The Genesis for this post: Listening to a CBC piece about Prozac, in which that drug was considered a cultural game changer. Part of the discussion included a rather drawn-out discussion of women’s roles. And how the popularity of Prozac in the 80s and 90s was because women were being able to, in larger numbers, work outside the home (thus extra stress, etc., etc.)
First, let’s just be absolutely clear here: women have been working since women were invented. Just because we haven’t, in the last several thousand years, remembered anything about the division of labour doesn’t mean women haven’t been doing work that needs to be done. Just because we don’t actually value the work women have done in the last few hundred years doesn’t mean women don’t work. Just because we pretend that women in antiquity didn’t do anything other than sit around artesian wells and gaze at their own reflections doesn’t mean that’s what actually happened.
The 1970s were not the first time women have been employed, en masse, outside the home. They were not the first time women have had to contribute to household income. And, carrying that forward (or backward), the 1970s were not the first era women have had to raise children as well as work outside the home in order to make a living.
All over the world, since civilization was invented, women have been working in fields, wearing their babies on their backs or tying strings around their toddlers’ waists so the little crappers didn’t get too far away. They’ve been out in the forests gathering wood. They’ve been selling flowers in the streets; they’ve been selling sex in the alleys. They’ve been cleaning houses and darning socks and taking in laundry.
In fact, I’m willing to be that for most of history, the majority of women in all civilizations did not have the luxury of being able to stay home to raise their children; they certainly did not have the luxury of freedom from the necessity for two incomes. Women who did not work were not able to work, and they tended to starve and die. Or else women who did not work were provided for (usually by men) and if that was the case, they probably had means to hire some *other* woman to raise their babies and clean their houses and darn their socks.
Maybe I will draw ire by saying that the 60s and 70s were a time where women could actually *return* to the workforce; not a time where women were able to *penetrate* the workforce. Certainly, women working in the 60s and 70s were breaking a certain gender-based western european stereotype that dictated that the only status a woman could hold was based on the status of the men whose chattel she was. But in the grand scheme of civilisation, women have always worked, most often outside the home.
Of greater importance is the fact that women are *still* heavily stigmatised whether they choose to work for paid or for unpaid labour. These epithets like ‘homemaker’ and ‘stay-home-mum’ are candy-coating for what in some cases is barely distinguishable from indentured servitude. I AM NOT SAYING MEN ARE RESPONSIBLE. Society is responsible. Claiming one gender is responsible for marginalising a portion of itself is like saying one grain of wheat in a field is responsible for a blight.
Sometime close to the industrial revolution, when a middle class emerged, there seems to have been this idea that the marker that indicated a middle class was a woman who didn’t have to find paying employment. That a family took a step toward the aristocracy when Mum could stay home instead of work in the factory or the laundry or the restaurant or the whorehouse or the shoemaker or the fishmarket or the fields. I don’t know where we came up with the idea that this meant that women then lived in the lap of luxury, eating peeled grapes and fanning themselves with peacock feathers.
Of course that wasn’t the case. Just because womens’ work has been undervalued and unpaid doesn’t mean they aren’t working, and it doesn’t mean they have any more “free time” than the man or boy who rivets panels at the factory all day.
So call it what you want, but women choosing a salary over unpaid labour isn’t a fucking PRIVILEGE. It’s a *necessity*. The middle class has been rapidly disappearing since sometime in the 80s, if not earlier, and that means that people, regardless of gender, do not have as many opportunities nor abilities to raise a family on a single income. That means that people, regardless of gender, are facing more stress and are asking for medications to help deal with that stress.
Back-handedly blaming women’s suffrage, women’s rights movements, and feminism for the explosion of antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescriptions is just insulting.