I would like to address the issue of care and self-care in relation to motherhood. There is a clear schism between different competing needs and demands: the demands of creativity and work life, and the demands of home and care.
The poignant question and problem raised for me in Marie’s post is whether creativity – creative work – can work in tandem with motherhood. How does this work? Can this work? It is evident that the demands of a child outweigh everything. Yet to excel in the world of creative work is to have to deny the world of home, children, a love life, and health – and cut ‘private’ and ‘domestic’ life adrift – ignore it; make it silent – for it is a barrier, an interruption, a weakness. The problem is addressed by making the centre of motherhood – the child – the focus of the creative process. The product itself. The labours of love – autonomous creative work and caring for one’s child – are brought together to overcome a painful artificially imposed and inescapable schism.
And yet we are left staring at the child and the mother’s gaze and wondering if this is indeed a concrete possibility. Is this the mother’s realization that in order to put the child at the centre of creativity then the child’s needs at that point need to become irrelevant – the child as a demanding subject now serving as the object of study and reflection. Or we wonder possibly if the child’s demands have ‘won’ and are now being totally met. Is it an acknowledgement that the child and her demands cannot be ignored; the child rightly will not play fiddle to the mother’s autonomy. She will not shift from the centre of the gaze. Of course the work is about exploring how we can address all of these conflictual questions and demands as they pertain to love and autonomy.
Speaking recently at a conference ‘Speak, Body: Art, the Reproduction of Capital and the Reproduction of Life’ at The University of Leeds, Falvia Carnevale, argued that what was needed was a human strike that insists on a radically different version of love. Carnevale is part of an art activist collective made up of two artists known as Claire Fontaine which is based in Paris. What she stressed was necessary was the need for a double yes – ‘yes’ to the private work of care and ‘yes’ to professional work. Our private life of love and care does not operate outside of public professional work. The messiness of being human – emotions, pain, love, joy, trauma, corporeal demands, illness, old age – cannot be extricated from public responsibility. To enforce a schism is destructive and a denial of a range of human needs which span the life cycle. Similarly, we are not outside of the environment; everything should not be at the mercy of capital and therefore cast out into the private sphere as worthless and unproductive.
Rather than saying ‘reproduction’, Carnevale argues what we should be saying is ‘creating life’ – for hidden inside the word ‘reproduction’ is the idea of being put to work. Motherhood is woman being put to work in the private sphere to help man, as the breadwinner, succeed in life. A human strike is needed as a refusal of the atomization of life into public and private, male and female, masculine and feminine, caring and not caring. Making care ‘private’ is to renege on public responsibility. As Nicola Lacey argues in her book entitled The Politics of Community (1993: 97): ‘The ideology of the public/private dichotomy allows governments to clean its hands of any responsibility for the state of the ‘private’ world and depoliticizes the disadvantages which inevitably spill over the alleged divide by affecting the position of the ‘privately’ disadvantaged in the ‘public’ world.’.
Indeed, this was the problem for the keynote speaker, the artist Martha Rosler, who spoke at the same conference. Asked about the idea of care and creativity she responded by saying that there was still a need for feminist rage and she was not yet at the point of being able to move beyond this. Creative considerations of care are still couched within systemic exploitation and imbalance. Care and the home is still ‘naturalized’ as woman’s work. This is therefore undervalued as ‘private’ and ‘feminine’ with woman being infantilized as dependent and reliant on a male breadwinner. These constructed roles and the role of the family is therefore there to service capitalism and patriarchy with this gendered imbalance and exploitation permeating into the representational economy.
The recent incarnation of a sex doll – Harmony – is possibly the pornographic end game of that gendered split between the private sphere of care, love and intimacy and the public sphere of work. This is a robot who is programmed to satisfy sexual, emotional and intellectual needs on tap – with no complications, no comeback, no complaints, no human messiness. She is made with customized detachable washable labia and nipples and will even orgasm during sex. This is a gendered perpetuation and reinforcement of hierarchical division and exploitation – a pornographic one-way street where human care is objectified Sexual satisfaction and touch is extricated from human feeling to subserviently address the messiness of man’s needs…so that he can function better in the public sphere.
Creativity and care is not unique to home nor should it be separated and alienated from work. One should feed reciprocally into the other- it should it be predicated on gendered hierarchical roles. A human strike is therefore a potent idea which rallies against an enforced division; a division which is unhealthy, destructive and dehumanizing both on an individual and a global level. What is needed is a new vision of love which is not atomized into a destructive notion of a work-love divide nor indeed into the notion of separate self-contained family units who care only for themselves. Care should not exist only at home; and work does not exist only in the public sphere.
How would this be put into practice? A philosophy which is not built on concrete material solutions in relation to economic realities is though redundant. One must never forget that that ‘work’ exists because of, not in spite of, ‘home’ and ‘love’. Itemization and alienation is destructive and alienates love from human interaction and productivity. We all have to care and refuse dehumanization at every level. Activism which erodes the system from the inside will allow us to be proactive rather than waking up and realizing that life goes on and nothing changes.
Jacki Willson a University Academic Fellow in Performance and Culture at University of Leeds. She is writing her third monograph on motherhood, performance and the politics of care and self-care.