Deregulate motherhood, not corporations (and don’t force women back to work). by Jillian Abbott
Australian commentator Sarrah Le Marquand’s crazy rant calling for laws to force mothers back into the workforce in The Daily Telegraph places her right alongside traditional conservatives hellbent on keeping women pregnant and back in the kitchen. Underpinned by two false ideas, both continue a push pull to control women. Both believe that the work mothers do has no economic value, and that women can’t be trusted with anything — not their own bodies, nor their offspring.
Into the 1970s, women working in the Victorian Public Service were compelled to retire upon marriage. While government regulations enforced notions of the “ideal” woman/mother, they also ensured that there were enough jobs for the male workforce. If Marquand gets her way in this era of labor shortages, mothers will be bound to return to the workforce at a time deemed appropriate by everyone other than individual mothers.
Conservatives take a longer view, believing the way to solve this problem is to force increasing birth rates. In America, the only sectors of government left with functional budgets are the military, and those departments with the machinery to control women’s reproductive organs. So much of the impetus for the repeal of Obamacare was to put a stop to women’s access to healthcare, not just abortion, but the routine maintenance the uniqueness of women’s reproductive system requires.
President Trump’s last tweet to House Republicans the day #TrumpCare tanked was a reminder that his healthcare bill ended funding for Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s few suppliers of routine feminine healthcare. True, he suffered a setback in advancing this agenda, but the forces working to control motherhood though legislation are down, not out.
The latter three decades of the twentieth century saw an unprecedented unwinding of all regulations governing the behavior of public corporations. Paradoxically, this movement, which continued unabated until the crash of 2008, and has resumed with President Trump, was mirrored by an equally unprecedented tightening of regulations governing the private behavior of families. Beginning at the conception of a child, motherhood is quite possibly the most highly regulated activity on the planet.
Very often the same people who argue that commerce can only flourish in the absence of restrictive regulation, insist that motherhood continue under the yoke of paralyzing government control. Marquand version of the nanny state, is a mirror image to the “religious” right’s goal of returning to “traditional” family structures.
But the right’s true motivation is demographic, not religious. Low fertility rates in developed countries means Australia, like America must reply on immigrants to fill gaps in the labor force. They know that the only way to slow immigration in the long term is to increase fertility rates whether women want to or not. Instead, Marquand wants to solve the shortage by forcing women into the paid workforce.
But here’s the problem, a government that can compel women to return to work can compel them to stay home. The same for abortion. The good old boys of the Republican Party relentlessly pursue their goal of giving the government the right to decide the fate of the unborn, ignoring, the reality that the Chinese government has used that same power to force women to abort their children.
As many of the mothers responding to Marquand demonstrated, the work mothers do has great value. No matter how much the Australian government subsidizes women at home, it will never come close to the real worth of their contribution. Women in the workforce sleep easy knowing that the stay at home mothers are serving at the tuck shop, or volunteering in the classroom.
The assumption that at home mothers do “nothing” all day is pervasive, and yet economic imperative aside, many women head back to work because stay-at-home motherhood is just too hard. Certainly, it was the hardest job I’ve ever had.
To be sure the deregulation of industry was a disaster, but corporations aren’t people. Mothers have a vested interest in the long-term success of their children, whereas corporations are required only to make money for their shareholders.
Decades of diminishing fertility rates have created a demographic nightmare with Western economies’ aging population unable to supply enough labor. Forcing women at home back into the workforce is just a short-term fix, the real problem remains.
The long-term solution to our labor and skill shortages is increased fertility rates. Far better to make motherhood a viable option, one that leads not only to a meaningful life, but also to economic security. Compelling women to return to work is no different to making them give birth to children they don’t want or can’t afford.
Rather than thinking of ways to force the few women at home with kids back into the workforce, we need to return control of private life to private individuals. Solving the labor shortage will require empowering women, removing all the paralyzing regulations that govern motherhood, thus leaving them feel safe to have more children.