happened to women who are stuck in an abusive relationship.”
Paying these women for their domestic labour means they are not as reliant on their abusers, which would directly affect the number of homeless women. The Scottish Government has found that an astonishing 40 per cent of homeless women have found themselves homeless as a result of fleeing an abusive relationship. The types of abuse that may trap people in relationships is not always obvious, it can be emotional, or even economic abuse.
“There can be a power imbalance due to one partner earning money and withholding funds which makes it difficult to leave the relationship, and the victim may have to endure more harm because of it.”, the Barrister expressed further.
If women were being paid for their housework, there is less chance of economic abuse manifesting in relationships. If it was to manifest in a relationship it would be far more obvious to the victim that their abuser is purposefully manipulating them.
The fact that one partner is contributing their money in a family could also lead to tensions within relationships, so paying the homemaker would take immense pressure off of the ‘breadwinner’ in one-job household.
“The pressure this may put on a person could lead them to constantly feel stressed, which leads to bad relationships between partners and also leads to domestic violence.” Says Donato on the issue of having just one person contributing to the wealth of the family.
For those in support of the cause, it may be natural to presume that those against it are, the expected, misogynists who believe it is a women’s duty to stay in the home, take care of the house, and the children while her husband is at work. This, however, is not the case. Ex-model, Heather Jack Pipia, is now a stay-at-home mum of two girls, Sienna age 9, and Violet age 6, has been a housewife since the birth of her eldest. Her husband, Victor, who works as a chemical engineer, is happy to fund his wife and two kids. However, despite being a housewife herself, Heather does not agree that the hard work done by stay-at-home mums deserves compensation.
“Why should the government compensate people who have voluntarily chosen not to work?” Heather questions, seeming genuinely interested in hearing an answer.
After conducting a survey of 45 students, it has been shown that 62 per cent of young people feel the same way. When asked why they do not believe women should be paid for their domestic labour, nearly all of the respondents argued that it is a woman’s choice to stay home.
“If someone is lucky enough to be in a position whereby, they can make that choice and not work, it means that they are quite comfortable and able to have just the one salary.”
Unfortunately, it is not as black and white as this. There is an incredibly harmful and vicious cycle, known as ‘statistical discrimination’. Statistical discrimination is an employer making harmful observations based on stereotypes and demographics, such as women being more likely to resign for personal reasons, like having a child. This, in turn, makes it less likely for a potential employer to hire them, with over 30 per cent of women in the UK having reported being discriminated against while looking for work because of their gender, according to a study from the Young Women’s Trust. If a woman does get the job, she may be paid less since she is at a higher risk of quitting. But being paid less makes a woman more likely to quit. The cycle goes on. This means that women need to work harder than their male counterparts to get to the same point as them, which often is not possible when they also have a family to take care of. Due to this, for a woman who is, understandably, prioritising the wellbeing of her family, it will seem like the better option to put her energy into taking care of her home and children.
With all of this considered, it is important to recognise the many reasons why women may choose to stay home rather than go to work. The societal factors which have been in place for thousands of years are what causes people, including women themselves, to believe that they should be doing the housework without any form of compensation. Along with this comes the imbalance in the workplace in which women find it more difficult to become as successful as their male counterparts, especially if they have a family to care for. Not to mention the benefits that having a stay-at-home parent can have for a child. Multiple studies done by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and also The Institute of Child Development of the University of Minnesota has found that children who have a stay-at-home parent have lower stress and anger levels than those who have to spend more time at a day-care facility whilst their parents are at work. With all of these factors, it is no wonder that many mothers feel their best option is to be a full-time housewife.
There is a deep-rooted misunderstanding within our culture around women and housework, which must be abolished when we are progressing as a society toward a fairer way of living with more justice for its working class. Rather than having a society that exploits Mothers and the work they do, we should place more worth on them. Donato concludes:
“You really only need to live in a society where people are valued, and things are used appropriately, instead of the other way round.”
Without the hard work that housewives and homemakers do, our society would crumble under the pressure. They are essential to our way of living and deserve to be compensated for this. I now have come to understand this, and believe that to truly have equality for the sexes, women should not be shunned for choosing to stay at home and not work- they should be paid. Perhaps in 10 years when I have a family; I will be the empowered housewife my 12 year old self was to naïve to understand.