Sara Jaffe: Who Cares?

The Baffler, May 2021

THIS WAS THE YEAR EVERYONE DISCOVERED that caring is actually hard work.

The New York Times told us “America’s Mothers are In Crisis” in a package titled “Primal Scream.” The Washington Post wants us to know that “Working moms are not okay.” NPR ran a special package explaining “Enough Already: How The Pandemic Is Breaking Women.” In the Times, Ezra Klein noted that “forcing parents into low-wage, often exploitative, jobs by threatening them and their children with poverty may be counted as a success by some policymakers, but it’s a sign of a society that doesn’t value the most essential forms of labor.” Indeed.

Except, of course, most of this isn’t new. True, according to the Times, 4,637,000 payroll jobs have been lost by women in the United States since the Covid crisis began; 32 percent of those women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four said childcare was the reason for their unemployment. But embedded in these handwringing headlines and profiles and photo spreads is the recognition, far too late, that childcare is already work. Long before the pandemic escalated things, there was a slow-motion crisis happening in millions of people’s lives, manufactured by a society that doesn’t value care, that has splintered us away from one another and demanded we handle every problem by ourselves, or, if we’re lucky, in partnership with one other person. If we can’t pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps, we’re shit outta luck, or in the more eloquent terms of geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore, we become casualties of “organized abandonment.”

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