Why is a homemaker’s role not recognized?

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/13 18:23:39

Photo: IC

A newly released short film commemorating the 20th anniversary of QQ, the social media platform owned by Tencent, touched many middle-aged Chinese couples by attacking a universal dilemma of midlife relationships. Directed by Zhang Dapeng, The Password of Time tells the story of an ordinary couple married for 15 years: The passionate chemistry in the early years had been replaced by endless bickering; husband and wife were driven apart further and further by the mundane nature of everyday life; a divorce seemed to be inevitable.

The marriage was saved in the end by their old chatting records on QQ on which the two had met. The rediscovery of the long-lost password brought back the untainted sweet memories in an innocent time and reminded the couple of why they fell in love in the first place.

The 10-minute film has been widely circulated on the internet. In their comments, many viewers said that every word the couple said to each other seemed to be directly taken from the conversations with their spouses.

The line in the film that impressed me most, however, does not have to do anything with love or midlife crisis, but how the husband countered when the wife complained that she had been doing all the chores after coming back from work. "Who asked you to go to work? Taking care of our family and taking care of our child, isn't this your career?" he says.    

If what the viewers said was true, I am not surprised by the number of men in China who have uttered such words to their wives. There is plenty to suggest that a new trend in China is pushing women back into the kitchen.

Chinese women's participation in the workforce dropped from 79.4 per cent in 1990 to 69 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank. A survey conducted by the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2016 found that 46.1 percent of women born in the 1980s kept working after becoming mothers while only 16.1 percent of women born in the 1990s did so. And among mothers who were born in the 1990s, 76.6 percent take care of their children themselves compared with 61 percent among those born in the 1980s, and 65.4 percent of those born in the 1960s and 1970s.

This may have feminists frowning. They shouldn't. A new concept of a women's "career" imposed on them by their sexist husbands may have forced some women to give up their jobs. But it is only one of the many reasons that have contributed to the growing population of full-time moms. 

Today's families are in a completely different situation from the 1970s when I was born. If moms stayed at home to take care of the children then, many families would have struggled to put food on the plate. And if they chose to go to work, they could get free daycare provided by their State-owned employers. Nowadays the increasing wealth of Chinese families has made living off a single income an affordable option and the rising daycare costs have made it a prudent choice. The repeal of the one-child policy might help produce more full-time moms.

It is arbitrary to assume all women who gave up their jobs to stay at home did so against their will as many working people know for sure that not everyone goes to work completely willingly. Those who prefer to stay back and happily consider taking care of the family and the children as their career - irrespective of being moms or dads - should be allowed to do so without being stigmatized. 

In their 2004 book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke, American politician and economist Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, management consultant Amelia Warren Tyagi, argued that families with both parents working are financially less stable and more likely to file for bankruptcy because of hefty expenses on childcare and other things and lack of a cushion when one of them loses their job.   

Yet, the book also pointed out a major issue for stay-at-home moms. Their value is not fully recognized by society.

According to studies by McKinsey, unpaid caregiving by women equals 13 percent of global GDP. But the value of such caregiving is largely invisible in our GDP-oriented value system. Yet, most efforts of decision-makers worldwide, progressive ones included, focus on providing better conditions for working parents than to figuring out how to better value homemaker parents.

The former is important. But the one way road may not be an adequate solution. This blindness to reality faced by a lot of women is what should be frowned upon. 

The author is a New York-based journalist and Alicia Patterson fellow. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com


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