I was stirred by reading an article in Tuesday's NY Times, "Low Pay at Weight Watchers Stirs Protest as Stars Rake It In." This is not so different than the issue of astronomical bonuses for bankers and pathetic wages for the working class, except that it is largely about exploiting women; there are not many male Weight Watcher leaders. (And BTW, not many women CEOs in the largest companies.) Here's the bit that has me shaking my head:
"It's a female-dominated job, it's in the service industry, and it's caring work," Professor Mastracci said of Weight Watchers. "Caring work is undervalued..."Sharon Mastracci is the author of "Breaking Out of the Pink-Collar Ghetto" and teaches at the University of Illinois. Let me repeat that: Caring work is undervalued. Let me change it just a bit: Compassion is undervalued.
Is it possible to say something sadder about a society? And it's not just the United States. It's everywhere we are not yet freed from the values of patriarchy, which I think of as caveman society, since many of those values grew then, when the strongest men ruled. These "masculine" values are many, and some are admirable, such as teamwork and courage. Others run through society like big ugly threads. They underwrite pornography. They fire competition for winning, power, wealth, and fame, often with beautiful young women as the prize, and that competition too often leads to ruthlessness. Over and over someone caught up in it ends up doing ugly things. Occasionally they get what they deserve.
This is all very personal for me. I am a woman. So is my daughter, so are most of my friends, so was my mother and hers before her. Those in my generation and earlier were taught that we had three career options, if we weren't lucky enough to marry a good provider and have children and be a Happy Homemaker: teacher, secretary, nurse. Who knows what many thousands of us might have done if we'd had a chance to see what we could do? What we wanted to do?
Most of the women I know are in middle-class members of my generation and my daughter's, and most of them have been involved in caring work, such as child-rearing, homemaking, nursing, support staff, or K-12 teaching. When caring work is undervalued, it's women that are being undervalued, and women's work: raising children and making homes and caring for the sick - the work that keeps society together while the men make bombs and play political games and decide women can't be priests.
Caring work is the most important work in the world. Until the men figure that out, we need to be sure we know it for ourselves. And not be afraid to rock the boat a little in our own lives from time to time, for the good of the world.