Care Paid and Unpaid: Social, Economic and Human Rights Concerns

by Dr Joan Garvanwww.maternalhealthandwellbeing.com

Attempts to achieve gender equity have reached a new high water mark and the recognition and redistribution of care, both paid and unpaid, stands at the centre of this arena. The Australian secretariat – Economic Security 4 Women – have produced landmark reports, both scoping and quantifying the value of the ‘care economy’ and, more recently, Professor Marilyn Waring addressed the topic of care and dignity in the annual Pamela Denoon Lecture Series. Here below are key points from these papers and central messages made by Waring.

Two significant Australian reports on the care economy have been produced over recent years: Scoping the Australian Care Economy A Gender Perspective (2010) and Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012). These projects are concerned with the lifelong economic well-being of women. Though they are particular to Australia and reference local government policies, programs and strategies, they draw from an international body of research and deal with common concerns.

The first report references the importance of data collection and brings attention to landmark work in the Massachusetts case study that used United States Census and Time Use data to measure both paid and unpaid care work [1]. The author Valerie Adams notes tensions between unpaid work, voluntary work and paid work. She draws attention to the ‘relational’ nature of care work, and references the concept of ‘provisioning’ for human need. The report used the notion of ‘care work’ to depict both the paid and unpaid sectors. Adams considers definitions and current issues in the Australian care economy. She surveys relevant government policy and makes numerous recommendations for further research and data collection.

Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012) further develops this arena by quantifying the value of the paid and unpaid care sectors to the Australian economy. In 2009-10 twenty per cent of all paid employment in Australia was in the care sector. Care workers receive 96 cents for every dollar earned by the average Australian worker, and female workers earn on average 84 cents in the dollar to male care workers. The report valued the unpaid care sector at $650 billion with sixty per cent of this contribution being made by women aged 25 to 64. The report furthermore outlined and quantified government investment in the care sector. The authors make recommendations for further work in light of: demographic change; inter-generational concerns; and the continuing economic and life course implications for women.

Marilyn Waring prefaced her recent lecture Care and Dignity: Major challenges to economics and human rights (transcript and video available online: http://pameladenoonlecture.net/) with the proposition that over millennia care has been the primary responsibility of women. She has changed her emphasis since the publication of Counting for Nothing: What men value and what women are worth (1988) [2] and now frames these concerns within a Human Rights perspective.

Waring raised problems for the use of ‘care’ as an analytical category, arguing that most often carers are responsible for a myriad of associated tasks that could be lost through a continuing association with unpaid work. Nevertheless, drawing from studies from British Colombia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United Kingdom, she sets out a strident case whereby the human rights of care givers are being flouted. She and others set up a questionnaire for a Commonwealth report drawing from Amartya Sen’s capability approach to human rights which references choice, rest, health, meals, work and political involvement, and found multiple breeches.

With governments around the world withdrawing from social and welfare programs these kind of arguments are critical if we aren’t going to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Care, both paid and unpaid, are clearly significant to the health and well-being of the community, but further to this gender equality will remain allusive if we don’t see transformational change. Unfortunately the issues are complex and though there is increasing reference to the work of unpaid care in terms of achieving gender equity, there is a need to bolster and popularize the debates.

References

[1] Albelda, R., Duffy, M., Folbre, N. (2009), Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, MA, Massachusetts

[2] In a recent anthology, Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics, edited by Margunn Bjornholt and Ailsa McKay, 31 authors from nine countries outline the wide ranging impact and resonance of Professor Waring’s work as well as the current frontiers of feminist economics.

 

 

Crisis Compounded? Legal Aid, Feminist Advocacy, and the Budget Cuts in British Columbia, Canada

By Agnieszka Doll

Since 2002, the successive governments of the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) have enacted large-scale budget cuts to state-funded legal aid. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researchers reported that in 2002 provincial funding for legal aid has been cut by 40 percent (Brewin & Stephens, 2004; Govender & Milne, April 9, 2013) The most severe reductions were implemented in areas of family law, poverty law, and immigration legal aid. In fact, by the 2010 the legal aid representation in poverty and immigration cases was completely eliminated, while in family law, such representation has been limited to high risk cases (Brewin & Govender, 2010; Brewin & Stephens, 2004). In addition to difficulties in receiving legal representation, access to legal information has been also limited by changing eligibility threshold, substituting direct contact with lawyers with online and telephone service, and reducing the number of legal clinics. While legal aid in BC was considered insufficient even before the reductions, the cuts further deepened the crisis by limiting access to justice for the most marginalized populations (Morrow, Hankivsky, & Varcoe, 2004).

Feminist scholars (Morrow et al., 2004) have specifically argued that the cuts have a clear gender dimension. Firstly, prevalence of poverty among women, including those who experience intimate violence, renders women particularly disadvantaged by legal aid cuts as they often rely on state-resources for their access to justice (Sarophim, 2010). Secondly, the implemented cuts predominately targeted services related to family, civil or poverty law, which women tend to use more often that, for instance, services related to criminal law that received no similar cuts and that tend to be more frequently utilized by men. Third, concurrent implementation of changes limiting state funding for women’s organizations and subjecting funding to competitive distribution model, shattered existing infrastructure of research and advocacy-based organizations that are often unable to compete with for-profit organizations for service provision (Knight & Rodgers, 2012).

In the midst of those changes, I conducted (between 2008-2009) a qualitative study in one B.C women’s organization through which I explored how the organization’s staff experience delivering law-related services to women or helping these women access justice in the context of the budget cuts. I was also interested in learning about the extent to which existing legal services meet specific needs of immigrant women who experience intimate violence.

My interviews with the organization’s frontline staff and its administrators, as well as a focus group and hours of observations revealed three major findings regarding the consequences of government cuts on service offered by the organization:

1)      The organization went through severe employment shifts. For example, at the time of my research, the Victim Assistance Program – designed to assist women who experience abuse in navigating their criminal cases through the criminal justice system – lost all of its previous employees and was run by a new staff. Such shifts in the staff composition complicate the organization’s court presence; the previously established relations with the court personnel often need to be rebuilt, which takes significant amount of time and effort. Thus, the cuts contributed to shattering the organization’s credibility as legal advocates by affecting its ability to remain visible to justice and police administration.

2)      The organization became dependent on volunteer work. For example, the women’s center, which is often the first contact point for women seeking legal services, was forced to substitute the loss of three fourth of its professional staff with work of volunteers. This restructuring has consequences on the quality of information received by women who come for legal guidance. Since volunteers provide their help occasionally, their skills are mostly used to support the basic functioning of the center not to provide information about legal aid service to women in need. Often, they do not have the related professional training.

3)      Given changes in priority areas funded by the government, the organization adjusted their own services accordingly. Previous focus on feminist political awareness raising about the nature of gender inequalities or feminist advocacy gave way to emphasis on short-term relief services provided to the victims of gender violence. As organizations became forced to compete with each other for resources, they started to internalize the idea of self-sufficiency as their key for survival. Thus, instead of sharing resources such as translation services, etc. with other organizations, applying for own funding came to be regarded as a strategy of ensuing inflow of additional money to the organization.

One important implication of my study I would like to highlight is the impact of budget cuts on feminist organizations’ potential to pursue advocacy for women in the courts, in the police, and in other law enforcing institutions. While the budget cuts to legal services evidently degenerated the position of women experiencing violence who need to represent themselves in courts and often surround their rights, truly successful legal representation amounts to more then just having a lawyer. It would not be novel to say that the gender stereotypes still prevail in the criminal justice system; the domestic violence cases are considered of a lower importance to other criminal cases, and the knowledge of intimate violence by court, police authorities, but also by lawyers is often not sufficient. Thus, survivors-centered advocacy shall be considered as complementary to prosecution or to other legal procedures resulting from or linked to gender violence so the needs of women are addressed by judicial decisions (Nichols, 2013). I would like to also suggest that individual-level advocacy pursued on the ground by feminist advocates is instrumental for fair and equal access to justice for women, similar, as it is to the needs-based access to legal aid. The structural –level feminist advocacy needs to continue to expose the link between the gendered socio-structural inequalities and gender violence. Those important dimensions of women’s and anti-violence movements have been seriously jeopardized by the discussed budget cuts. The quest for funding had the effect of pushing women’s organizations to depoliticize and subvert feminist ideas about the relationship between gender, violence, and structural inequalities and, instead, adopt “a Band-Aid” solution to gender violence and channel their advocacy efforts. This way, by undermining the potential for feminist advocacy through budgets cuts, the B.C. governments made effective steps towards reinforcing gender order through legal means and within legal system.

Bibliography:

Brewin, A., & Govender, K. (2010). Rights-Based Legal Aid: Rebuilding BC’s Broken System. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/BC Office/2010/11/CCPA_Legal_Aid_web.pdf

Brewin, A., & Stephens, L. (2004). Legal Aid Denied: Women and the Cuts to Legal Services in B.C. BC Office: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and West Coast LEAF.

Govender, K., & Milne, K. (April 9, 2013). BC’s Publicly Funded Legal Aid is in Crisis. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/bc%E2%80%99s-publicly-funded-legal-aid-crisis

Knight, M., & Rodgers, K. (2012). “The Government Is Operationalizing Neo-liberalism”: Women’s Organizations, Status of Women Canada, and the Struggle for Progressive Social Change in Canada. NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 20(4), 266-282. doi: 10.1080/08038740.2012.747786

Morrow, M., Hankivsky, O., & Varcoe, C. (2004). Women and Violence: The Effects of Dismantling the Welfare State. Critical Social Policy, 24(3), 358-384. doi: 10.1177/0261018304044364

Nichols, A. J. (2013). Meaning-Making and Domestic Violence Victim Advocacy: An Examination of Feminist Identities, Ideologies, and Practices. Feminist Criminology, 8(3), 177-201. doi: 10.1177/1557085113482727

Sarophim, J. (2010). Access Barred: The Effects of the Cuts and Restructuring of Legal Aid in B.C. on Women Attempting to Navigate the Provincial Family Court System. Canadian Journal of Family Law, 26(2), 451-472.

Condemned as a ‘Typical’ Man?

By Robin Hadley

A few moths ago, I attended a seminar on infertility treatment. The audience included those involved in infertility treatment, academics, practitioners, and interested others. The complexities surrounding infertility treatment are vast and range from the very intimate and personal to legalities at national and international level. Conducting research in such a sensitive area is fraught with difficulties and the speakers were all very aware of the ethical implications of their research and practice. I was particularly interested in the researchers’ experience of accessing and interviewing men. The general view in infertility studies has been that men are not interested in participating in research, and many studies are heavily weighted with female respondents. As one researcher described her many efforts to interview the male partner of a couple, a ripple of sympathetic recognition of her struggle arose from the audience. ‘Typical man’ seemed to be the collective verdict, mine included. As I reflected back on the day I returned to that incident. The audience reaction was one of sympathy for the researcher and I wondered if that man did not also deserve some empathy. I know from my own research that many men assume that they will be fathers and that that knowledge is so embedded that it is not discussed. The assumption expressed has been that one would leave school, get a job/go to university/ get a job, find a partner, find accommodation, have children. That being the case I tried to put myself in that man’s position: the assumed ‘natural’ event had not happened. How would I feel? Shocked to the very core? I think so. Perhaps I had been brought up not to show feelings and instead, to show control – ‘mastery’ – through actions and/or rationality. In which case my reactions may include striving to balance things up by working and playing harder, or not becoming involved. Being raised in an environment where I am not expected to express emotions, I possibly, do not have the confidence or vocabulary to verbalise my emotional state. Here are my musings on what may have been ‘going on’ if I was that unwilling participant, “So, here I am, not fulfilling the role I expected to – and that others seem to achieve with ease – and I cannot make it right. There is only one person I can talk to and that is my partner but it is worse for her and the one thing I can be is strong for her. Then there is this University researcher who wants to have a talk. She’s talked to my partner, and wants to talk to us both. My partner thinks it will do me good. I don’t know how to express these feelings inside without bursting. I want to support my partner, part of me thinks it would be good to release the emotions but I can’t risk overwhelming her in the way I am sometimes overwhelmed. I’ll say I’ll do it and then see.”
If the participant’s thoughts and feelings were similar to the above then it is understandable why he was ambivalent about being interviewed.

Infertility has been seen as a form of complex bereavement consisting of multiple loses (Adler, 1991; Lechner et al., 2007) with levels of distress in women recorded as high as those suffering from serious medical conditions (Domar et al., 1992; Domar et al., 1993). However, recent research shows that, post infertility treatment, men who did not become fathers suffered poorer mental health than those who had become fathers (Fisher et al., 2010). In their conclusions Fisher et al (p.6) state ‘…that stereotypes that infertile men conflate fertility and masculinity, are less distressed than women about potential loss of parenthood, and adjust more readily to childlessness appear inaccurate.’ Men may or may not be ‘typical’ by choice but there are many social factors that influence their behavior and how their behavior is perceived. The belief that men are not interested in taking part in research, and their absence ‘condemned to be meaningful’ (Lloyd, 1996: p.451), reflects a lack of insight by the research community. I feel I must stress here these are my own reflections based on my research on involuntarily childless men and not a particular person or persons.

Useful websites
Infertility Network UK: http://www.infertilitynetworkuk.com
The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/index.html
Mensfe: http://www.mensfe.net

References
Adler, N. E. (1991). Forward. In Stanton, A. L. & Dunkel-Schetter, C. (Eds.), Infertility: Perspectives from Stress and Coping Research (pp. vii-ix). Plenum Press: New York.
Domar, A., Broome, A., Zuttermeister, P. C., Seibel, M. & Friedman, R. (1992). The prevalence and predictability of depression in infertile women. Fertility and Sterility, 58, 1158-1163.
Domar, A. D., Zuttermeister, P. C. & Friedman, R. (1993). The psychological impact of infertility: a comparison with patients with other medical conditions. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 14(Special issue), 45-52.
Fisher, J. R. W., Baker, G. H. W. & Hammarberg, K. (2010). Long-term health, well-being, life satisfaction, and attitudes toward parenthood in men diagnosed as infertile: challenges to gender stereotypes and implications for practice. Fertility and Sterility, 94(2), 574-580.
Lechner, L., Bolman, C. & Van Dalen, A. (2007). Definite involuntary childlessness: associations between coping, social support and psychological distress. Hum. Reprod., 22(1), 288-294.
Lloyd, M. (1996). Condemned to be meaningful: Non-response in studies of men and infertility. Sociology of Health & Illness, 18(4), 433-454.

Counting on Marilyn Waring: Valuing care, housework, subsistence production and Nature

by Margunn Bjørnholt

 In a recent blog-post Donatella Alessandrini discussed the ”Wages for housework” campaign, referring to its main activists, among them Selma James. It seems that, when struggling to solve the problem of valuation of care and subsistence work, there is much to learn by revisiting the work and good thinking of feminist pioneers decades ago. I have recently had the pleasure to revisit another pioneer, Marilyn Waring and her critique of the system of national accounts in Counting for nothing/If women counted, originally published in 1988.

With the late Professor Ailsa McKay, I have co-edited an anthology on the impact and resonance of Waring’s groundbreaking work a quarter- century later. The resulting collected volume, Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics, published by Demeter Press, Canada, March 2014, maps new advances in theories and practices in feminist economics and the valuation of women, care and nature since Marilyn Waring’s Counting for nothing. The breadth and range of topics and perspectives covered in the anthology highlights the impact and endurance of Waring’s work, in the shaping of the discipline of feminist economics and in influencing women’s lives across the globe. In the foreword to the collection Professor of economics Julie A. Nelson, University of Massachussetts, Boston, points out how Marilyn Waring’s If Women counted ”encouraged and influenced a wide range of work on ways, both numerical and otherwise, of valuing, preserving, and rewarding the work of care that sustains our lives”. At the same time, Waring’s original critique of the system of national accounts for ignoring the value of care and subsistence work is still sadly relevant. Despite the development of feminist economics as a field of academic research and activism over the past decades, economic policies are still informed by economic theory and models that ignore the value and importance of care and that of Nature. The book is a contribution to the continued struggle for valuing care as well as an attempt to bring the field forward.

The publication of the book sadly coincided with the death of my co-editor, Ailsa McKay, who passed away, far too early, at the age of 50, on 5.March. Ailsa was herself a pioneer in feminist economics. She was Professor of Economics at Glasgow Caledonian University, and a founding member of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group. She combined her role as a renown academic and a leading authority on gender budget analysis with a strong community involvement for change. She has had a lasting impact on the field of feminist economics and the struggle for valuing care.

As an irony of fate, illustrating the persistent and recurring devaluation of care and motherhood, our publisher, Demeter Press, now struggles to stay in business, after being denied a much needed and anticipated government publishing grant. The argument was that its focus on mothering and motherhood was a liability, and that it needed to broaden its focus. Demeter Press has just launched a fundraising campaign. Hopefully many will support the only publishing house dedicated to publishing on motherhood and mothering.

‘Applying Critical Psychology: Or starting a support and advocacy group for people with dementia who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans’ by Professor Elizabeth Peel

Critical psychologies share two common concerns. One is a critical perspective on the theory and methods of mainstream psychology: ‘[critical psychology] believes that psychology has adopted a paradigm of inquiry that is ill-suited to understanding human behaviour and experience’ (Sampson, 2000: 1). The field is concerned to undermine the positivist-empiricism of mainstream psychology, which has been (and continues to be) used to deter social change and to buttress the status quo; it is argued that traditional liberal norms of research ‘provide ideological support to dominant institutions and channel psychologists’ work and resources in system-maintaining rather than system-challenging directions’ (Fox, 2000: 22).  The other key concern is with progressive politics in some form; aligning with oppressed groups and urging psychology to work towards social justice. Or as Prilleltensky (1999: 100) puts it, critical psychology ‘is critical of society as much as it is critical of psychology’. According to Prilleltensky (1999) critical psychology is premised on the view that the current societal status quo oppresses various social groups and that conventional psychology is a tool in maintaining the status quo, because of this critical research should be a more practical endeavour. Critical psychologists are also united in opposition to conventional psychology, because of mainstream psychology’s ‘history of racism, sexism, heterosexism…[and] with its modernist pretensions to scientific expertise, is not a platform from which we wish to speak’ (Condor, 1997: 112). The consensus within critical psychology is a tentative one, but psychologists claiming criticality do, according to Condor (1997: 111), share common interests which include: ‘an attack on universalistic assumptions of human nature; a critique of individualism; an interest in social context and a broad commitment to contructionism; and a concern with text and talk’. Therefore, the gaze of critical psychology is directed both inwards, towards the discipline of psychology aiming to undermine and critique its research questions, theory, and methods, and also outwards, to society with the goal of  ‘be[ing] used at the service of the oppressed’ (Prilleltensky, 1999: 103).

So in the service of the oppressed I am in the process of setting up a support and/or advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people with dementia, in partnership with the University of Worcester Association for Dementia Studies, Birmingham LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing and PACE Health London. We know that LGBT people with dementia are especially marginalised communities and that the issues impacting LGBT people with dementia are under represented (read: largely absent) in generic dementia groups and charities (Alzheimer’s Society, 2013). What haven’t been heard, to date, are the voices of LGBT people with dementia themselves. The nominally titled ‘Over the Rainbow’ project aims to offer:

1) an opportunity for LGBT people with dementia to come together in safe spaces;
2) facilitate intergenerational dialogue, support and advocacy;
3) allow the voices of LGBT people with dementia to be heard beyond the life-time of the project (via ongoing ‘dementia rainbow friends’ buddying, and online representation).

By working collaboratively with Birmingham LGBT Centre and PACE Health London my hope is that the ‘Over the Rainbow’ project will become embedded in the work of these third sector organizations and therefore sustainable over the longer-term.

The project is funded by DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project), in partnership with Innovations in Dementia, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Mental Health and Foundation and supported by Comic Relief.

With luck this project will create significant opportunities for LGBT people with dementia, and their carers, to self-advocate and raise the profile of this group of people with dementia both within generic dementia organizations and within LGBT communities. But first, there is the considerable challenge in reaching out to this hidden population. If you have any contacts or links, or would like to get involved do contact me on e.peel@worc.ac.uk Twitter: @ProfPeel

References

Condor, S. (1997) And So Say All of Us?:  Some thought on ‘experiential democratization’ as an aim for critical social psychologists. In T. Ibáñez & L. Íñiguez (Eds.) (1997) Critical Social Psychology. (pp. 111-146) London: Sage.

Fox, D. (2000). The Critical Psychology Project: Transforming society and transforming psychology. In T. Sloan (Ed.) Critical Psychology: Voices for change. (pp. 21-33). Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Prilleltensky, I. (1999) Critical Psychological Foundations for the Promotion of Mental Health. Annual Review of Critical Psychology: Foundations, 1, 100- 118.

Sampson, E. (2000) Of Rainbows and Differences. In T. Sloan (Ed.) Critical Psychology: Voices for change. (pp. 1-5). Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Biography
Elizabeth Peel is Professor of Psychology and Social Change in the Institute of Health and Society, University of Worcester, UK. Her research has explored diabetes self-management, same sex relationships and families, and diversity training. She holds a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the Dementia Talking: Care, conversation and communication project. She won the BPS Psychology of Sexualities Section outstanding academic writing award 2012, and book awards from the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 for the co-edited volume Out in Psychology (Wiley, 2007) and in 2013 from the British Psychology Society for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Psychology: An introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

 

‘Using research to identify and address loneliness in older age’ by Anna Goodman, Policy and Research Officer, ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’

There is an ever-growing body of research and evidence around the issue of loneliness – that unwelcome feeling that occurs when there is a mismatch between the number and quality of relationships we want and those we have – in older age. There is a strong indication that loneliness and social isolation has a negative impact on our mental and physical health. Research also shows that social relationships are crucial to a good quality of life in older age.

We are learning more all the time but so far we have only scratched the surface, there is so much more that we –  as campaigners, researchers and practitioners – need to learn: from who is at risk, to what the best interventions are. The Campaign to End Loneliness and our network of academics and researchers are working to increase, develop and better share the research base around loneliness in older age.

As part of this project, we recently held a small workshop with Professor Christina Victor of Brunel University, who is examining data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to answer a number of questions including: ‘who is lonely?’, ‘when are they lonely?’, ‘what implications does this have for practice?’. Her early findings indicate that:

  • Loneliness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you expect to be lonely in later life, you are more likely to be lonely.
  • 40% of widows are lonely (but some actually become less lonely when they are widowed).
  • Loneliness is a fluid experience – someone who might feel lonely one month, won’t necessarily feel the same three months later.
  • Older men are just as lonely as older women.
  • Older people from BME communities are particularly vulnerable to loneliness

You can watch Professor Victor’s presentation in full here.

Implications for research and practice

Although a work in progress, this new research presents a number of challenges to organisations and charities providing support for older people. For example, we need to find ways to make our services more responsive to the highly individual and fluctuating nature of loneliness. This is no easy task, but during discussions workshop attendees talked about how building partnerships with GPs, registrars, community police teams, and carers groups (amongst others) could help them to achieve this. Notes from these discussions can be read here.

As if often the case, the more we learn about whom is lonely and when, the more questions we uncover for further research. More specifically, we need the academic community to help us demonstrate what the characteristics of different successful loneliness interventions are – and keep us informed of any further implications their research might have for practitioners.

We aim share the latest evidence around loneliness and isolation in a quarterly Research Bulletin, so please do get in touch if you have something you would like us to send to our 1,350+ supporter network.

For more information about the Campaign to End Loneliness, our Research Hub or the Research Bulletin, please contact Anna Goodman at anna@campaigntoendloneliness.org.uk.

Paths to social caring: researchers consider their journeys through the ‘mantra’ ‘race’, class and gender.

By Jenny Baker, Margaret Allen, and Maureen Dyer

Activist Intellectual Cluster Group of the Fay Gale Centre

The three of us have been interviewing ourselves, following bell hooks’ example, in order to reflect and consider  the circumstances and social connections that lead to our own social activism, defined here as a form of social caring.

 bell hooks/Gloria Watkins

‘GW: Why remember the pain, that’s how you began?

bh: Because I am sometimes awed, as in finding something terrifying, when I see how many of the people who are writing about domination and oppression are distanced from the pain, the woundedness, the ugliness. That its so much of the time just a subject – a “discourse”. (hooks 1990:215)

Margaret Allen

I grew up in a deeply gender segregated world. But as a white girl in a fairly comfortable family, mine is not a story of personal pain, but rather largely one of learning of the other’s pain and injustice. I was the first from my family to go to University. The Vietnam War was a radicalising experience. I learnt of US imperialism and the military/industrial complex.  Involved with Aboriginal families through the Methodist Mission, I learned about systemic racism. I was active in the academics’ union 1982-1994, working to control casualisation.

The women’s movement changed my life, giving me a political frame for understanding myself and society in general. As Judith Newton wrote,

‘ “The scales fell from my eyes.” … it felt like a moment of empowerment, not of impotence. Dominant and totalising theories were not objectively true; they were informed by male bias. Our identities had been culturally constructed, and we were not alone.’ (Newton 1988:93)

Being part of a cohort of like-minded women made it easy to explore new ideas and to move forward together. My work in introducing and growing gender studies was always a joint effort, carried on with other women.

Maureen Dyer

I grew up working class, on the largest housing commission estate in England. None of my family had been to high school and my father had little belief in girls’ education. At the 11+ examination, no-one at my primary school was completely successful.  I was interviewed, getting in by the skin of my teeth. I later learnt how culturally specific the 11+ was, and that whole forms succeeded in middle class areas. I had so internalised the dominant hegemony of class to see myself as a somewhat inferior girl who did not really fit in.

But I worked hard and with the encouragement of a sympathetic teacher, I applied and succeeded in getting into university. Again I felt completely out of place; especially in the Residence Hall. There were very few working class girls, and none with a cockney accent. The Warden asked if I felt I was in the right place for someone like me.

Becoming an activist involves an awareness and experience of discrimination, and understanding the systematic exercise of power. Through postgraduate studies, I became conscious of the class discrimination I had suffered. My light bulb moments came from reading Sennett and Cobb’s work on class  (Sennet and Cobb 1972) and through the Women’s Movement of the 70s when I put this  together with gender discrimination. Since then I have worked to end such patronising attitudes to working class children.

Jenny Baker

From my earliest memories my family were in a state of disintegration coping with events in their lives: my Mirning Aboriginal mother in her late 30s suddenly with two baby daughters 11 months apart coming ten years after four older children; the family moving to the city in the late 1940s from a farm in a remote country region into a one-room shack and a small caravan, close friends, horses and dogs left behind. These were some of ‘the straws that broke’ the spirit in our family. The death of my seventeen year old brother on a motorcycle four years after moving to the city sealed that sadness that seemed to linger in our lives. My sister and I grew up with our non-Aboriginal father and the four, and then three, older children had difficult lives working out where they should live.

Why remember the pain or is it possible to not remember the pain?  Is it the pain that leads to activism and social caring or is it education and radical analysis that enables that to happen. Unfortunately an analysis that examines the intersection of ‘race, class and gender’ is unavailable for many people trying to battle pain and dislocation in their lives as it has been for my three older siblings. Those moments when’ the scales fall from your eyes’ and you become aware of the relationship between ‘power and knowledge’ (Foucault) are radicalising and they provided me with a new understanding of ‘care’ (Narayan 1995).

Conclusion

People need to care in order for a process of caring to begin (Tronto 1995). It requires ongoing political struggle to keep ‘caring’ as the grounded basis for any society and not simply a discourse within caring professions. Revisiting one’s journey to social caring has involved a re-valuing of our past in the context of today, so thank you bell hooks.

References

Derrida, J. (1998 (1981)). Geopsychoanalysis: “… and the rest of the world”. The Psychoanalysis of Race. C. Lane. New York, Columbia University Press.

Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London, Tavistock.

hooks, b. (1990). An interview with bell hooks by Gloria Watkins: No not talking back, just talking to myself. Yearning: race, gender and cultural politics. b. hooks. Boston MA, South End Press.

Narayan, U. (1995). “Colonialism and its Other: Considerations on Rights and Care Discourses.” Hypatia 10(2): 133-140.

Newton, J. (1988). “History as Usual? Feminisms and the New Historicism.” Cultural Critique 9(Spring).

Sennet, R. and J. Cobb (1972). The hidden injuries of class. New York, Vintage Books.

Tronto, J. (1995). “Care as a Basis for Radical Political Judgments.” Hypatia 10(2):