Finding a work “thing” in the cultural, relational, and economic context of my life

This post is continued from my first post in my Quest for a work “thing” series.

We have a responsibility for one another based on our fundamental relationality, a position I have more fully articulated in my essay Explicating Core Political and Spiritual Values and my Philosophy of Education.

I do not believe that family, marriage, religion, and other ways in which humans commit themselves to the care of each other through blood or belief are inherently oppressive or regressive.

Humans are interdependent beings. Evolutionarily, we’ve needed each other to survive. Our material bodies, never mind our social ideas, evolved for that interdependence and reliance on close kin. Where some leftists would like to replace kin-dependency with state-dependency, particular strains of the right would like to double down on it and exclude the possibility of obligation to other-than-kin (neighbors, Earth, etc…)

This is why I believe that feminism fails women wherever it fails to recognize the fundamentally non-atomistic, non-individualist nature of women’s reproductive bodies.

In no way am I saying that women’s bodies are to be reduced to our reproductive capacities. But these capacities drive our physiology and psychology, inform our life experiences, and, for many women, define their identity.

A woman’s bodily and messy entanglements with their offspring, the inherent need for support - from partner, community, and society - while gestating, birthing, and nursing the next generation is an affront to philosophical liberalism, neoliberalism, and capitalism. Additionally, the biological and relational drive to leave the “worker” pool to attend to the care and raising of one’s own children is also an affront to communist and Marxist-collectivist ideologies.

In my teens, I already knew that becoming and being a mother was the thing I most wanted to achieve in life, my primary goal. And I intended to be the caregiver to my pre-school-aged children. (I didn’t think of it as “caregiving”; to me this is just "parenting".)

This was how I was raised and how I wanted to build my own family life. Everything else was secondary for me. The only feminism I knew was popular culture feminism, the kind in the magazines (we didn’t have the internet and social media). And nothing about my life vision, which included only dating men who I considered marriage-able was feminist, according to these sources.

The only framework I had to critically evaluate my culture and to give language to my intuitions and desires was my religious upbringing, which no doubt also informed my desires. This framework for understanding and articulating my desires served for a time. Still, it did not carry me far enough in the analysis, and its inherent patriarchy (see previous post for definition) is now untenable for me.

I could not articulate this at the time, but I was fiery in my determination to resist and rebel against a system that devalues women’s reproductive labours and other labour typically done by women, including caregiving.

I love that fire-y resistance in me.

This fire is the confidence I have spoken of in many other posts, for example, here, here, and here. It has been a joy to rediscover my confidence after having lost it for at time.

The point of this series's last couple thousand words has been to lay the cultural and political contexts of my position.

Our positions, beliefs, values, and decision making come from our context. For that reason, I have become adamant (and hopefully not too pedantic) in my writing about grounding my personal storytelling in context.

So here's my cultural, relational, and economic personal position.

I’m nested within and am a contributing member of an economically interdependent web of relations called family. There is a sharing and flow of resources between all generations in my family. I benefit tremendously from this while planning to continue this benefit to my children and their connections for as long as I’m able.

To be clear, I do not come from a wealthy family or a line of generational economic wealth. The only capital my parents started their adult lives with was their social capital. From that and hard work, they built a comfortable middle-class life, which greatly benefited me growing up. My parents continue to share the benefits of their labours with their children, and I am a direct recipient of their love, care, and generosity.

I can’t talk about work without acknowledging my positionality in a resource-sharing partnership and family.

My marriage and family life, in general, is an economic (as well as political and social) relationship. When Damien and I married, we combined our non-material and material assets, resources, talents, and capacities for the flourishing of the whole, which, in our case, is the family.

Damien and I have both sought out and encouraged one another’s individual flourishing within the structure and bounds of this commitment to the whole. This has been our implicit and explicit conception of a good life. The flourishing of the individual within the collective. The collective supporting the individual.

That other people do not have these connections, do not have this support, is part of what fuels my strong belief that “we are all responsible for each other’s material well-being, that we have a duty to build the kind of society where everyone’s basic needs are met, where everyone enjoys a certain degree of material comfort” (from Freddie DeBoer quote in the previous post).

A socio-economically disadvantaged family of origin, the dissolution of a domestic economic partnership, not being employable for highly compensated work, and the myriad of other reasons that make people vulnerable should not leave them without material support and comfort. We have SO MUCH abundance. What is the point of abundance if not for the care and well-being of the beings living within and outside that abundance?

I recognize the vulnerability of dependence in an atomized culture like ours, especially where divorce and separation are prevalent.

Some say we need better supports to deal with that fallout. Others say we need better supports to pre-empt the fallout. Yes, to all the supports, but my position is one of solid investment in the social relations of people’s actual lives. And economic policies that don’t undermine, and better yet, actively enable people’s chosen or given family relations to care for one another. For example, paid leave for all kinds of caregiving.

Economic dependency is a vulnerable position in our society. It’s probably a vulnerable position in most societies. The key here is how we think about vulnerability and the material conditions in which that vulnerability exists.

As a society, we should be committed to improving material conditions so that economic vulnerability is less vulnerable.

And also, we should see our human vulnerability as the opportunity to care for people, where we recognize that caring is our purpose as humans. (This is my own bias and worldview.)

As it is now, vulnerability is perceived as an impediment to economic growth and success; it hinders people from reaching their “potential,” where we have to care for the vulnerable, we are “being held back.” These beliefs are perpetuated in our policies. And they are perpetuated in feminist discourse.

At various times in my adult life, I have felt shame about my economic dependency on Damien, especially around high-income-earning women who, except for maintaining a higher standard of living, were not technically dependent on their partner’s income.

I am. And I have been since day 1 of our marriage.

Not surprisingly, given the culture, my shame has dissipated in working and making money. But it’s not just because of the social status attached to "working for remuneration". In truth, my paid work does not have a high social status for my education, cognitive capacities, and life experience. However, having more financial resources relieves pressures in my marriage, shores up our economic security, and has been necessary for meeting goals and dreams.

I feel fabulous being able to contribute to all this because, without my paid labor contributions, we wouldn’t have the same measure of security and freedoms we now have, both of which are important to me.

So yeah, I have appreciated the monetary validation of my labour since I started working for pay. And we need the income for our goals, which include saving for our old age, helping our kids, and having fun.

But what I really want to communicate in this post is that our dependency on each other is not the problem. Exploitation of dependency and vulnerability is the problem. A society that doesn’t work to ensure the well-being of all its citizens is the problem. Those who neglect their responsibility for the collective, thinking mainly of corporations and “too big to fail” enterprises, are the problem. The de-valuation of non-monetary contributions in our culture is the problem.

Economic independence is not a measure of human worth, value, achievement, or even security. Financial independence is necessary in particular contexts, but the fact that it is a goal for many people, even outside that context, is a social construct; it’s a story. And that’s not a story I believe in.

Why did I start this series here? Because this familial and cultural context influences all discussions about who I am and what I want from work. I cannot extricate myself from this context, though I can choose how to engage with it.

Which stories do I believe? Which stories do I participate in and perpetuate out of necessity or desire? Which stories do I resist and rebel against?

My context and my answers to these questions influences and impacts my decisions about work. The work I’ve done. The work I do now. The work I hope to do in the future.

To be continued.

Don't want to miss the next instalment? Subscribe to get my full posts by email. No paywall. No click thrus to read the rest.

« Getting started: Feminism, patriarchy, capitalism, neoliberalism, Marxism and the family in 1,500 words
We're leaving the kids »

You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.