Defamilialisation: an ideology that shapes our lives

The anti-family vision behind McJobs for women and daycare for children.
Helen Ward | Dec 8 2015 | comment  



The Economist magazine is perhaps the most influential publication on earth. One of its pet projects is promoting an ideology known as defamilialization, also known as post-familialism and post-maternalism. Though these unmarketable terms are kept to academic publications and out of the media, they have, without a doubt, impacted our lives.

In its January 2010 cover feature, We did it!, announcing that women would soon be 50 percent of the US labour force, the libertarian magazine summarized this global mega-project: “Welfare states were designed when most women stayed at home. They need to change the way they operate.” [1]

Of course, women have never simply “stayed at home”. They have always done essential work for their families and communities. The welfare state was created to support unwaged family care work. Defamilialization erodes the system that ensures care for the vulnerable, especially children.

In a more recent dossier, The Weaker Sex, The Economist tells us about weak men, and strong single mothers, employed and raising their kids without fathers. The mothers are “far from rich, but they are getting by,” and “Few women in rich countries need a man’s support to raise a family. (They might want it but they don’t need it.)”

The article suggests men will turn out better with “early childhood education” -- state-funded daycare -- as boys. The fact that “a Chinese steelworker is cheaper than an American” is mentioned, but without questioning the ethics or wisdom of politicians who approve trade laws that facilitate maximizing corporate profits at the cost of male unemployment.

Being a low-income single mother myself I know that the happy story of independent, low-income single motherhood is spin. It promotes a family situation that no one wants for themselves but which some policy-shapers see as an ideal type.

‘We did it!’ Keeping women at work

In the “We Did It!” feature, articles gushed about women’s “dramatic progress” and “empowerment”. Being dependent on an employer apparently gives women “more control over their own lives”. Women’s productivity outside the GDP is only mentioned in misogynistic insults: “the loss” and “wasted talent” until “millions of brains have been put to more productive use”.

Despite its libertarian posture of disdain for state intervention, The Economist believes that the “issue” of motherhood can somehow be resolved with state funded daycare. As for “benefits for parents”, “the answer is no.” The problem of “too little time for their children” is merely a “middle class couples” complaint. Poor children suffer most, not from lack of parental time (which apparently they don’t need), but lack of daycare so mums can get jobs -- however “low-paying”.

Back in 1998 the magazine was frank about the motivations behind employing women: “It is perfectly possible to devise a system that will produce more children and still keep women at work”. Subsidized daycare increases the labour pool with mothers, a “godsend to employers [because it] …raises demand, not least for goods and services that will make a working woman's life easier: labour-saving devices, convenience foods, meals out, child care….”

Even better for profits, “[W]omen usually cost less to employ than men, are more prepared to be flexible and less inclined to kick up a fuss if working conditions are poor. Far fewer of them are members of trade unions."

Disregard for parental choice or evidence supporting defamilialism

So far, the project is going according to plan. Children are spending less time with parents and more time in state-funded “early childhood education and care” (ECEC) due to defamilialism, not to parental demand or scientific evidence. The Economist’s concern for freedom is AWOL when it comes to what parents want. No polls show parents and children prefer less time together.

Likewise its concern for evidence. According the Nobel laureate economist James Heckman, the preeminent scholar on cost-benefits of early childhood programs, “None of this evidence supports universal preschool programs.” [4] He calls for vouchers and respect for parents who "are very worried about the central government inculcating values in their children that they don't agree with." He warns: “It’s essential that ... early childhood provision doesn't come to resemble a government bureaucracy.” [5]

Despite this, Heckman’s findings are subject to “jaw dropping gross misrepresentation” as he is routinely named as a supporter of the programs he rejects, says Canadian economist Kevin Milligan. [6] One such misrepresenter, Canadian sociologist Paul Kershaw [7], offers this definition of defamilialization in The Just Commodification of Women (pdf) [8]:

“[T]he degree to which individuals can uphold a socially acceptable standard of living independently of family relationships,….[It is] “an analytic theme …regarding citizens’, and especially women’s, ‘capacity to form and maintain an autonomous household’ apart from male adult family members and spouses… [In the] “concept’s more transformative intent ….lone mothers are a bellwether group.” 

Recall The Economist’s version: mothers don’t need men to “get by”. Just as the influential magazine seeks a total rework of welfare states, Kershaw writes that defamilialization requires:

“Embracing the deeper implications of feminism [which] requires… analyz[ing] the extent to which welfare states promote three fundamental feminist goals:

(i) the just commodification of women;

(ii) the obligation of men to shoulder a fair share of domestic caregiving; and

(iii) access to autonomous households.”

“Just commodification of women” means “putting more women to work” -- the blunt title of a 2004 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) colloquium.

Defamilialists speak of “the ideology of the family” [9], rejecting family as oppressive and patriarchal. Of course it can be, but so is pretty much everything else. What alternative do they offer?

Six tenets of defamilialization

  1. the worker citizen: full-time employment as obligatory norm
  2. rejection of science related to children’s well-being
  3. rejection of democracy in favour of a coercive, paternalistic state
  4. shared responsibility between the state and parents
  5. professionalization of care: transferring care work to the GDP
  6. deceptive strategies: non-peer reviewed ‘evidence’; suppression and misrepresentation of relevant peer-reviewed evidence; reliance on international organizations; dissemination of cover ‘discourses’.

Ideological convergence

Many think daycare is “left wing”, but in the 1990s the “corporate right” -- neo-liberals and neo-cons -- began to demand state funded daycare. Through ideological convergence, “left” femocrats -- feminists with influence -- began to realize daycare dreams by jumping in bed with “the suits”. “The boys” [10] came from international organizations: the OECD, the World Bank, The Economist, the World Economic Forum, the RAND Corporation. Unions, influenced by femocrats, joined in.

Together they demand increased labour supply from mothers and massive state-funding for institutional daycare. The bed-sharing is kept discreet, perhaps because the left distrusts neo-lib/-con groups like the World Bank; exposure could dissolve the partnership.

Kershaw’s academic writing explicitly calls for a "neoliberal" and “paternalistic” approach which "utilizes the state's coercive power for the purposes of altering citizenry decisions", modeled on neo-liberal welfare reform. [11]

The story of defamilialization: first wave feminism

Together with the labour movement, first wave maternalist feminists of the late 19th-early 20th centuries sought to protect the family from the destructive power of unfettered industrial-capitalism. Maternalists viewed women as morally superior to men, yet as the vulnerable weaker sex. Part of the Social Gospel movement, maternalists’ massive grassroots organizations worked to protect women and children from male vice, violence, drinking, and exploitation. [12]

They created the familialist welfare state to redistribute wealth and protect families. Policies included:

  • cash for mothers: widow’s pension, ‘baby bonus’, welfare
  • limiting labour supply: shorter hours, restrictions on child and female labour
  • higher wages
  • compensation for injury, death, unemployment
  • money for parents: tax exemptions
  • high taxes on extreme wealth - over 90% in the US.

But maternalism addressed children’s care by enforcing rigid sex-role norms:

  • breadwinner wages -- higher pay for fathers
  • firing married women
  • excluding women from many fields.

State-family power imbalance

Historically, most services were controlled by families, communities, and religious institutions. But care became increasingly commodified, then funded or provided by government. This meant paid work for some, while (m)others did the same activities without wages.

Over time, government services became unionized [13], increasing members’ share of the wealth-and-power pie. Un-unionized, the family was losing control of care work and becoming the “client” of “professionals”.

Second wave feminism - then and now

By the 1960s women were fed up with discrimination. Laws ended the sexist bread-winner wage regime, although welfare state familialism continued to support families.

But Simone de Beauvoir’s prescription for equality was yet to be realised: as she wrote in The Second Sex, "no woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children... Women should not have that choice precisely because, if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one." The central concern of feminists became “the negative consequences caregiving has had so far for women—in particular, their economic dependence on men and their low status in the hierarchy of paid work.” [14]

Women’s choices are irrelevant. Kershaw explains:

“states whose child care policy provides incentives for a parent to be a full-time, at-home caregiver contribute to a greater proportion of mothers working less than full-time. Thus, when policy-makers and researchers speak about women’s “choice” to work more or less in the formal economy, it is imperative that they remember the socio-cultural factors that shape parents’ choices….Put bluntly, the “choice in child care” discourse in Canada obscures the extent to which individual choices are socially embedded….[M]en and women turn to established routines or familiar patterns of behaviour …[C]ountries which have gone furthest in their policy to reduce the financial incentives for one partner in a couple, typically the mother, to do the care giving, are generally the same countries in which a larger portion of women are in the labour market full time.” [15]

Put more bluntly: women are still too dumb to be trusted with our own lives.

Commitment to McJobs for mums was most obvious in welfare reform. The Personal Responsibility Act was passed by the Democrat president Bill Clinton in 1996 and was “enthusiastically embraced by the newly elected George W. Bush”, Republican. [16]

Billions that had gone to poor families were now transferred to workfare and daycare. Workfare is corporate welfare: subsidies for low-wage employers. Lawrence Mead, father of welfare reform, wrote in his 1986 book Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship that daycare and workfare would absorb all savings from welfare cuts.

Neo-maternalist feminist Gwendolyn Mink wrote a searing critique of elite white feminists who “sat on their hands” while poor mothers suffered:

“[N]o one has questioned the proposition that poor single mothers should have to -- should be compelled by law to -- work outside the home… Out of second-wave feminism's emphasis on winning rights in the workplace emerged, sotto voce, a feminist … assumption that any job outside the home including caring for other people's children is more socially productive than caring for one's own.” [17]

Paradigm shift to a new order

In case you were wondering, father care would not suffice: defamilialists are not just against mother care, they are against family care. Canadian sociologist Rianne Mahon writes:

"[T]he hope may lie…in countries where 'the long default position of the child located in the private sphere of the family is being disturbed by some glimmerings of the ‘public child’ ... Yet this 'new child' will need allies which might be found, inter alia, in recharged feminist and trade union movements." (Emphasis added.)[18]

At the 2001 Starting Strong conference sponsored by the OECD, UNESCO, and Sweden, Brazillian Lenira Haddad gave a speech on “An Integrated Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care”. It was published by Canadian daycare lobbyists who praised its call for a “paradigm shift” to

"…a new order. This includes deep changes in societies in general and in the family's structure in particular...a review of the family-state relationship regarding the responsibility for the care and education of children." [19]

In 2002 it became a “state of the art” “blueprint” policy paper (2006 version) by the OECD and UNESCO [20]. Models of ‘integrated approach’ include totalitarian regimes:  Cambodia, Vietnam, China, USSR bloc. The paper defined “integration” as “shared responsibility” between the state and the family:

“The integrated approach to ECEC systems stems from a paradigm shift, in which the responsibility for the care and socialization of young child is no longer the family alone, but of society… a significant portion of the upbringing process has become a public matter”.

Parents are lesser partners in this arrangement: “The challenge is… to avoid the tendency to revive the idea of family primacy over early childhood.”

International organizations

Defamilialisation is an international programme and relies heavily on the authority of organisations like the Council of Europe, the OECD and the World Bank for its advancement.

A proponent explains:

“Policies related to the family, the role of women, and the care and education of children tend to be highly controversial and ideologically loaded. Because of past normative disinclination in liberal and conservative welfare states to “defamilialize” social reproduction has proven difficult to persuade policy makers to act (and the public to accept) government funding of ECEC services…. International organizations’ and transnational policy actors’ framing of these policies may thus overcome traditional antipathy to these programs and contribute to new norm creation."[21]

The EU

We hear about “work-family balance”. In 1986, the same year Meade’s book came out, the European Commission Network on Childcare and Other Measures to Reconcile the Employment and Family Responsibilities of Men and Women was formed.

Work-family “balance” is short for this “reconciliation agenda”. It discreetly embeds the defamilialist credo that welfare-reformer Meade promoted: we are “worker citizens” with “employment responsibilities” that are at least equal to -- to be “balanced” with -- family.

The EU set targets in 2000 to “raise the overall employment rate above 70% and the female employment rate above 60% by 2010.” The Barcelona Summit

“set the targets of providing childcare by 2010 to at least 33% of children under three years of age and to at least 90% of children between three years old and the mandatory school age. The European Council's goal is to raise the labour force participation of women and contribute to attaining full employment.” [22]

In 2006 the Council of Europe advised member states to make a move on “These policies, offering incentives, and where necessary, a coercive approach” to “encourage” employers to promote the reconciliation of work and family life. [23]

The OECD

The OECD took a leading role in defamilialization. Mahon, writing for a Canadian daycare lobby group, explains that the OECD’s Child Care Unit

“extended the earlier work of the European Commission's Childcare Network. Just as the latter forged links among child care advocates operating at different scales—local and national—adding the European, the ECEC branch has done the same across the OECD." [24]

The OECD’s defamilialist strategy in reports “Babies and Bosses - Reconciling Work and Family Life” and “Starting Strong” included country reviews conducted by leading daycare lobbyists. Mahon sates:

"The [OECD's] ECEC unit… is not as well-placed as the family-friendly unit in DELSA, however….Its potential strength comes from the way it structured the review process… It thus blurred the boundary between epistemic communities, made up of… transnational…networks of activists, distinguishable largely by the centrality of principled ideas or values in motivating their formation". 

In other words, the OECD empowered unelectable ideologues who are not “family friendly” to set family policy internationally. Contrary to its reputation as objective, Mahon says the OCED:

  • "is an active participant in the push to eliminate the last vestiges of maternalism."
  • "counsels the rejection of maternalism in favour of supports for the new dual earner (or lone parent earner) family."
  • "counsels the establishment of an ECEC system that would offer quality care to all children, irrespective of the labour market status of their parents.”
  • rejects "neo-familialism's long [maternity and parental] leaves… as destructive of mothers' human capital and weakening their labour market attachment."
  • "Countries are encouraged to move to individual, rather than family, taxation."
  • For lone parents "The 'welfare to work' orientation is to be embraced by all."

Why? Because “…current labour supply is less than it could be, and human capital is underused. This result is not an efficient use of labour market resources, and were this situation to be perpetuated, it will limit economic growth.”

Nevertheless, John Bennett, head of the OECD’s Canada review claimed, “The OECD has no bias, conscious or unconscious, against families taking care of their own children.” Maintaining the objectivity myth, he and a leading daycare lobbyist who co-authored a review report denied her involvement in it. [25]

The World Bank

The World Bank is another key defamilialist, spending one billion dollars on ECEC in the 1990s. [26]

Blood specialist Fraser Mustard began promoting institutional ECEC with the World Bank, yet stated to the Canadian Senate, "When you achieve fame for something you were never trained in, it is amazing what your contacts are. I have been working for the World Bank and the bank for Latin America." [27]

So, “In 2006/7 Dr Mustard brought his expertise on child development to South Australia as part of the government's innovative Adelaide Thinker in Residence program.” Now the Fraser Mustard Centre‘s aims include: “Help shift focus … to an integrated approach with a focus on child development.” [28]

Mustard publicly stated, "Only about one-third of the population are actually highly competent parents…17 per cent are godawful." [29]

In “Transnationalising (Child) Care Policy: the OECD and the World Bank”, Mahon explains that, “they have become advocates of public investment in child care/child development programs. This does not mean that they have abandoned the broader globalisation project. Rather… ‘investing in children’ has come to be seen as a critical component thereof.”

The World Economic Forum

As proof we need more daycare, Kershaw cites the World Economic Forum’s gender equity ranking for Canada. The WEFwebsite says its 1,000 members “are companies that are driving the world economy forward. The typical Member company is a global enterprise with more than US$ 5 billion in turnover.”

The WEF’s “Global Gender Gap Index … ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment. Our aim is to focus on whether the gap between women and men in the chosen variables has declined, rather than whether women are “winning” the “battle of the sexes”.

Thus South Africa ranks high on gender equity -- #18 of 135, higher than Canada at #19. The “chosen variables” make the fact that it has the world’s highest rape rate irrelevant. And according the CBC [30], “The murder rate among South African women is five times the global average.”

The cause? An interviewee blamed the “lingering impact on brain development” of being raised by non-relatives or struggling single mothers in fatherless homes. “It makes them insecure, less empathetic, and have problems with anger.” Men don’t respect women’s choice and use coercive powers to get what they want, the interviewee said.

Without diminishing the horror of this, it parallels defamilialists’ misogynistic contempt for women’s choices and enthusiasm for state coercion to get us to do what they want.

Familialism had public support because it was based on the near universal belief that the family is the core of society. Defamilialists reject this as ideology. Fine. But defamilialists’ refusal to name their ideology outside of esoteric writings, their avoidance of democratic methods, and their numerous deceptive “discourses” tell us that familialism remains the ideology preferred by ordinary people.

Defamilialism has a trickle down effect, influencing how we value -- or dis-value -- mothers, parents, children, family, care work, choice, and love.  Exposing and reversing this ideology is necessary to creating the conditions for human dignity for all.

Helen Ward is a low-income single mother and President of Kids First Parent Association of Canada .


 

Notes

[1]The Economist Jan 2, 2010 p.7
[2] The Economist Dec 30 2009  http://www.economist.com/node/15174489
[3] The Economist - “A survey of women and work: For better, for worse”, Barbara Beck - July 16, 1998
http://www.economist.com/node/143791
[4] "The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children," p. 35 James Heckman
jenni.uchicago.edu/human-inequality/papers/Heckman_final_all_wp_2007-03-22c_jsb.pdf
[5] “An Interview with James Heckman” in Early Childhood Matters  - Bernard VanLeer Foundation, June 2009 pp.24-29 www.bernardvanleer.org/Family_stress_Safeguarding_young_childrens_care_environment?pubnr=798&download=1
[6] “Talking to economist Kevin Milligan: On all-day kindergarten, Nobel laureate James Heckman and the purported economic benefits of universal plans” - Sept 22, 2010 http://www.imfcanada.org/issues/talking-economist-kevin-milligan
[7] See Heckman’s findings cited as evidence supportive of all-day kindergarten and increased daycare funding in Kershaw’s presentation on behalf of UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership to the Canadian government Finance Committee Sept 2009 earlylearning.ubc.ca/media/publications/eliminating-the-early-vulnerability-debt-with-new-family-policy-aug-09.pdf and in “15 by 15: A comprehensive policy framework for early human capital investment in BC” written by Kershaw, Hertzman, et al for BC Business Council earlylearning.ubc.ca/media/publications/15by15-full-report.pdf
[8] “The just commodification of women, equal care obligations for men, and autonomous households: Gendering the comparative analysis of welfare states in 20 OECD countries” - Paul Kershaw - The Human Early Learning Partnership, UBC  www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2010/Kershaw.pdf
[9] “An Integrated Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care: A Preliminary Study” by Lenira Haddad, Childcare Resource & Research Unit, Occasional Paper # 16
 www.childcarecanada.org/sites/default/files/op16.pdf
[10] “The 'Tiny Tot' brigade” - Toronto Star, April 24, 2005

[11] "Carefair: Gendering Citizenship 'Neoliberal' Style" by Paul Kershaw in Gendering the Nation-state: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, 2008
[12] see for example Mother of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of the Welfare State, Eds - Koven & Michal, 1993
[13] see for example the history of US teachers in The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, Dana Goldstein
[14] “Introduction: Care Work and Gender in Welfare Regimes”, Social Politics, Volume 4, Issue 3 p.324
[15] “Measuring Up: Family Benefits in British Columbia and Alberta in International Perspective” - Paul
Kershaw, Institute for Research on Public Policy, http://irpp.org/research-studies/choices-vol13-no2/
[16] “Review: Post-maternalism and the End of Welfare”, R. Howe, Australasian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2 (December 2002), pp. 111-116 http://www.jstor.org/stable/41053921
[17] “Feminists, Welfare Reform, And Welfare Justice” - Gwendolyn Mink Source: Social Justice, Vol. 25, No. 1 (71), “Disdained Mothers & Despised Others: The Politics & Impact of Welfare Reform” (Spring 1998), pp. 146-157 https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-20980515/feminists-welfare-reform-and-welfare-justice

[18] "The OECD and the reconciliation agenda: Competing blueprints", Occasional Paper # 20 by Rianne Mahon, published by the Childcare Resource & Research Unit
http://www.childcarecanada.org/publications/occasional-paper-series/05/07/oecd-and-reconciliation-agenda-competing-blueprints
[19] “An Integrated Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care: A Preliminary Study” by Lenira Haddad, Childcare Resource & Research Unit, Occasional Paper # 16 www.childcarecanada.org/sites/default/files/op16.pdf
[20] quotes from 2006 version:  “Integrated policies for early childhood education and care: challenges, pitfalls and possibilities” by Lenira Haddad,  pp.13 & 18 www.scielo.br/pdf/cp/v36n129/en_a0236129.pdf 2002 version “An Integrated Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care” unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001279/127983e.pdf

[21] “The Internationalization of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)”, Issues Paper prepared for The Political Economy of Care: Transnational Perspectives workshop at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, June 2008 pp.2-3 http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2008/White.pdf 

[22] European Union - European Platform for Investing in Children - Glossary http://europa.eu/epic/glossary/index_en.htm
[23] Parliamentary Assembly, Texts Adopted: Ordinary Session 2-6 Octobre 2006 Council of Europe: Parliamentary Assembly, p.23
https://books.google.ca/books?id=Z9yRUHZG9BkC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=reconcile+work+and+family+obligations&source=bl&ots=3Z170f0-WI&sig=gKSebKeLZJwmR3FN5T-zKfTFIMs&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=reconcile%20work%20and%20family%20obligations&f=false

[24] "The OECD and the reconciliation agenda: Competing blueprints" Occasional Paper # 20 by Roanne Mahon published be Childcare Resource & Research Unit, Toronto
http://www.childcarecanada.org/publications/occasional-paper-series/05/07/oecd-and-reconciliation-agenda-competing-blueprints

[25] National Post Dec 6, 2006 pp. 19, 18
[26] Haddad 2002 p. 33 unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001279/127983e.pdf
[27] Canadian Senate Feb 14/08
www.kidsfirstcanada.org/feb14-2008-senate-hearing.pdf

[28] http://www.frasermustardcentre.sa.edu.au/pages/default/aboutthecentre/?reFlag=1
[29] Toronto Star March 26/07
[30] CBC - The Current Feb 20, 2013 http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2336796481 



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