This is the third in a series examining issues raised by a blog post from Chamber of Commerce Senior Communications Director Brad Peck, where he suggested that women’s interest in closing the gender pay gap amounted to a “fetish for money,” and the subsequent apologies for it by himself and Chamber COO David Chavern. Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.
Seth Godin, a popular marketing author, has written extensively about what he sees as the two key elements of future business success: creatively using the cognitive surplus and participating in a gift economy.
Cognitive surplus refers to the time and mental energy modern workers are supposed to have left over after their regular work that’s represented in volunteer projects like Wikipedia, the online reference site.
Many people have commented on the fact that contributors to projects like Wikipedia are overwhelmingly male. Maybe it has something to do with what the AFL-CIO found in a 2008 survey of working women, that nearly half reported having less than an hour a day to themselves.
If a person has less than an hour of time to themselves per day, it’s the extraordinary individual who has any surplus to give.
Making it worse, household and caring tasks are thoroughly seen as women’s work. So much so, that men who do their own family’s laundry, or cook meals they’re also going to be eating, or spend time with their own children are said to be helping out. Which is to say, helping their female partner do ‘her’ work.
Often, a woman who has a steady, male partner may find that it means having an extra person she’s expected to take care of and clean up after for no pay.
Which brings us to the idea of a gift economy. Godin suggests, and I think he means well, that a gift economy is something like an exchange of acts of great art and generosity without expectation of return. He suggests that it creates a virtuous circle of gift exchange that turns the givers into indispensable people who, in the natural course of things will eventually be rewarded.
What would a gift economy look like? What does it have to do with women’s pay?
In 1995, the United Nations estimated that women around the world generated work for which they were not paid to the tune of $11 trillion, or $15 trillion in 2007 dollars, as Raj Patel notes in his book, “The Value of Nothing.” Patel says that in 1995, “The daily work of rearing children, maintaining a household and engaging in civic work … [was worth] more than half the world’s total output.”
Godin suggests that offering wonderful, useful work as a gift will eventually draw a reward. Yet women’s gifts of necessary work, often microtargeted to the exact needs of a particular family, not only bring little compensation, they’re often barely noticed.
Marilyn Waring, in the 1988 book, “Counting for Nothing,” pointed out that economists made good faith efforts to calculate the economic worth of black market activities men were likely to be involved in, and for which no records existed, in order to estimate the value of their activities and add the approximations to Gross Domestic Product calculations. Yet no similar efforts were being made to figure out what women were contributing to the GDP outside the formal economy.
Thus, Waring said, GDP accounting for national economies had established procedures for estimating how much a man who was a pimp or drug dealer contributed to the economy. But a woman who spent all day turning wild children into productive citizens, or a young girl who spent hours gathering fuel or water for her family and took care of younger siblings, neither of them matter to most economists.
That’s a living example of a gift economy. Women historically, and still, do most of the work of caring for others, cleaning up after them, domesticating toddlers and teenagers for no, or low, pay. And yes, even when that work is done for strangers instead of your own family, it rarely pays a good wage, as noted by economics professor, Nancy Folbre:
… Caring often entails commitments to dependents such as young children, adults with disabilities or the frail elderly who can’t afford to pay directly for the services provided. It doesn’t fit easily into the impersonal logic of fee for service or supply and demand.
Further, caring often creates “outputs” that are not easily captured in market transactions, such as the increases in lifetime capabilities created by excellent kindergarten and preschool teachers.
It’s hard to imagine an explicit contract that could enable a care worker to “capture” the value-added – which extends well beyond increases in lifetime earnings to many less tangible benefits. …
And after all that, when women finally have the gall to ask for the real value of even traditionally paid employment, let alone all the things they do on the cheap with all their surplus energy, work that barely gets acknowledged as work, the Senior Communications Director of the Chamber of Commerce suggests that it’s motivated by something like greed.
I don’t think he knows what that means.
Cross posted from SEIU Early Learning.
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