Wednesday, April 16, 2014

on that viral toughest job video, robots, and two recent lebanese laws

professor and not-a-sci-fi-author Nancy Folbre tells a story that goes something like this:
in a not so distant future, most factories will rely on robots to function: cute little robots that only need their batteries to be changed every so often. well, that, and for people to design and produce them. the factories have to pay the initial cost of the robots (determined by the cost of production and the wages demanded by the people producing them) and then the cost of new batteries. People, you’d imagine, will charge a lot to produce these robots, trying to make the most profit in a competitive market. But actually there are these groups of people who just think robots are adorable. they like designing them and they absolutely love producing them because it’s like… so much fun! They are seriously so happy making those robots and enjoy every second of it so much that they are willing to do it even for free! how awesome for the factories, right? they will be able to get those robots for really cheap, and have very little to pay beyond the cost of batteries (and probably some branding).

ok, let’s stop the story here. let’s focus on how these humans are benefiting not only the robots they so love, but the factories that will use them; the obviously greedy capitalist factories. The robot-producing humans are being exploited by those factories and their love for the robots taken advantage of. 

i’ll be honest now. i don’t care much for the robots. but isn’t parenting the same thing? when parents raise a child, invest all their efforts, love, energy, etc. in her, it is not just the child that will benefit. the bigger part of the benefit goes to the society the child will participate in, the companies she will work for, the government she will pay taxes to, and in the case of lebanon sadly, the political parties she will vote for, the leaders she will get ripped off by …etc.

We tend to romanticise parenting and glorify the sacrifices parents make for their children. but by doing so we are not really valuing the parents. we are trapping them into this outrageously all-consuming ordeal and leaving them alone in it. basically, we are not sharing the responsibility of bringing up people we as a society will eventually benefit from. 

these past few days people have been sharing a 'World's Toughest Job' video online. Many, many criticisims and comments are necessary, and i will not repeat the points made in this amazing jezebel article, but i do encourage you to read it.
this video in my opinion serves to normalise the fact that parents have to bear the burden of raising a child on their own. it actually goes further in gendering those efforts and saying it is normal and yet noble and oh-so-touching that women parents (moms is it?) do all this work; work that most of the video aims at proving no sane person would find fair. and what does it offer as an answer? no demands for governmental responsibility, not asking the society to share the burden, not even saying the company recognises their share of the benefits. No! their point is that the child should feel grateful for how “awesome” the natural role of mother is, and maybe they can pay their personal debt to their mom with a card. on mother’s day. 

societies that do not share the responsibility of the children they will eventually profit from exploit parents. They trap them, or more specifically they trap  the mothers, in the world’s “toughest job”. and to top that, they guilt the children into feeling they are the ones who owe the mothers. 

recently a law was passed in lebanon extending maternity leave from 49 to 70 days. this was applauded as an achievement “for the lebanese woman” (to quote sami el gemayel, but he was not the only one). before we, women, thank our dear parliament for gracefully granting us this victory, let’s think about it.
first and en passant, not all lebanese women are mothers or aspire to be, hence this is most definitely not a victory for the lebanese “woman”. mothers are not the ones who benefit from bringing a child into the world. so don’t congratulate us because you have given those of us who just had children more time to take care of them. Instead, congratulate yourselves because you have trapped women in the role of main care-taker and natural self-sacrificer for the well being of the individuals of this country. maternity leave has feminist aspects (aims to prevent discrimination against women who might get pregnant, aims to take into account the biological impacts of childbirth, etc…) but that is only because the government (and society) does not assume its responsibilities in the upbringing of its children.
yes, women should get paid leave for having children, and that pay should be insured by the government (if i am not mistaken it is currently covered by the employer). And quite frankly it should be longer than 70 days. But it shouldn’t stop there. fathers should also have a parental leave, or at least the option. and after parents go back to work the government should provide day-care. the government and the society should share the load of bringing up children, and not pride themselves on that achievement made “for women”. 
the misogynistic gains achieved by the law are highlighted when we examine another law passed that same day: a law against domestic violence was finally approved. however it institutionalises marital rape as a legal marital right, and even though its aim was to protect “all members of the family” it forces children according to their age to remain in the custody of the father even if he is violent. this puts the woman simultaneously in more danger, and unwilling to save herself if it means leaving her children behind. to some degree, this new law does not effectively protect any of the members of the family but traps them in it, and more to the point traps the mother in her role in it.

there were no feminist intentions behind the passing of either of the laws. not even humane ones. both laws aim to keep the family structure, and to keep women inside it responsible for a job the government will benefit from. children will be born and brought up to benefit the society, work and pay taxes, no matter the cost for the mother, and at minimum cost for the rest of the country.

so in conclusion: the laws suck on so many levels and for everyone, the video sucks and please don't make me watch it again, and if you have a robot please consider its real value and yours. and also cool for you!