The Mommy Economy

The United States hasn’t broken down the gendered division of labor; we’ve globalized it and hidden it behind the micro mommy economy.

As women began to enter the traditional labor market throughout the latter part of the 20th century we saw a shift in the demographic makeup of typically male dominated fields like medicine and business. However the makeup of women in the market increased sexist social standards, and has only served to buttress gendered market ideologies, resulting in a conservative paradigm shift where a liberal one was needed. Instead of symbiotic movement of women into the workforce and men into the home, the household labor remained feminized and therefore undervalued. As women’s access to traditional labor fields has expanded, a demand for in home care workers has also increased.

Changing gender demographics in US labor markets commoditized motherhood according to western origin gendered division of labor standards disseminating a corrupt and unequal global care chain that allows for wealthy women and families in the United States to maintain their careers whilst simultaneously retaining their motherhood thereby robbing women from peripheral countries of their ability to nurture and love their own children.

The 1960s feminist advocacy for gender equity in the labor market created a paradoxical economic fissure: women were now “valued” but the work of women continued to be monetarily degraded. The continued absence of men in the home and flood of women out of it led to the unique double bind of the Second Shift. Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution explored the US labor phenomenon of women gaining access to public labor markets, while still being bound to drive the private labor market within the home. Hochschild describes at length the heteronormative societal structures controlling the US labor economy that led to women’s work vs. men’s careers.

However, since Second Shift’s publishing in 1989 what should have occurred was a general change in United States policies towards a recognition and value of motherhood resulting in better maternity and paternity leave programs creating a balanced system of value for both traditionally masculine and feminized labor traits. Instead what resulted are global care chains that have allowed for arguably a politically correct indentured servitude.

UC Davis Professor Rhacel Parrenas describes how this non sequitur ideological change in gender politics led to the creation of a global care chain. In her book, Servants of Globalization: Migration and Domestic Work she posits, “as demand for care [in the home] has increased, its supply has dwindled. The result is a care deficit, to which women from the Philippines have responded in force.”

Parrenas estimates that 2% of the global population illegally migrates with the intention to create a better life for themselves or their families, and that 34 to 54 percent of the Filipina population is partially sustained through remittances from migrant workers. Most Filipina women in the United States will work as nannies for wealthy families and send upwards of $40 a week home to their families, whom many of the immigrating women haven’t seen in over 10 years. The interviews and ethnographic research conducted by Parrenas graphically depicts the heaviness and burden of loving the child they are with while hoping that those charged back home with caring for their own families are doing the same.

The global care chain has created a privileging of who is allowed to be a mother to their children: white and wealthy families retain the privilege to physically love their children, to hug them. Families of migrant workers sacrifice physical caregiving for the hope of a food on the table back home. The US labor market’s denial of motherhood as a financially worthwhile endeavor for American women has forced US mother’s to conform to patriarchal standards of work while shirking the de-valued duties of motherhood onto a de-valued group of workers, migrant women.

The United States has along storied history of patriarchy and sexism that is so ingrained within the culture that it is an inescapable part of our narrative. But the globalization of the world’s economies has led to a commodification of motherhood that is horrifying and unjust. The right to mother should be a right. Not a privilege only afforded the American elite.

By: Caroline Swaller
M.P.P./M.A. in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies



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