Thursday, August 15, 2013

Opting for free time, 'work life-balance' as an economic justice issue

Sarah Jaffe about the right to free time. Amazing to see how the concept of paid vacation, the right to paid vacation are absent from the US psyche. Of course it's not by chance. Very interesting article and too rare although it suggests that there is (as it should be) a tremendous aspiration to less work and more free time, an aspiration that the dominant media and their masters obviously want people to ignore, keeping people in the resigned position that any other organization is completely impossible.
Here is another article devoted to shorter hours with 'good pay' with interesting historical references.

From the article

A right to free time
Shortening the working day and year, and making sure high-quality (well-paid, well-respected) part-time work is available, Gornick says, would do a lot to move the country toward gender equality. But it's incredibly difficult to raise the idea of less work in this country. “There's a tremendous valorization of long hours at work, it's such an American story.  Even on the Left. The story is good people work huge numbers of hours for pay.”
Yet while the conversations in Warner and Sandler's pieces focus on a binary choice between being a good parent or being a parent at all, there are hints that a shorter workday wouldn't be unwelcome. Warner commented that the women she spoke to didn't miss the high-powered jobs they'd left; rather, they longed for a happy medium that sounds an awful lot like what Gornick is talking about—“intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement-permitting part-time work” combined with time at home.
And the men interviewed by Warner, too, sounded like they would go in for less work. “Men want to say we’re more than a paycheck,” said the same husband who complained that his wife didn't spend enough time cleaning. “There has to be something more than going to work for 50 years and dying.” Warner closes with a call for just that—a gender-equitable movement for less work, flexible hours and “work-life balance” as an economic justice issue.
Of course, just having fewer hours at work doesn't guarantee that, as Gornick notes, women aren't going home to care for the kid while men go to the pub. But, she points out, “shorter hours for everyone should be a more egalitarian strategy, rather than crafting part-time work and hoping to get men to do it.”
To create real equality between men and women in the field of unpaid care work, Gornick says, there are three things we need to change. Public policy has to improve, employers need to be much less punitive of workers who need time off or flexible schedules (a recent study found that men were more likely to have their requests for flexible time granted), and people have to keep fighting gender stereotypes and the behavior patterns they influence.
I suggest that as part of that fight, we need to be willing to argue for leisure as a right, and as a feminist issue.
Duke professor Kathi Weeks makes this argument in The Problem With Work, which Peter Frase summarizes in a Jacobin magazine review:  “Weeks is careful to reject calls for work time reduction premised on making more time for the family. Such arguments may contest the work ethic, but they do so only by reinforcing an equally pernicious family ethic. … Shorter hours, asserts Weeks, should be offered not as a prop to the traditional family but as 'a means of securing the time and space to forge alternatives to the present ideals and conditions of work and family life.' ”
In other words, it is not enough to assume that the family is a respite from work—we need something more.
A gendered demand for leisure would argue that women's time is as important as men's, whether we are spending it parenting or reading a book or lying on a beach. It would take into account the racialized and classed expectations of different groups of women, and argue that low-income women deserve time off too (and it would argue that they deserve to make enough money to enjoy that time.) It would point out that what is earned vacation for white women is not “laziness” in women of color...
None of this is to say that there are not genuine pleasures in caring for children or indeed in one's paid work. But it is to say that neither one is enough for a fulfilling life, and the idea that women should cheerily do both has meant an unfair amount of work. Caring for children, Gornick notes, is a social good, not merely an individual concern. And in creating policies that allow for a better distribution of leisure, we will also need things like (well-funded) child care and early childhood education, which allow children to be well cared for when parents aren't around.
We need to argue, then, not just for the ability to “balance” two kinds of work, but for the right to free time—to leisure and pleasure. As women, we need to do so particularly because the idea that “family” is the only option outside of “work” is a dated, sexist ideal whether or not one has children, wants them, or can't stand the sight of them. We will be closer to gender equality when we argue that just like men, we have interests outside of the home and the workplace.
Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine's Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahljaffe.
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