In early February of 2018, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at a local birthing centre, surrounding by midwives, my doula, and my family. There were no men present at my birth, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I was surrounding by femme power, and enveloped in ages of ancient wisdom as I brought new life into the world. It was the most powerful and painful experience of my life, and I would not have changed a thing.
Later that year, the Government of Ontario cut funding to the Ontario Midwives Association, meaning midwives working on the front line would need to pay higher association fees with the college to make up for the cuts. This, on top of pay inequity, puts a huge burden on midwives, most of whom are women. In fact, as you’ll see in the video below, midwives make 52 cents for every dollar made by men doing similar work, meaning the pay gap is 48%.
On April 25, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced a $4/hour wage increase for all front line workers in Ontario during the pandemic, otherwise known as pandemic pay. Michael Hillmer, Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Health, confirmed that midwives and staff in midwifery clinics and birth centres will not be included among those considered front line workers. What, the, actual, fuck?
As we enter our 8th week of closures in Ontario, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve been thinking about motherhood, patriarchy, domestic labour, and what it means to be ‘productive’.
Theoretically, I recognize how important domestic labour is. In practice, I don’t value it at all. Throughout the past 8 weeks I’ve lamented being home, caring for my daughter, being ‘unproductive’ and accomplishing ‘nothing’. Meanwhile, of course, I’ve fed and clothed a household, I’ve taught my daughter various life skills such as shitting in a toilet, and I’ve nurtured her on top of cleaning and cooking. While I know, theoretically, that this work is valuable, I feel like this work is not meaningful, because it is not paid work.
I’ve had to work on myself a lot over the past few weeks, to evaluate my own internalized patriarchy, my own sense of what is and is not valuable in our society. Despite being busy every second of everyday, when friends and family ask me what I’ve been up to I tend to respond with “nothing.” Reporting on all my domestic work seems trite, but is it? What would happen if I spoke about folding laundry the same way my best friend talks about interdepartmental drama at the university? What would happen if I tabulated my work hours, and compared those to my leisure hours? You’d see that I’m indeed working, working more than full-time in fact.
As my good friend @Amazon_Syren recently told me, “without domestic labour, we would all die in squalor.” She’s absolutely right. So why don’t I feel like my work is valued? Probably because time and time again, governments show us that the work women do is not valuable. Not recognizing midwives as front line workers is just one of a million examples I could draw from of our society not valuing the work of mothers.
I, like many other women, make less than my male counterpart. My career in sex work came to a halt when social distancing measures were put in place. Given my daughter, it was difficult for me to transition online. In fact, there are only three clients I communicate with regularly, which I try to do while watching my daughter run up and down the hills along Queen Elizabeth Drive. I squeeze in e-mails and text messages while cooking dinner, my daughter clinging to my legs yelling “mama mama mama” using voice-to-text applications because my hands are full. Sometimes I provide a real GFE by ignoring sexting messages. Al, Lars, and Bill, I hope you all find this funny!
The gender-pay gap means that women are more likely than men to put their careers on hold to care for their children and their households during the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, women between the ages of 24 and 54 lost more than twice the jobs as men during the month of March. Let that sink in. The NYT captured it so well in an article entitled “When Mom’s Zoom Meeting is the one that has to Wait” by Jennifer Medina and Lisa Lerer:
Ms. Lurie and her clients are part of a generation of professional women who had arranged their domestic lives, however precariously, to enable full-time careers and parenthood. They are facing this crisis in the midst of high-intensity parenting years, and a crucial moment for growing and establishing their work. Now, able to set up shop remotely, but with schools closed and child care gone, the pandemic is forcing them to confront the bruising reality of gender dynamics as the country is trapped at home.
In fact, Medina and Lerer found that even before the pandemic women were doing 4 hours of domestic work per day in comparison to 2.5 for men. This has shifted dramatically since the beginning of the shutdowns.
Women are facing a harsh reality right now, one that feminists have spoken about for a long, long time. With full-time jobs and children, women are expected to take on the majority of domestic tasks and put their entire lives on hold to care for their kids. If I am to derive pleasure from my current existence, I need this work to be valued. I need to value it within myself, but I also need the men around me, the agencies in our society, and Governmental bodies to value this work. Birth is where it all begins, right? At my birth, I was surrounded by women, encouraging me along my reproductive journey, and yet their work is not deemed essential.
Anyone who believes we have reached gender equality is fucking kidding themselves.