On the Importance of Recognizing Women’s Role in Parenting

I read with interest the post Why we should be careful about taking the ‘maternity’ out of ‘parental leave’ over at Blue Milk.  I think the piece nicely summarizes some of the conservative undercurrents in the arguments surrounding gender-neutral parental leave policies and other parenting conversations:

It presents care as a transferable and marketable commodity, further marginalising questions about the impact different forms may have on those who depend on care the most (in this case, babies). It also fails to challenge work-practices that demand impossibly long working hours, and measurements of performance that ultimately devalue children and caring responsibilities.

Moreover, as an example of a dominant strand of feminism in Australia, the gender-equity paradigm is paradoxically de-gendered. Indeed, Cannold argues for ‘the parenthood conundrum’ to be ‘articulated in gender-neutral ways’. This, however, taps into a productivist ethos entirely consistent with the demands of the neoliberal marketplace, with caregivers replaceable or interchangeable in much the same way as employees in workplaces. In addition, a feminism promoting gender neutrality (in the name of equality) denies the bodily experience of women after they have given birth. Though a boon to the productive workplace, the breast pump may not necessarily protect the emotional needs of women and babies. To deny that baby leave is a women’s issue, to decouple ‘maternity’ from ‘leave’, is also to conceal human vulnerability and dependence. It reproduces what Iris Young has called ‘the normalising but impossible ideal’ that we are autonomous, unencumbered self-sufficient individuals, somehow beyond human dependency.

Emphasis in the original.

I’m all in favor of getting more men involved in caregiving, and recognizing men’s contributions as caregivers, but we also need to be conscious of what gets left out of the conversation when parenting or even mothering is constructed as gender-neutral by some scholars.

The full post (here) is worth a read.

-Bridget Crawford

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