PCC Instructor Honors Working Women with Guided Discussion on Caregiving
by Lex Rule
In honor of International Women’s Day, Southeast’s Women’s Resource Center hosted Women’s and Gender Studies professor Jimena Alvarado’s guided talk: “Women’s Work: Babies, Caretaking, and Migration”. The center’s coordinator, Jess Amo, said “International Women’s Day historically came out of the labor movement so it was intentional to focus on the topic of women’s work and how that shows up in relation to immigration.” The audience included many of Alvarado’s students but was also open to the public, welcoming everyone to learn more about how “choices that seem personal are shaped by our politics, economy, [and] history.”
“Who needs care work?” Alvarado asked, to which the audience unanimously concluded: everyone. According to Alvarado, whether provided by a professional or friends and family, everyone will require ‘human maintenance services’ at some point in their life—as a baby, for disabilities or injuries, in old age, or as a trans person who “might have more need of medical procedures than cis folks and have lost origin family at a higher rate than cisgender/heterosexual folks do.”
Because of this fact, Alvarado also says the long-held idea of independence and autonomy is unrealistic, even for those who choose not to have children: “I’m going to benefit from other people’s babies and if I don’t contribute to that, I’m literally a moocher… babies are a social good instead of an individual choice… those who choose to take that work on, we’re going to recognize that as an important contribution to society—and right now we don’t do that.”
Alvarado said that the outdated thought of care work being something everyone can do contributes to it still being regarded as easy and not real work—but if we consider how many long hours went into raising the people who now perform higher-paying jobs, its value is undeniable. It can take 40 hours a week just to feed a newborn, “Breastmilk is only free if you don’t value people’s time,” said Alvarado.
When Alvarado asked the audience to calculate the amount of money they would consider fair for willingly offering 24/7 care for someone else’s child for the next 20 years, the audience estimated
at least a million dollars—and wondered whether that amount would even be worth the job’s required sacrifices. Many migrant women put their own families and lives on hold indenitely to care for others. 11% of the Filipino population works outside of their country, many of them female caregivers, and the money they send back home makes up 12% of the Philippines’ national economy, Alvarado said.
Care work, which includes many tasks society has expected women to do at home for free,
is “incredibly complex, highly- skilled, high-stress work,” Alvarado said—yet this work often goes unpaid, undervalued, and unnoticed, as it’s intangible and happens in private. People tend to think care-work is “natural, or instinctual, which doesn’t make it any less labor-intensive,” student Nicholas Hensgen said. Along with low-paying jobs that are similar in nature like janitorial work or housecleaning, care work is typically performed by people of color, people with poor English skills, undocumented immigrants and/or immigrants from poor countries—workers who, because of global economic inequality, are desperate to make an extremely low wage.
“This gets into the intersectional realm when we start to consider that it’s not just women, but specific kinds of women that we see doing these tasks,” Alvarado said. Alvarado considers universal childcare, healthcare and paid maternity leave as positive changes that could be made for care workers if funded through tax dollars. Student Wiley Whittaker says, “[Immigrants] ‘take’ jobs that we don’t want to do, and then they’re blamed for stealing all the jobs… you have to identify your own privileges to see people’s oppression.”
Alvarado also acknowledges that a newfound awareness of intersectional issues can be difficult for some to accept and stomach. She suggests thinking historically to cope with the overwhelming, emotional exhaustion that may come with it: “Look back at what it was like 100 years ago and say, ‘we’re doing a whole lot better than we were, for sure.’ Most of the people at this college wouldn’t have been here 100 years ago—whether through economic inequality, racial or gender discrimination.”
Alvarado also suggests accepting that social justice includes imperfection and ongoing effort; although a victory might not be seen in one’s lifetime, any progress is valuable: “I’m really glad that the grandmas put the work in and I’m committed to leaving it better for the grand-babies.”
To learn more about Social Justice, Women’s Studies and Gender Studies, check out Jimena Alvardo’s website: www. everydaysocialjustice.com and PCC’s Spring class schedule for related courses.