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What We Still Get Wrong About Women and Work

The question we should be asking is not whether domestic caregiving is more or less important than wage work—they’re both crucial, and crucially different.

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Poor mothers don’t necessarily want public accolades; they’re just trying to survive and earn a meaningful living. But society doesn’t recognize the incredible dignity they display every day as they brave economic disenfranchisement, living a reality that’s probably not intimately familiar either to Ann Romney or Hilary Rosen.

And some of the hardest-working women don’t even get proper recognition under the law, much less the political arena. In sectors like  domestic work and home-based health care, women, many of them poor women of color, lack basic protections against labor abuses. These include women who actually serve  dual roles of wage work and home work: as they struggle to support their own families, they labor for relatively privileged parents, who can pay for services that “liberate” them to pursue out-of-home careers.

The question we should be asking is not whether domestic caregiving is more or less important than wage work— they’re both crucial, and crucially different. The question is which women have the privilege of choice, because too often, decisions of work and home are made for them, without their consent. That gender gap in personal autonomy and freedom may be more detrimental to feminist struggles than economic or employment disparities.

The deficit in opportunities for women isn’t so much about who’s working and where, as it is about who has the power to be heard—in the kitchen, in the office, on the unemployment line or on Capitol Hill.

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times,, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen @

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