This morning I read this article. For anyone that’s spent anytime in the entrepreneurial world, you’ll be familiar with this line of argument; the path to female empowerment is to make enough money to pay other people to do things for you.
To be clear, I do think having money is empowering. Here’s where my problems lie in the article;
1. Where’s her husband?
She starts by saying, ‘About five years ago, I uncovered the secret superpower – asking for help.’ Initially I thought, ‘Oh great, this is going to be a post about how she and her male partner sat down and really worked through the mental load she’s been carrying on behalf of the family’.
Not to be. According to the characterisation in the article, she sorted out ‘her problem’ by outsourcing it and covering the costs herself. (I quote, ‘I now have a house manager/personal assistant, cleaner and gardener. In total, this costs me over $1,400 per month.)
It’s an expedient and effective solution for her and one that in no way challenges her husband or his role in the family.
In utilising her economic privilege to solve a gendered problem, not one gendered stereotype has been challenged vis-a-vis who’s actually responsible for domestic matters.
Without any sense of irony, the author goes on to say; ‘The history of women is that we should be “seen and not heard,” and unfortunately, we as a society and women individually are still having a hard time shaking those beliefs…’
Here’s what a woman being seen and heard would actually look like; a heterosexual couple sits down to speak about the gendered expectations they’ve both inherited. The male probably pushes back a little bit because every person with privilege bristles at some point when their privilege is shown to them. But the people in this relationship are committed to equality, so they persist in their discussion and reach an agreement that they’ll work together to not perpetuate patriarchal assumptions within themselves and in their family life.
This, in turn, leads to an agreement that they’re jointly responsible for domestic responsibilities.
Now, if economic circumstances allow, this is the point at which they might decide to buy in some assistance which they jointly resource and manage (leaving the woman to manage the staff is simply an economically privileged example of the woman still carrying the mental load).
Unfortunately, this is very far from the picture being painted in this article. (Which, of course, is not to say that this conversation didn’t happen. It’s the picture that’s being painted in the article that’s the problem. The way the responsibilities are characterised. These things matter enormously. They tell us a lot about our unchecked beliefs and assumptions. In this instance, a partner of any sort is so markedly absent from a discussion about managing domestic responsibilities that I had to actually check her website to confirm she wasn’t raising the children on her own before writing this piece. She’s not.)
2. One woman’s privilege does not constitute women’s liberation
The author goes on to say, ‘By asking for help, women are causing a cultural shift in how housework is to be done. The unrealistic expectations that are placed on women will be challenged and a new cultural norm of outsourcing and equality can emerge.’
Assuming that this approach creates some sort of cultural shift for ‘all women’ represents a level of blindness around class and race that makes her statement offensive at best.
Also, the gender of the people to whom housekeeping tasks – like cooking and cleaning – are outsourced are predominantly female.
So while I am very happy for women to become economically prosperous and to be in a position to pay other women, the approach of outsourcing – as characterised in the piece – doesn’t challenge one single expectation around who is responsible for such work. Therefore, for a ‘female empowerment’ brand like Mamamia to be publishing this under the guise of empowerment is spurious at best.
What is being modelled in this article is a line of thinking that goes like this; women are responsible for housework. If women don’t wish to do those jobs they should learn to ask for help by paying other women to do it for them.
That doesn’t even come close to solving a gendered problem, it’s passing the problem onto women with less privilege than you. Meanwhile, the mental load of the housekeeper has not been reduced by one iota.
In other words, it’s not female empowerment. It’s one woman’s solution to a patriarchal problem that ironically manages to uphold patriarchy at the same time.
It’s informed by an ideology of individualism which puts one woman forward as having broken through a patriarchal problem and then says, ‘You can do this too!’. All without any understanding of how privilege and structural inequality works, or without actually looking at the internalisation of patriarchy and other forms of systemic inequality that are playing out.
3. It doesn’t disrupt, it upholds the status quo
The author ends the article by saying, ‘by asking for help we are causing a cultural disruption that will benefit women for generations to come.’
Actually, if you’re maintaining gendered expectations while ’empowering’ yourself, you’re not revolutionary. You’re reinforcing the status quo. That’s not a cultural disruption, that’s precisely how patriarchy has maintained itself for over four thousand years.
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