idea of the week

Joan C. Williams was asked about the biggest challenge facing feminism today in this interview, and said something spectacular:

“The biggest challenge for Western feminism in terms of work-family is interrupting the connection between care-giving and economic vulnerability.”

Which is something my mother has said before in not so many words (thanks for being spectacular, Mom!), speaking from her own experience as basically a life-long caregiver of multiple people, including me.

It’s interesting that this same mechanism of undervaluing caregiving is true on the policy level as well as the personal. This past week, my work sent me to a forum put on by the MN Council of Nonprofits about building federal support for nonprofits. Rep. Betty McCollum spoke about her bill currently in Congress that would establish a U.S. Council on Nonprofit Organizations and Community Solutions (or USCONOACS), along the lines of the Small Business Administration, which is an interesting parallel. After WWII, we decided that small businesses were key to our economic health, and thus was the SBA created, to support and advocate. McCollum’s argument is that this type of support for the nonprofit sector has been overlooked at the federal level.

Somehow providing support to businesses is seen as more American than providing the same level of support to workers (which was made crystal clear in the economic shenanigans of 2008/09) or, in this case, to nonprofits (the political environment that made the Acorn ‘scandal’ possible came up more than once).

Of course, nonprofits are both caregivers and economic organizations (they’re even named in business terms). 1 of every 10 worker is in the nonprofit sector (according to McCollum), which actually added jobs last year even as the for-profit sector lost its marbles. My training in development at a nonprofit emphasized that the grants are for the program, not the other way around, but as least one questioner at the end of this forum was uneasy about this marriage of caregiving and the economy (in her words, imposing the structure of capitalism onto nonprofits). Nonprofits do have to successfully ‘sell’ their mission, ‘model’, idea, etc to potential funders to stay afloat, and who knows whether the most salable idea is the most needed?

I’m not sure grantwriting is the best way to divorce caregiving from economic vulnerability. The government structures the economy more than we think, by subsidizing some goods and organizations rather than others and regulating transactions. Wouldn’t it be nice if we decided to subsidize caregiving rather than capitalism? Is that a leading question?

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