The Way In Which Care Is Gendered 1 240

Gender is a concept that is socially constructed based on the societal expectations of femininity and masculinity; generally in our society femininity is associated with sensitivity and submissiveness, whereas masculinity is associated with power and strength.

Care in my own words is the act of looking after, protecting and taking responsibility of. It is both a complex and simple process. Tronto, a well-known scholar on care, defines care as a process with four stages, and for care to be complete, it needs to follow the four stages:

Table 1: Tronto’s (1994: 103) Understanding of Care as a Process
Stage # Process of Care Elaboration
1 Caring About Recognition of an unmet need.
2 Taking Care Of Taking on the responsibility of meeting the need.
3 Caregiving Hands-on work of providing care.
4 Care Receiving Evaluating how well the care provided meets the caring need.

‘Caring about’ is thought of as the recognition that care is necessary through an assessment process (Tronto, 1994), this stage of care does not necessarily need action for alleviation and as such the conventional forms of ‘caring about’ include worry, planning and the predisposition of situations. Caring in the context of the first stage is also seen as a guiding role, this is outlined by the use of the word ‘neutering,’ which is associated with femininity. This is related to societies culture as it portrays the construction of femininity with the role of guidance and support, these roles are associated with the gendered notions of passiveness.

‘Taking care of’ is the second stage in the process of care, it assumes the responsibility to address needs which are identified in the first stage of care. This second stage of care is heavily associated with the ability to provide monetary funds, as, it is ultimately capital that can provide the means in which needs can be addressed, be that buying groceries, nappies, or books. This stage shows a complex intersection between gender and class, as access to finances is ultimately what allows a man to ‘take care of’  as he cannot contribute in any other way. The gendering of this stage shows how the contemporary constructions of masculinity are centered around the man being a breadwinner, and that to be a man you must ‘provide’, thus making men more involved in the ‘taking care of’ stage as they are obligated to do so. It is not surprising that the role of the provider is occupied by men, according to the World Bank (2018) averagely only 39% of the labour workforce is occupied by women, meaning that more men generally get paid for the work they do, and can, therefore, more comfortably fit the role of ‘taking care of’ as they have more monetary funds to do so.

‘Caregiving’ is the third stage of care and is thought of as the performance of concrete day to day activities that ensure that there is wellbeing, it can also be referred to as doing care. “Caregiving activities are devalued, underpaid and disproportionately occupied by the powerless in society,” (Tronto, 1994: 115) it is arguably the stage that is most perpetuated by unequal gender relations as it is commonly women who do it. Tronto (1994) argues that because men ‘take care of’ they possess the economic means to pass on caring work off to women. The gendering of women through the socialisation of a hierarchy of service towards men makes ‘caregiving’ a feminine task meaning that women are given more responsibility in caring. The dominant constructions of masculinity in society legitimise men’s power over women, therefore women are more likely to be caregivers to men and they carry out the tasks they are instructed to do so in a subservient manner.

‘Care receiving’ is identifiable through the relationship, where there are distinct roles for the caregiver and the care receiver. Because those who are caregivers are more likely to be powerless women, it makes a majority of care receivers powerful men. This plays into the constructions of gender shaping care as it pre-determines men receiving care, but more importantly, it also outlines how the existing patriarchy pre-determines men expecting care. This, however, does not mean that women can not be part of ‘care receiving’, as power inequalities are co-constituted by other forms of oppression in society such as class, race, and sexuality.

So why is it important to know that care is gendered? 

The structure in which care is given is obviously not always confined to Tronto’s understanding, but it is important for us to reflect on who cares for us, and how they ‘do’ care. Knowing who cares enables us to appreciate and recognise those who are contributing most to society, mainly vulnerable women, it is also important to know that recognizing the way care is gendered allows us to break down societal expectation that can be harmful to genders. To a very large extent, the care I have received in my life has been heavily gendered, the way in which my mother and father care was along these lines. I think what is more interesting to observe, is how care is an expectation for women, but an aspiration of men. Each stage of care is important and valuable, but I think as family units and societies we need to appreciate the labour of care that more often than not, is forgotten about. Appreciate those who care for you and tell them that you are thankful.

 

 

References:

Tronto, Joan. (1994). Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. London: Routledge, Chapter 4.

World Bank. Labor force, female (% of total labor force). Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.FE.ZS?view=chart

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I'm a Kenyan studying at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Pronouns: her/she

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