I started the organization All Mothers Work in 2014, not only as a reaction to conventional socio-cultural notions of motherhood and labour (the name comes from a cry of frustration over the term “working mothers,” as though mothers who do not work for pay are not also performing labour), but also to challenge a lot of existing feminist thought on the topic. I was overwhelmed by the reception I got for my work; endless numbers of women found themselves so dissatisfied with both radical and liberal analyses of motherhood that some even refused to call themselves feminists because they felt so looked down upon, underrepresented and misrepresented. Like me, they found it to be a fulfilling, vital undertaking that was as hard and as valid as any paid work, and yet this was incompatible with what both patriarchal society and feminism were telling us we should be doing and experiencing. . . .
As a result of the influence of Firestone’s work, feminist analysis of motherhood too often reads as though there are only two choices: rejection of motherhood or collusion with patriarchy. It is futile, self-defeating and in my opinion inhumane to approach reproduction and motherhood as things with no value or worth, to treat women as though none of them really want to be mothers and as though they long to be freed from what must be viewed as the burden of motherhood, while seeing children as little more than parasites who don’t require a primary caregiver (which goes against everything we know about child development and how nurturing works) and who should be made to live away from adults as soon as possible. To me, this is seeing reproduction and motherhood in a patriarchal way. It denigrates motherhood, rejects caring activities, and reveals a lack of interest in what women actually want and what children actually need. . . .
I believe that the way forward is to embrace nurturing and caring more – using our own model. When we look objectively at the labour that can only be carried out by women, and also that which is seen as “women’s work,” we see that women’s labour is productive, life-creating, life-maintaining, life-facilitating, co-operative and egalitarian. Labour deemed male, by contrast, is all too often appropriating, parasitic, exploitative and hierarchical. It relies on women’s labour being performed invisibly and for free, which men obtain and maintain by normalizing and justifying their labour values as superior and natural, through the use of gender. We need to shift the whole of society over to those matriarchal values. That means stripping the concepts of nurture, care and the maternal of the meanings given to them by patriarchy, and creating and living our own.
If women were even paid a minimum wage for the labour extracted from them for free, women would be the leading global economic superpower, before any paid labour done by them was counted in. This is not nothing. This is absolutely huge. And yet patriarchal tropes about the work women do, paid and unpaid, still flourish.