Shirley Lung on (All) Women’s Work

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Work has long been an issue for feminist legal scholars, but in a new article just posted on ssrn here, Professor Shirley Lung argues that we need to refocus.  

Lung is addressing the new “family/work” policies often adopted by employers as a reaction to the economic recession and the proverbial wisdom that such policies are feminist and family-friendly.   She writes:

which workers are the most likely beneficiaries of reduced or compressed work weeks? Which workers are the least likely beneficiaries? A growing feminist legal scholarship critiques the mainstream work/family discourse for focusing on the work/family conflicts of professional women to the exclusion of poor and low-income women.  The policy reforms spawned by the work/family discourse-reduced hours, increased part-time jobs, compressed work weeks-reflect the interests of professional women who are in a position to trade income for time, and thus, to spend less time at paid work. The time crunch faced by poor and working class women necessitates a far broader discussion. The work/family conflicts of poor and low-income women are framed by social welfare policies, a low-wage labor market, and immigration policies that deny low-income women the right to make meaningful choices about paid work, unpaid work, and caregiving.  These issues have not figured into work/family discussions.

While those policies might look feminist and family-friendly, it depends on one’s perspective.  Indeed, she argues that the “potential for work/family policies to reinforce intra-class self-interest and inter-class conflict, as well as hierarchies along race and citizenship, are almost limitless.”

Lung examines three specific cases, grounding her theorizing about improving our notions of work justice.  But ultimately, her article reminds us that the rallying cry of struggle for workers’ rights over their (OUR?) own time decades ago – – – “eight hours labor, eight hours rest, and eight hours for what we will” – – – remains inherently radical and provocative.  Especially when it is applied across class, race, citizenship, and yes, gender categories.

 ~ Ruthann Robson

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